Many dog breeds have historically been bred for specific working purposes. Although these breeds are not used for those tasks as often as they once were, they still have the instinctual ability to do those tasks. Breed-specific sports allow you to give your dog a chance to do the work that they were initially bred for, giving them an outlet for those instincts.
Open to all breeds that have been historically used for herding purposes, herding is a sport that tests a dog’s ability to move stock in a controlled manner. This unique skill requires training and instinct, which is why it is limited to breeds with a genetic predisposition to a herding instinct. For this sport, a dog must follow their handler’s commands and move stock through a preset course. Stock can be either sheep, ducks, or cattle. As most herding breeds are quite intelligent and high-energy, this sport can be an excellent outlet for them physically and mentally.
Historically, miniature terriers and dachshunds have been bred to hunt down small pests, such as rabbits and rats. Often this required pursuing these animals underground, which is precisely the task that earthdog simulates. During an earthdog event, dogs are to follow the scent of a rat through man-made tunnels and then show that they have the desire to catch the rat once they find it. However, the rat is safely locked in a cage, so this desire is shown by barking or scratching rather than killing the rat. Since terriers and dachshunds were bred specifically to do this task, earthdog trials are a great way to fulfill their instinctual desires while keeping the dog and the prey out of danger.
There are several different field trials, but all of them are designed to test a dog’s ability to assist a human in hunting. The differences between these trials depend on the breed and their hunting style. It’s important to note that while field trials mimic hunting to test a dog's abilities, there is no actual hunting involved.
The first category of field trials is the ones centered around retrieving. Within this category, there are retriever events and spaniel events. There are a few differences between the two beyond the types of breeds eligible, but for the most part, they both test a dog’s ability to find game birds after they’ve been shot and bring them to you. Competing with your retriever or spaniel in a retrieving field trial is a great way to give your dog a job and let them work both their bodies and minds.
Another hunting behavior that some dogs have been bred to possess is something known as pointing, which is where a dog freezes with its nose pointed in the direction of something that it wishes to bring its handler's attention to. Pointers, setters, and a few other dog breeds with this instinctual trait are eligible to participate in pointing dog field trials. These field trials are designed to test a dog’s ability to locate prey and point to it until the handler arrives, then flush it and retrieve it on command. As all pointing breeds are generally relatively high-energy, competing in field trials can be an excellent outlet for their energy and a great way to express their natural instincts.
While both pointing and retrieving type field trials are based on testing the hunting ability of gun dogs, there is another category of a field trial that tests the hunting ability of scent hounds. There are many types of hound field trials, as other hound breeds have different hunting styles, but they generally test a dog’s ability to track game by scent. This is one of the best activities for scent hounds to participate in because it allows them to use their instinctual tracking abilities, which are hard to replicate through other activities.
Like field trials, lure coursing is a sport designed to test a dog’s ability to hunt, although there are a few key differences because of the breed this sport targets. Designed for sighthounds, a group of breeds bred to catch prey by themselves instead of being used to assist humans with the task, this sport simulates the chasing of live prey. The main trait that sighthounds were bred to have is immense speed, and they get a chance to show this off as they chase a lure around a course—hence the name lure coursing. Although sight hounds are the only breed eligible for lure coursing, there is a similar sport known as fast CAT that is open to any breed.