If you are keen to get involved in canine agility, heelwork to music, fly ball or any other team or individual canine sport, you may well be wondering what breed or type of dog would be the perfect pick to go for. There is definitely not one “best” dog breed or type for agility and sport, but nevertheless there are a core set of several breeds that can commonly be seen partaking in agility and canine sports successfully, and a greater number of dogs of these breeds tend to be involved in active sports with their owners than most other dog breeds.
This does not mean, however, that all or most dogs of the breed will take to agility and active sports, and there really is no magic formula to finding the perfect puppy or adult dog to work with! You are unlikely to be able to judge the potential competency of any puppy until thy reach the age where you can get out there and have a go, and there is no guarantee that even a dog descended from agility champions will have an equally great talent for the sport.
The “X factor” or combination of traits required of the agility dog are numerous, and finding a dog that ticks all the boxes and training them successfully is all part of the challenge! Agility dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but the things that they do have in common with each other include:
Some dogs simply do not make for good agility dogs due to their conformation or physical traits; such as the Bulldog, which is slow moving and heavy, and has a flattened face that can lead to laboured breathing and overheating with too much physical activity. Many other brachycephalic breeds of dog are also unsuited to agility due to their conformation, but the boxer dog is an exception that is sometimes seen competing in canine sports.
Ten of the best breeds for agility and canine sports, in no particular order
The Labrador Retriever is a great pick for agility or canine sport, as they are active, outdoors-y dogs that generally mix well with other canines and are responsive and personable to train.
The Border Collie is traditionally a herding dog, used to spending a lot of time outside, prolonged bouts of physical activity, and a superior degree of obedience. The Collie is also capable of retaining a wide range of complex commands, and is ranked as the most intelligent dog breed in the world.
The Springer Spaniel is a friendly, personable dog that is equally happy getting involved in games and activities on land and in the water. Keen to please, very obedient and generally calm and laidback under pressure, the Springer Spaniel is a good pick for canine sports.
The Hungarian Vizsla is a traditional Hungarian sporting dog, with excellent recall and the intelligence to be able to follow a range of complex commands and react quickly. They are also very sure-footed, and well suited to precision work.
These plucky little terriers are excellent all-rounders, and often seen competing in the small dog categories of obedience and agility classes. Outgoing, lively and highly intelligent, the bored Jack Russell can prove to be a handful, and getting involved in agility or another sport that provides an outlet for their talents can prove beneficial to both dog and owner.
The Standard Poodle is ranked as the second most intelligent dog breed (after the Border Collie), and is eminently trainable and keen to get involved in activities! The long legs of the standard poodle and their long sweeping strides make them a good pick for speed work.
The German Shepherd bonds strongly with their handlers, are highly intelligent, and are very strong and active. Most commonly associated with guarding dog roles in modern times, the German shepherd’s origins as a working herding dog really shine through when these dogs get involved in agility or other sports.
The Shetland Sheepdog or “Sheltie” is a fizzy, energetic and lively herding dog that can put their natural propensity for activity and significant brainpower to good use by taking part in a wide range of canine sports, particularly highly active ones such as agility.
The Welsh Corgi may be associated in most people’s minds with a life of luxury in the Royal palace, but these small, energetic dogs have a long and distinguished history as working animals, and are quick to catch on to new ideas and try out new things. Particularly good for precision work and sharp turns!
The Golden Retriever is an excellent all-rounder, with a laid back temperament that belies their enthusiasm for sports and play! The Retriever is equally well suited to sports that involve catching and retrieving, such as fly ball, and precision activities such as agility and heelwork. The Retriever usually heartily enjoys being around other dogs as well, so is a good pick for team sports.
All of the breeds above are pedigree dogs commonly seen within the UK taking part in agility competitions and canine sports, but don’t overlook a mixed breed or mongrel dog in your search! Overall, more mixed breed dogs partake in canine sport than any one type of pedigree dog, and success in canine sport, like anything else, is something that comes down to a combination of the dog’s personality and the effectiveness of the owner.
Agility and other canine sports are inclusive disciplines, meaning that they are not breed-specific and any breed or type of dog can take part in them and, if successful, compete at the highest levels.
Don’t be afraid of having a go, regardless of the type of dog you own!