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Dog athletes come in all shapes, sizes, breeds, and levels of physical abilities. When people think of dog sports, they often think of the highest energy, high-impact sports like Agility or Flyball, but these are not the only sports that dogs can get involved with.

Not all dogs are a good fit for high-impact sports training because of their age or joint issues. Even if a lot of running or jumping isn’t a good fit for your dog, there are plenty of low-impact dog sports that you and your dog can get involved with. These sports are also great for handlers who also cannot do high-impact activities but still want to be active with their dog.

Which AKC Dog Sports Are Low Impact?

All dogs enjoy the opportunity for mental and physical enrichment and thrive when given the opportunity to learn new things. All sports, including low-impact sports training and competition, are a great way to channel your dog’s desire to have a job without putting unnecessary strain on your dog’s joints and body. Low-impact sports are a fun way to keep your dog active within the limits of what a dog can do and without adding unnecessary strain to the dog’s body.

Golden Retriever looking through articles in Obedience competition
David Woo

There is a variety of low-impact dog sports to explore, and you can check with your local kennel club or training center to find different classes. Options for low or lower-impact dog sports include:

Scent Work: In Scent Work, dogs use their nose to find and alert their handler to the presence of specific scents, typically essential oils. This highly accessible sport is good for any dog with a nose and is a great choice for those with different physical disabilities. There’s also a virtual test you can take at home to earn Scent Work titles.

Trick Dog: Although some tricks—like rebounding off a handler’s body are high impact—there are a wide variety of trick options that dogs and handlers can use for earning Trick Dog titles. It’s entirely possible for dogs to earn titles through the Elite Performer level without doing anything too physically demanding. If you’re feeling stumped with coming up with appropriate tricks to teach your dog, a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Evaluator will be able to help find tricks that are a good match. Plus, Trick Dog titles can be earned virtually, as well.

Rally: At the Novice and Intermediate levels, there are no jumps in Rally. However, jumps are a part of courses at the higher levels, though they are at a lower jump height than other sports, which may be when your dog needs to retire. If your dog can’t or shouldn’t jump at all you’ll need to retire from Rally after the Intermediate level. If you want to try training at home, know that there’s a virtual program through the Excellent level.

Obedience: Most of the skills required in competitive Obedience at the Beginner Novice and Novice level make it a low-impact activity that dogs and handlers can participate in. However, at the Open level, there are a few jumping exercises that may be a bit harder on certain dogs’ legs. You can also take the Beginner Novice and Novice at home virtually to get started in the sport.

Why Avoid High-Impact Dog Sports?

There are a variety of reasons owners might need to avoid high-impact sports with their dogs either temporarily or permanently. All puppies as well as adolescent large and giant breed dogs who are still developing should not partake in them to not damage growing joining. Introducing high-impact sports and exercise before a dog is fully grown can lead to life-long orthopedic issues. For puppies especially, starting with low-impact sports is a great way to help them develop a love of training and learning without putting strain on their joints. Low-impact sports can also be ideal for owners who are nervous about potential risks of injury.

Low-impact sports can also be a great way to add enrichment to the life of senior dogs who may have arthritis or other age-related conditions. With vet approval, low-impact sports are also great for dogs who are recovering from injuries and for dogs with certain physical disabilities.

Great Dane doing a Scent Work trial
Monkey See Photography

Even if you also train or compete in high-impact sports with your dog, it can be fun to also pursue some lower-impact sports as well. These sports are a great way to continue to build your working relationship with your dog and expand on that human-canine bond. Plus, diversifying your dog’s training routine can help keep them excited and engaged in all the sports you are training in.

Even if you don’t seriously compete, training in low-impact sports can also help improve your timing and communication with your dog. You might even discover that your dog has a passion or aptitude for a sport you never previously thought about getting involved in.

Keeping Safety at the Forefront

When training in any sport, including low-impact ones, be sure to keep any of your dog’s physical limitations in mind. If you’re pursuing these lower-impact options for your dog because of an injury, disability, or other health-related concern, it’s important to schedule a visit with your dog’s veterinarian first. Your vet will be able to walk you through any limitations about what sports are appropriate for your dog and any considerations to keep in mind while training. Once you know about your dog’s limitations, you can adjust your training to accommodate their specific needs.

Low-impact sports are a great way to introduce puppies to sports training and can also be a wonderful retirement sport for older dogs. Plus, they can be just as challenging and stimulating as high-impact sports and a tremendous amount of fun for dogs and their owners.

Related article: Best Dog Sports For Giant Breeds
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