Running a Trial

How to keep a trial running smoothly

The biggest time-killers at a trial are: course-building; equipment operation (at jump height changes); stewarding between exhibitors. The *solution* is for exhibitors to pitch in, lend a helping hand. Offer your services as a course-builder, or as a ring steward, as a runner, or a poster. Agility is a labor intensive sport. If exhibitors *don't* help, what you will see is more shows running 3 hours more than they really should and a proliferation of grinch-like rules. (Bud Houston)

The pause table and the tire jump are two obstacles that take a lot of time to change from one jump height to the next. The pause table situation could be helped somewhat by having only a 12 and a 24 inch table (this is legal in USDAA competitions), and the tire jump should be one that can be changed over easily. (Greg Ruhe)

The host club should make every effort to make SURE their equipment is in good condition. Clubs should have a work party just before the event to check everything out. Check the nuts and bolts to make sure everything is there and tight. Check pole supports both on the jumps and on the bars -- replace anything that needs replacing. Contact equipment should be given a thorough inspection to make sure everything is tight and intact. One of the main obstacles that frequently gets overlooked is the 30" pause table. Most groups don't use it in practice and it becomes neglected. You don't have to use the 30" table at an event, if it's unsafe, throw the thing away!

At an outdoor event on uneven ground, setting jumps can be a real problem. Be sure you have lots of wooden wedges to place under the jump wings if necessary so that the poles will hang properly. Check out the way your chute is fastened to your barrel and make sure it is securely attached, i.e. a 60 lb. 200 mph Border Collie isn't going to rip it off! This attention to detail pays off in several ways. First, the event goes more smoothly and quickly, you know the dogs are going to be safe in regards to the equipment, plus out of town exhibitors won't give you a bad "rep" for having poor equipment. (Jo Ann Mather)

Borrowing an idea from the Olympia (London) horse show and agility finals, a bell was recently introduced at a DAWG show. A dinner bell was used, with cord taped to the handle for the timer to wear. She held a stopwatch in one hand and rang the bell with the other. On signal (ie course ready, jumps set, tunnels straightened) she rang the bell. This meant: HANDLER YOU MAY NOW START without the handler having to struggle to locate the timer, judge etc. It also allowed the handler to completely focus on his dog- no attention loss, etc. It saved at least 15 seconds per run. With almost 240 dogs that's 60 minutes. The idea was very well received, and should be considered for all trials, whatever registry.
(Marquand Cheek)

It's quite possible to run a 2-ring event with 200 competitors and finish before dark without imposing fault limits. Some suggestions:

  • Hire people to help for $10/hour. Explain in advance that you will treat them like slaves so they know what to expect. Rely on them for some of the more labor-intensive and time-critical tasks such as course changes.
  • Try to put your most experienced people in the position of gate steward for the Starters classes. Before a competitor goes in the ring, they are briefed where to stand when they go in and shown who they need to look at to know when to start. They are also told what to do when they finish the course and where their leash will be. Try to answer the questions in advance and avoid the situation of a new competitor standing on the start line staring at the judge for a signal to go.
  • Instead of having the timer say to competitors "You may go when ready," try having the timer say "Start now, please." People will get going a lot faster and spent less time doodling with their dogs.
  • Encourage Starters competitors to take their dog to the start line on leash. This cuts out a lot of time with the competitor trying to keep their dog where they want him and fussing with him--while it should be going on while the dog is on deck, some of this invariably carries over into the time period where they should be actually starting. Suggest removing the dog's collar and creating a slip lead with their own leash by looping the end through the handle.
  • Better scheduling of classes would help the situation a lot. For example, it doesn't make sense to run a standard titling class, take all the contact obstacles out of the ring to run Jumpers, and then bring them all back in to do Gamblers--but this sort of thing happens all the time! Also try splitting a class into mini and open and have separate walk throughs.
  • Figuring out actual times for when each class should start (based on number of dogs entered and time allowed per dog) can be very useful for a club. It gives everyone a goal and a point of focus.
  • Sponsor a competition between your ring crews. Which ring crew can set a course the fastest!

(Monica Percival)

Some more ideas on trial management:
  • A practice match two weeks before your event can be very helpful on several levels: check out equipment, give workers experience, or perhaps see how a new site works. The lure of a such a practice opportunity should get a good participation rate.
  • Just because your group has done good events in the past don't rest on your laurels. For every trial, make sure you have the number of people, especially the experienced ones, that are necessary.
  • The first step to improving performance is to measure it. Don't just file those event statistics, look at them. Use them to make better estimates of minutes per dog and course building time. Be sure to note unusual occurrences that effect the times like wind blowing over jumps. Try timing how long it is between dogs' runs and striving to minimize this. However be careful not to push so hard, or in such a way that it drains the fun from the event.
  • Hold a "post mortum" club meeting after the event. (Call it a wake if you like.) Talk about what you can do better. This is NOT a time for finger pointing or assigning blame. Be sure everyone focuses on improving the activity, NOT making excuses or finding scapegoats. Take notes and make sure they go where they'll be useful next time. And don't forget to celebrate your successes.

