Your First Agility Trial – Part IV

By: Sally Silverman
Part IV
Making the most of the experience:

With so many rules and courses, registrations and running orders to keep straight, it’s sometimes easy to forget why you are trialing in the first place! Some ideas for making the most of your first trial experience:

Walking the course
Some walk the dog’s path first; some break it into sections, maybe walking the ending portion before the beginning. There is no right or wrong way, just use your time wisely. This isn’t the time for socializing, but if you have a buddy who likes to discuss handling options, walk together to figure it out. Be courteous of others. There are often bottleneck spots on course where handling may be a particular challenge or a number of obstacles are close together. Don’t choose that busy spot to chat.

Warming up
Prevent injuries to you and your dog by warming up. Everyone has their own ritual, and sometimes finding the right plan is trial and error. There will be a warm-up jump somewhere close to your ring, and this is your opportunity to practice a few jumps. Keep in mind that other people will also be waiting for the practice jump. It’s important, too, to give your dog the opportunity to relieve himself. Urinating or defecating in the ring is an automatic disqualification.

Running the course
Set your dog up just like you practiced with all those start-line stays in class. Then try to run just like you do in training.

Oh NO!!
Everyone forgets a course, misses a contact, or messes up some other way. Just go on. Some venues are tolerant of training in the ring, in other venues you will get whistled off the course. The best plan is to make the experience fun and positive for your dog. Check the rules before you compete so you know what is allowed in the venue you are in and by all means, ask the judge at the briefing if you are unsure what is allowed.

After your run
Sometimes a copy of your score sheet will be available to pick up, after you have praised and rewarded your dog appropriately. In other venues you have to wait until the class is finished and scores are posted to see how you did. If you don’t understand a score, ask someone. Be judicious about asking the judge–they rarely change scores.

Ribbons and Records
Most shows give qualifying (Q) ribbons and placement ribbons and sometimes small prizes. In AKC you must qualify to place, in other venues you can place without qualifying. On the back of your ribbon write the date, class, score, show name. This will help you to keep good records. You should also consider a notebook in which to keep information. Make notes on the course map, and record what worked and what didn’t. This will help your future training, as will videotaping your runs.  Run fast, run clean, but most of all have fun!

Sally Silverman is a freelance writer who writes for horse and dog publications including Dressage Today, USDF Connection and Clean Run. She shares her home and heart with three Australian Shepherds. A member and instructor at Y2K9s Dog Sports Club outside of Philadelphia, she enjoys Agility, Canine Freestyle, Tracking and Rally O. She is happiest when with her dogs: learning, competing, hiking, or sharing a cuddle on the couch.