Saturday, August 1

Tips for your First Agility Trial

It was only in February that I first began participating in agility trials. I remember the first one clear as a bell - because I was completely, totally, a nervous wreck. I don't like not knowing exactly what to bring or what to expect. So I have formulated this little article with some helpful information for anyone planning on competing in their first agility trial.

What to bring
Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely suggestions on things you should plan on taking!
  1. Dog Crate or Exercise Pen (some trials do not allow X-Pens - read the premium)
  2. Water (you AND your dog) and water bowls
  3. Treats. Stinky, yummy treats to keep your dog's attention away from the ring when you're getting him out of the crate, as well as to reward when you're back at your crate after a run. Don't forget snacks for you!
  4. An extra leash and collar. Because something could happen to yours. It has to me!
  5. Crate/xpen mat. Some trials require them. Read the premium.
  6. Rule book for whatever organization you are running in. Folks are always asking me to borrow my rulebook. And it's good to make sure you know the rules before you run.
  7. Notebook and pen/pencil to record how your dog did.
  8. Poop bags
  9. Toys - either for a quick game of tug/fetch well away from the rings, or to play with in the crate.
  10. Chair - it's a long day.
  11. Blanket - for covering your dog if he's a barker, or if there is a draft in the building.
  12. Portable battery fan. Don't bother with those tiny crate fans. Get a big one that takes about $10 worth of D batteries. These are awesome for the summer.
  13. Hat/Sunglasses/Sunscreen/Hair scrunchie - must haves for outdoor trials!
  14. A book, crossword puzzles, etc. You probably won't want to sit there watching the other dogs all day long. It's good to have something else to do as well.
  15. A good attitude! No matter how you and your dog do, have fun doing it

Other Tips
It's always a little scary taking your pooch to a trial for the first time. Here are some more tips for your day!
  1. Get there as early as the club will allow you, so both you and your dog can settle in and get measured.
  2. You may be able to have your stuff already set up - some clubs allow you to help set up the night before, and workers are rewarded with setting up their gear that night.
  3. Relax. Even if you run into an obstacle, trip and fall, or misdirect your dog - everyone has seen it before. It's probably even happened to them. Laugh heartily and finish, if you can, or take a breather.
  4. Talk with some of the other folks at the trial. There is plenty of advice to be had if you want it!
  5. If someone from your home club is there, they may be willing to walk the courses with you (if the organization permits it - CPE does).
  6. Walk the course until your time is up or you feel comfortable on it. Even if you're the only person left out there walking.
  7. Your dog will probably react differently at a trial than at training class. Popper has a very nice and reliable sit stay in class. At a trial, he has no idea what that means, making lead-outs impossible. Merlin is a leisurely trotter in class, and a full-out marathon sprinter at a trial. Be prepared to react on the fly to whatever happens.
  8. If someone can video the run for you, it's always fun to have. Even if you don't like watching it to see how you did (and possibly explain why Fido went through the tunnel instead of the tire), it's a great memento to have of you and your dogs' first trial run together!
  9. The judges are generally very nice, especially to folks new to the sport.
  10. You can tell when your dog has had enough. It's probably a good idea to only enter your dog in 2 or 3 runs unless you have this energetic ball of fur that can run and run and run without ever getting tired. If you enter in too many runs, and your dog is mentally *done*, you could do more harm than good by trying to do "just one more run."
  11. Don't get upset at your dog or yourself! If this is your first trial, you're still very new to agility, and the more you compete, the more relaxed and better you will get at it. You started in agility to have fun with your dog - so go have fun, whether you Q or not!
I hope you have fun at your first trial! It was a fantastic learning experience for me, and even though they still scare me senseless (generally, right when I enter the ring, LOL) they are a lot of fun and the dogs really enjoy it!

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