(Sally Sheridan)

We've all been to trials where things seemed to take forever. Most of the time this could be alleviated by an efficient trial committee and ring crew. One thing is true - if you have forever to get something done, you generally take that long to do it!

There are many hints for running an efficient trial. An attitude of "we will be efficient" will go a long ways in that direction. Starting on time is very important. A trial that begins late will run late every single time. Things just go downhill from there.

An AKC agility rep suggested the idea of having a match, be it sanctioned, fun or just club members, shortly before your trial. Everyone who's working the trial gets "on the job training" in his or her assignment. Set up a practice session in which you use three different level courses: Excellent, Open and Novice. The courses are set up much as they would be at a trial. The course is changed by moving just a few pieces of equipment. At the practice, run the Excellent course first. Then start the stopwatch and time how quickly the course can be changed to Open. Amazing how fast you can do something like that when you really try!

Another hint is to set up as much as possible the night before. Although AKC regulations do not allow you to set the course the night before, you can set up the contacts, and if the judge will give you a diagram, you can also "group" the proper equipment in its general area so it can be set the next day.

Get a really good chief course builder. Speed and efficiency in setting courses is essential in keeping your trial going. If you have AKC judges in attendance as exhibitors or spectators - KEEP THEM OFF THE COURSE! The speed of setting the course is absolutely inversely proportional to the number of judges "helping" to set the course!

Try to anticipate problems and head them off before they occur. Make sure the equipment is in good condition and that the trial will not be held up for repairs. Take time to put the catalog numbers and breeds on the score sheets and get them in order so the scribe doesn't have to struggle with finding the proper scribe sheets.

Use a bell or buzzer to start the dogs. Make sure the timer is wearing something distinctive and is easy to find so the exhibitor is not looking around frantically trying to locate the timer to see if they're ready. Get an efficient (read "assertive") gate steward who does a good job of keeping the flow of exhibitors into the ring going.

Proper course design may also save time on each run. If the first jump is close to the finish line, it may present itself as a potential off course to the dog finishing its run. The next dog can't move up to the start line until after the previous dog has completed its run. This tends to add about 10 to 20 seconds per run, which adds up during the day. If the start and finish are well separated, it allows the next dog to be ready to go as soon as the previous dog has finished its run.

Be sure you have enough help. If your club is small, enlist help from your exhibitors. Have a form in your premium list in which people can sign up for specific jobs at the trial (timer, scribe, steward, etc.) Many people are happy to help out and it helps build camaraderie. Have a printed schedule and assign people to specific jobs.

These are just some ideas on how to make things go more smoothly. There is no reason why a club can't handle 300+ runs if it is efficient.
(Jo Ann Mather)

If a club and the judge are reasonably experienced, they should be able to run 175 standard and 175 JWW, and be finished by 4:00pm. However, if either the club or the judge are inexperienced, the time will be longer.

A good club can build a course in about ten minutes. If a course is reasonably well built, the judge shouldn't have to spend more than a few minutes tweaking it. As the judge is measuring the course and doing time calculations, the exhibitors walk the course. This usually takes about eight to ten minutes. The judge clears the course, announces the SCT, and has the first dog on the line in three minutes.

There is no reason why the "down" time between classes should be more than 20-25 minutes -- especially if courses are being built down, instead of being built up. Building "UP" a course - i.e. going from novice to open - will almost always add time to that estimate.

A typical SCT for a standard AKC run is usually about 60-75 seconds. The JWW SCT is considerably less. So, why do some shows take so long?

Time is usually not lost on dogs running wild. It is lost on ancillary things. For example, how often does a handler walk to the line with her/his dog, and spend 20-30 seconds just taking off the leash or collar? With the exception of Flexis, virtually every leash can be turned into a slip collar. At some shows the clubs require it. A slip collar can come off in 1-2 seconds. At big shows this can easily knock 30 minutes off a show's length.

How many times have we seen handlers place their dog, walk away, walk back, re-set their dog, etc.? This can add another 30-45 minutes to a show- if judges permit it. The average "down" time between 1 dog finishing its run, and the next dog beginning its run can be reduced to 12-15 seconds without the handlers feeling rushed or pushed. But this requires experienced judges and, more importantly, a very organized club.

A big time saving feature is the timer/scribe/"writer" combination. It involves using 2 stopwatches. The judges designs a course that permits the timer, scribe, and "writer" to be in one position. The writer sits between the scribe and the timer. As a dog finishes its run, the scribe hands the scribe sheet to the writer, and the timer hands the stopwatch to the writer. The writer records the dogs time, and clears the stopwatch. As the writer is doing this, another dog is often halfway through its run. When the next dog crosses the finish line the procedure is repeated, and the writer hands back a cleared stopwatch to the timer. If the scribe writes down the time, that is at least five to ten seconds added per run, often more. She/he has to look at the stopwatch, write down the time, and get the next scribe sheet ready for use.

