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Dogs are incredibly diverse in size, appearance, energy levels, and temperament, and it’s no accident. Dogs have been purpose-bred for generations to highlight this diversity. In times past, people relied on dogs to perform jobs and tasks. Different breeds were developed specifically to do for those working purposes. Today, most of our dogs spend a lot of time hanging out with their families. But, breeders and breed clubs have ensured that the dogs laying in our living rooms still have the instinct, drive, and ability to perform the work of their ancestors.

A Herding dog moving sheep across fields, or a Terrier going to ground in search of prey are beautiful sights to behold. Witnessing a dog do what they were bred to do, and what comes to instinctively to them, is a great joy that every dog owner should get to experience. Giving your dog the opportunity to connect with their instincts is easier than you might think. There are a variety of sports and activities that are designed to channel your dog’s drive and innate talents, and help them reawaken those purpose-bred instincts.


The AKC Herding Program offers both tests and trials, wherein dogs demonstrate their ability to move, herd, and control livestock like ducks, sheep, or cattle. In trials, herding dogs are competitively scored against one another. Only certain eligible breeds are permitted to participate in AKC herding, but “urban herding” events like triebball often welcome all dogs.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi herding a flock of sheep.
Nadezhda V. Kulagina/Shutterstock
Pembroke Welsh Corgi herding a flock of sheep.

Farm Dog

The non-competitive Farm Dog Certified Test is open to all breeds of dogs. The Farm Dog test assesses a dog’s aptitude as a working farm dog by looking for self-control, confidence, and trust in the handler in a variety of situations and setups that mimic a working farm environment. However, herding is not involved in the test.


Earthdog trials are specifically designed for terriers and Dachshunds to simulate the go-to ground tendencies of these vermin-seeking dogs. Dogs traverse simulated underground tunnels to find rats. This tests dogs on their natural subterranean hunting instincts. Also, to keep the rats safe from those tenacious terriers, they are kept in cages.

Barn Hunt

Barn Hunt is an always-interesting event open to all breeds of dogs who can fit through an 18″ wide bale-height tunnel. Dogs use their natural instincts to go on, over, and through bales of hay to locate and alert their handler to the presence of vermin like rats. Similar to Earthdog, rats are always kept safely away from dogs to keep them unhurt.


Among the more unique purpose-driven dog activities, pulling carts was historically a skill that many large and powerful breeds of dogs, like those in the Working Group, were developed to do. Drafting was used to help dogs to transport supplies. These days, drafting/carting events can be found across the country, organized by multiple national breed club. The sport is also accessible to dogs of all breeds.

Dock Diving

Lots of dogs like water, but some dogs were in fact purpose-bred to be in the water to retrieve game, or even to save people. Dock Diving is a fun sport for all dog breeds that channels a dog’s drive to launch themselves into the water.

Hunt Tests

There are a variety of breed-specific performance sports meant to awaken the instinctual purpose for which dogs were first developed. Included in these are hunt tests for Retrievers, pointing breeds, and spaniels. Different tests are meant to simulate hunting conditions, and test the traits and abilities of purpose-bred dogs in the field.

Lure Coursing

Have a Sighthound at home that was bred to run and chase? The sport of Lure Coursing allows these dogs to channel these natural instincts in a safe and controlled way by following a mechanical lure across a course or field. However, AKC lure coursing events are only open to specific sighthound breeds.

Fast CAT

If your dog loves to run, but they’re not a sighthound breed, consider Fast CAT (Coursing Ability Test). The sport is similar to lure coursing, yet easier and more accessible. Dogs simply chase a lure over a straight, timed 100-yard dash. Fast CAT is open to all breeds of dogs and is a great introductory sport because there is no training required. In fact, all your dog needs is an instinct to chase.


Does your dog always have their nose to the ground? Dogs see the world through their noses, and some breeds, in particular, were bred to use their keen sense of smell. Tracking is a fun sport accessible to all breeds of dogs, wherein follow a track of scent and find articles dropped along the scent trail.

Harrier walking and sniffing in grass on leash

Getting Started

Giving your dog the opportunity to do the work they were bred to do will lead to a more fulfilled dog and a stronger relationship with your dog. Interested in helping your dog do what they were bred to do? The best place to start is by finding your national breed club, and ideally a local chapter. These groups are a great place to meet other people with your breed who will be active in performance events.

You can also contact your local training center for information about training classes. If competing in dog sports doesn’t interest you, there are other ways that you can inspire your dog’s inner purpose. For instance, training with a local club, even if you don’t plan to compete, is useful. This will help exercise your pup, awaken their purpose-bred instincts, and strengthen the dog-owner bond.
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Selecting a Puppy

How do you know what breed is right for your family? How do you find a reputable breeder? What questions should you ask a breeder? Download this e-book for guidance on these questions and other important factors to consider when looking for a puppy.
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