Your First Agility Trial
Here are the contents of a pamphlet South Coast Agility Trainers Of Southern California gives to their members who are about to enter their first trial.
Be sure to also check out the Trial Guide For Novices.
So you finally decided that you and your dog are ready to make the first step in the ring together!!!
Hopefully you were able to go to other trials as a spectator and/or a helper. Watching others compete, listening to their concerns and observing the equipment they bring can help prepare you for your first time.
Try to make this first venture a local one. For heaven's sake don't fly across the country for your initial try. Take it slow. If it is a two day trial, it may be wise to enter only one of those days and observe on the other day. If you decide to enter the second day, you will have the first day to get acquainted with the area and watch the other dogs go thought their paces. If you enter the first day, you can observe the second day and try to see how you could have improved your first day performance. Either way, try to help out on the day you are not running. Help set jumps, run results to scorer, etc. All this will add to your knowledge of the sport. Take heart in the fact that even the dogs and handlers in the Excellent (AKC), Elite (NADAC) and Masters (USDAA) classes occasionally blow it (Big Time.) It is better to go away from your first attempt believing that you and your dog could have handled more than being so confused or upset that you never want to see another course. Take time to enjoy other people and their dogs. Make sure your dog is comfortable and cool.
Several weeks or days before the trial, do something at home to prepare you and the dog mentally. Set up some weave poles or a pause table in your yard along with a couple of jumps. Even the smallest condo usually has a green area where you can do this. Do a few of these every morning or night and make your dog feel like this is a very special time for him. Your dog will start to sense that something important is about to occur. Don't mind if the neighborhood kids come by to watch. It helps the dog handle spectators. Besides, you and the dog will make a lot of good friends.
Don't leave your packing of equipment until the morning of the trial because there is a lot to do and you don't want to be exhausted before you even get on the road. Make sure you have the following items:
- X-Pen and/or tie-out.
- Mat or ground cloth
- Water (best you bring this from home so it is the same as the dog usually drinks)
- Food, if it is going to be a long day.
- Treats (very special ones, that do not need a lot of chewing)
- Chair - a very light weight/portable one
- Buckle collar with nothing dangling for AKC trials (Other organizations do not allow any collars - dogs run naked.)
- Easily removable leash for leading to ring.
- Shade cloth or umbrella in case the area has limited shade.
- Lunch for yourself
- Water or other liquid for yourself.
- Pencil and paper for writing results and copying courses (tracing paper is great for copying courses)
- A clipboard is a handy thing to have too.
- Plastic bucket or other container for toys, treats and any other miscellaneous items that you always cart along to make your dog comfortable.
- Plastic baggies for scooping poop.
Get to the site early enough to set up your equipment and get a good spot and have time to relax. In AKC, you will be given a check-in time which will probably be later in the day when you are in Novice Class. But get there early anyway to watch the other classes run. You will learn a lot and it will help your self confidence to know that they make mistakes too.
Soon after you arrive at the site, locate the registration table. You were probably given a time to register or sign in. If they do not seem to be busy at the table, ask them if it is all right to register early. The more you can get out of the way before all the other activities start, the better. You could also ask if you need to be measured and if you could get it done early.
As a Novice, be prepared to have your dog measured. No matter what you told them the height of your dog was, they will have to confirm it, unless your dog is jumping the maximum height. (Just a little aside - if your dog is on the borderline of sizes, try practicing at the higher jump heights, just in case you get moved up.)
When you have some free time, look around or ask to see the course map. These are maps that the judge usually posts and they show the proposed layout of the courses to be run that day. Sometimes there will be photocopies of the courses for you to have. If not, draw one for yourself. Keep it with you and study it at your leisure. Make sure you are studying the Novice course.
Pay attention to your dog a lot during the day. There will be a practice jump off to the side somewhere. Make sure he is warmed up before he must run and stretch and warm your muscles at the same time. Also make sure he has relieved himself if he has to. One of the more embarrassing times is when your dog decides he can not wait any longer right in the middle of the weave poles.
Just before the Novice Class is to run and right after the course is set (try to watch them setting the course), the judge will conduct a briefing which is sometimes quite humorous and always enlightening. You will not be able to have your dog with you at this time so be sure he is secured in his X-Pen or some one is watching him. They will ask for questions at that time. DO NOT be afraid to ask. You will probably be asking the question everyone else was afraid to ask. Quite frequently, in the Novice Class, they will have a dog familiarization time. At this time, you will be able to take your dog over the three contact obstacles. Always take advantage of this. You will not get this privilege once you are out of Novice. After that you will be able to walk the course without your dog to memorize the path. Do this until they make you get off the course. It seems that no matter how well you memorize it, you may forget a turn or twist once you are in the ring with your dog.
OK, now you are ready. All you have to do is sit and wait for your turn to come. Watch all the other dogs and continue to memorize the course. Get to the starting area well before your time has come. Usually there should be two dogs in line before you. BE SURE TO REMOVE ANY TREATS FROM YOUR POCKET. If you are running an AKC event, you may have a collar on your dog but it must be a buckle type with no dangling tags. In NADAC and USDAA, your dogs must run without any collar (naked). Check this before you get to the starting point. It would be a shame to be disqualified because of a silly dangling tag. Make sure you do not have anything in your pocket that jingles or makes any noise that could be construed as a signal. The gate steward will tell you when to take your dog on course. Once you are at the starting point, make sure the timer (not the judge, not the gate steward, not the scribe, but the TIMER) says you may "start when ready". At this point, your entire attention should be with your dog. You have done everything you can to prepare and now it is time to have fun. Don't worry if it is not a perfect run. Let the dog enjoy his day and you should enjoy yours. The more fun you have the more chance you will have of being successful. However, do not relax so much you forget to focus on your dog and the project at hand. When you and your dog have crossed the finish line heap him with praise. He needs to know that this is a good thing to do. Do not give him a treat until you are well away from the ring. There is a required distance from the start gate that treats are not allowed. Be sure to give your dog water and you should drink something too.
Now it is time to relax and reflect, but don't beat up on yourself. This is the first time for you and your dog and it is a learning experience. Frequently there will be an opportunity to speak with the judge. You will be surprised how well they remember, but give them any help that might jog their memories. Like: "My dog is the little pug that went over the dogwalk four times and then came up and licked your hand." They will give you a lot of help for your next attempt.
Talk to other dog owners, especially in the higher classes. They will usually be very helpful. Please don't bother them when they are soon to run, because they are trying to plan strategy, remember the course and psyche themselves and their dog up.
Enjoy the rest of the day. Be present when they give out the awards. You may have gotten one. Quite a few people have been surprised with placements and qualifications they did not expect.
The scores will probably be posted someplace. Here is where the clipboard, paper and pencil come into play. Of course you will write down your dog's score and time, but also write down the others in that class. It might be helpful if you note some of the conditions that were present such as: very hot day, crating area a long way from ring, etc.
IT IS OVER. You will never have another first time. You learned a lot and the next trial will be a lot easier. One thing to remember is that your dog will certainly have a surprise in store for you. He will do something that he has never done in his life before - just to keep you on your toes.
REMEMBER: HAVE FUN! HAVE FUN! HAVE FUN!
Jacqui Webster of South Coast Agility Trainers, Orange County CA
Copyright © 1997-2006 by Jacqui Webster. You may copy or print this page for personal use ONLY in its entirety, including this message. To distribute this page or any subset requires further permission from the copyright owner.