Another factor which can speed up events is having at least three to four dogs waiting, and having an "on deck" area that is as close as possible to the starting line. At some shows the on deck area is 25-30 yards from the starting line. It takes the handler and dog 30-45 seconds just to walk to the starting line.

At big shows, when you start adding 30 seconds here, 45 seconds there, you have often added another one or two hours to your show. By considering these tips, shows can be run in much shorter time periods.
(Dan Prestby)

One method that seems to work very well in letting people know when they need to go into the ring is to have a "whiteboard" or large sheet of paper on an easel next to the gate steward. For the class being run, all of the dogs' names (and if needed, the armband number too) are listed by jump heights and in running order (note: leave space for write-ins to move teams around in case of conflicts). Putting down the dog's name is very important because after awhile people will start to learn the names of the other dogs in the class - even 1st timers that don't know anyone yet. Arm band numbers change from show to show, and while you might memorize your number, or hope that the tag has stuck to your shirt so you can see it, no one else in the class is going to know it.

As teams check in, the gate steward will put a check by the name. Before a team goes in, the gate steward will insure that scribe has the right score sheet. Since everything had been pre-sorted, usually a verbal conformation will suffice. This saves time by not having to run the score sheet to the scribe each time. Also, communications confusion at the gate is reduced since all the gate steward needs to do is to point at the dogs name and in essence ask "is this your dog?". As they go in, the gate steward will either draw a line or erase that name.

The big benefit is that the handlers know exactly where they stand as far as how many teams there are before their run. This works a lot better than having the gate steward just carrying around a catalog and having people straining to get close enough to look over someone's shoulder to figure out when they need to get their dogs or step up to the line. It also reduces the amount the gate steward needs to call out for people. Calling names may still need to be done, but not as much, and the less people are yelling, the less confusion there is.

Clubs can still hand out the score sheets to the handlers ahead of time, and/or then run them one at a time to the scribe. This is not necessary, and since people are often wetting down their dogs, or giving them treats, ... sometimes the score sheets are a real mess by the time you get them back.

The only down side is that someone needs to spend some time writing down names ahead of time on the board. However, this can usually be done as the course is being built for that class. It is time very well spent.
(Ken Boyd)

  1. If you do a run order sheet vs a catalog for exhibitors, include the breed of the dog, as well as its call name. It doesn't help much when a Gate Steward tells you who you are running after if you don't know the dog!
  2. Exhibitors really need to get to the start line -- that's probably the biggest factor in keeping things moving. Generally the higher level folks will know this, while Novice people may need more help to get in the right place at the right time.
  3. Trial Secretaries -- if an exhibitor has two dogs in one class -- PLEASE separate them as widely as possible. It can be done the day of the trial, but it causes confusion because the other exhibitors may not be aware that the dog has been moved to the beginning of the class.
  4. Posting scores quickly is *much* appreciated by all exhibitors.
  5. Judges need to make sure their signals to the scribe are visible. It helps a lot for the judge to use one hand for a refusal fault and the other hand for a wrong course fault, and use the "T" signal for a table fault, as opposed to just holding up two fingers, which can definitely look like five fingers sometimes. Or some judges rotate their hands for a table fault, which is distinctive, too.
  6. This isn't necessarily an agility thing -- just a dog show thing, but in a crowded venue, exhibitors and spectators should have gossip sessions somewhere besides the middle of the aisle. It sure makes it difficult to get to the ring when a crowd of six or seven people are busily going over someone's dog in the middle of the aisle!
  7. For trial workers, use a spreadsheet listing the jobs and who is doing what for what class. This should be sent out to the workers ahead of time (if possible) so they know what they're doing and can plan accordingly.

(Jo Ann Mather)

With the rapid growth of agility and the fact that entries have gone from 90-100 per trial to many times over 200 per trial, the job of gate steward has become one of the more important ones for keeping the trial moving at a smooth and efficient pace. Here are some of the problems and duties of the gate steward.

  1. The gate steward's first duty is to the judge. The judge will inform the gate steward as to when he/she wants the next handler ready and on the line. This instruction will be given to each handler.
  2. All exhibitors should check in when the class/height is announced, even if they are not expected to run for a time. This is to let the gate steward know that they are in the area and are aware of what is happening in the ring. If there are any problems or conflicts, the gate steward can then inform the scribe during a break between dogs. Since many handlers run several similar dogs/breeds, making sure that the scribe has the scribe sheets in the correct order will help to speed the class along and prevent the wrong scribe sheet from being used. Handlers, please do not check in and then disappear for the next half hour.
  3. Many times the "one on line, one on deck and one in the hole" line up doesn't work because of the quickness that a run may end. This is particularly true when dealing with masters/elite classes. While lining 5-10 handlers and dogs up at the start line or gate is not necessary, the gate steward must make sure that at least the next 5-6 handlers are in the general area. It is certainly easier if the gate steward knows the dogs/handlers by sight, but as clubs use more volunteer help from exhibitors, many new exhibitors may not know everyone. Also, with the influx of so many new participants, the Novice classes are especially difficult to keep running smoothly.
  4. The gate steward should let the scribe know where check-in stands. Compare the check-in list with the order of the scribe sheets with the scribe before running begins and then tell the scribe something on the order of, "The first 10 dogs have checked in" or "all of the 24" have checked in." This lets the scribe know that he/she only needs to take a cursory look to verify that dog on the line and the scribe sheet match.
  5. One trick that can be used in working with your scribe, dog-ear the first scribe sheet of each jump height. When you have a stack of 60 - 70 sheets and have to move a dog to the bottom of the height category, this will help to speed things up. Then, if as gate steward, an exhibitor was not at the gate for his/her run, it is a simple matter to tell the scribe to move the next dog to the bottom of the height class. No time wasted.

With many trials being held outdoors and without the benefit of artificial lighting, and with the trials becoming extremely large, it is very important for the exhibitors to help the gate steward as much as possible. If you are expecting a conflict with another ring, don't wait until the call for your height to make the gate steward aware of this conflict. As soon as check in is being done, tell the gate steward so that running order changes can be made. Be ready to run and be observant of what is happening in the ring. Many times you might be behind a tree, group of spectators or other exhibitors, or the gate steward may not know who you are, so, please be kind when you are being called. If you wish to remain at a bit of a distance, but are staying fully aware of which dogs you are to go after, just let the gate steward know that you will be "right over there" so he/she will not have to go looking.

Please remember that the gate steward is a volunteer and that the judge, timer and scribe are depending upon the gate steward to get the correct handler and dog on the line quickly.
(Becky Harstad)

One of the things that can slow down a trial is taking time to make sure the dog in the ring matches the score sheet. As trials become more efficient, and time between dogs is down to only a few seconds, there is isn't enough time to really double-check that the right dog is in the ring. The gate steward often is too busy to really keep on top of letting the scribe know of any changes in the order, dogs that didn't show up, etc. A quicker way to handle it is to use the leash or score runner. Oftentimes these folks are standing around while the dog is running; it's easy enough to have them double-check the number of the dog coming up next and just let the scribe know while the current dog is running. The scribe will then be fully ready to score the next dog the instant the current one is finished.
(Mary Jo Sminkey)

Here are some suggestions.

Pick the two most forceful people in the club to gate steward. Their instructions are simple:

  1. 1 in the ring, 1 in the gate, 1 in the hole.
  2. When you don't have someone come forward in 20 seconds, call the next dog. If the person shows up later, they can run at the end of the class. The 20 second rule still applies.
  3. When you reach the end of a height division with 1 dog on the line and none in the hole, you use the walkie talkie to call the announcer to ask for a height change announcement.
  4. When you reach the end of an event with 1 dog in the hole, 1 on the line, and 1 in the ring, you call the announcer on the walkie talkie and ask for a course change/ring crew.
  5. Do not allow competitors to stop a ring from running because they aren't ready or are inattentive!
  6. Put anyone who shows up late at the end of the height division. If the height division is over, they missed their run and don't get to take it. If they have a problem with that, they should see the trial secretary or trial chairperson.
  7. Announce that any participants with conflicts should see you BEFORE their height division. You can shuffle order to give them time to get another dog, if necessary.

A big problem are the people who enter 3 or more dogs in EVERY event. They are constantly in the other ring when called. Many of them run last, which creates minor problems for the scorekeepers who have to page back and forth to find their entry in the catalog. Looking over the show catalog, about 10% of those runs are missed because they didn't get over to the other ring fast enough. It's incumbent upon the exhibitor to be in the right place at the right time. When you've got nearly 600 runs to do in a day in 2 rings, you cannot offer one ring "priority" to create a wait for all the other competitors in the other ring while someone who entered multiple dogs finishes in one ring and then has to get their other dog out to immediately run in the other, lower priority, ring.
(Craig Tiano)

Here is a suggestion to make the move-up process go a lot quicker.

At the end of the trial on Saturday, have a bunch of people sit around the score table; each person has one catalog (if you use catalogs for the running order there's no need to print out new running orders). One person goes through the pile of move-up forms and dictates the changes that needed to be made to the catalog, calling out the appropriate page numbers and changes. Each person updates one catalog. Then go through and reorder the scribe sheets for the next day, and you're done!
(Barbara Bicksler)


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