This list is my current "to-do" for my just-about-ready-for-Novice dog, Jambo!
#1. Proof at home. During an agility trial, there will be other people in the ring, dogs getting warmed up nearby, and a generally amped-up atmosphere. If you enter a Pairs or Relay class, you and your dog will be in the ring while another dog is running a course! It is very much a part of thorough preparation that you and your fellow students help each other by creating similar distractions during your class as you practice. Get some “ring crew” people moving around as you practice your dog’s start line. Could one of the students be the “trial photographer” and hunker down by the side of the ring with a camera as a distraction? What if people clap and cheer? What if someone yells?
Port Chester Obedience Training Club's Agility Training Director Kim Seiter remembered a particularly unfortunate series of events at one of her young dog’s first trials. In her dog’s first Gamblers’ run, the judge (in charge of stating the points earned by the dog running) shouted, “ONE!” as her dog sailed over his first jump. Startled by that loud shout, her dog hesitated - then, outside the ring, all of the rest of Kim’s dogs erupted in wild barking! What did her young dog learn about competition that morning? “He learned that there's a person in the ring that yells suddenly; he learned that his handler gets kind of frenetic - and he learned that strange things happen that make the rest of his “pack” get loud!” We’d file this under “Lessons we wouldn’t want to repeat” - in any case, Kim’s dog had a strong foundation and handily got over this upset.
Kim Seiter’s Nyalka
It seems that there is no end to the creative ideas that seasoned agility competitors will use to get their students ready for the ring - at the dog’s pace. As you might imagine, every instructor has got a number of strategies to simulate situations you’d see at a trial.
Melanie Miller teaches online courses at Agility University that specifically prepare teams for working together in a trial atmosphere. Melanie says, “The Find Your Missing Link class is perfect in helping beginners to accomplish the goals of being focused on what really matters : a positive ring experience and building confidence in the dog!” In this class, the focus is on teaching handlers to discover fun, effective ways to motivate their canine partner or channel the drive that they have. (Think “Tricks”!) In this course, she outlines and demonstrates different games for handlers to try, and custom tailors the game plan for each individual dog. She even adds start line stays into this mix!
Melanie’s puppy Heart
#2. Attend a seminar, workshop, or class at some new location. Find out now, rather than at a pressure-filled trial, what your dog’s challenges are in new locations. This is not only more fair to your partner, it’s great information for you - and the seminar presenter or class instructor will likely be mindful of that in their coaching. Ask your instructor and fellow students for recommendations. The Agility world is not huge, and lots of information gets passed around in classes, on Facebook (my local group is “Northeast Agility Seminars”), and on the AgileDogs list (to subscribe : [email protected] for help.) Be sure the presenter is aware of your goals, even if they are just the beginning steps towards trialing - the best presenters will be patient about this!
Agility instructor Niki Levien teaches at Kellar’s Canine Academy in NJ. She works closely with student teams on trial preparation - including sending them out to seminars “away from home”.
“I'm assuming that training is in place and the dog has worked in as many environments as possible,” says Levien. “I teach a how-to seminar introducing the Agility Venue Canine Performance Events that covers what to bring, what to expect, etiquette, volunteering, how the day goes, possible run orders (tall to small, high to low), etc. But more than anything I encourage them to go to a trial, without their dog, and volunteer. I also encourage them to go to a match or run through if possible. My focus becomes information for the handler so their stress is lessened if at all possible. They'll be nervous enough without adding surprise of something they didn't expect. Such as getting their dog measured when it has never seen a wicket.”
Pupp, Niki and Puppa at a Halloween trial
Ah, the measuring wicket. As I re-read this post the night before my own Agility classes, I realized that we were missing out on a chance to introduce this probably-weird-to-dogs bit of equipment during down time in class. The concerns that students have (“What if my dog is fearful and can’t have a stranger leaning over him?”) are best answered well in advance of filling out your first entry form. Our class had a good time letting all the dogs discover that walking under the wicket made treats fall from the sky!
Hey there, Buddy! Under the wicket we go.
More to Read : longtime competitor and teacher Rachel Sanders : “USDAA's Miscellaneous Classes for Training in the Ring”, July 2016
“Bad Dog Agility” podcast hosts Sarah and Liz talk about how a local trial makes the first-time novice competitor comfortable and excited about their future in the sport of dog agility.
Affordable Agility’s helpful play-by-play blog post about first trials.
About the author
Misa Martin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Years of attending agility seminars, workshops, seminars and camps with her first dog led to the beginning of her professional dog training career as a PetSmart Trainer in 2008. In addition to joining Port Chester Obedience Training Club's Family Manners program, Misa is a staff trainer at the Mount Vernon Humane Society, active with Pets Alive Westchester as a group class instructor and consultant for training and behavior issues, and a volunteer for the Walden Humane Society's education program. Misa owns Hudson Valley Dog Trainer, providing reward-based training to private clients. Through her knowledge, experience, and sense of humor, Misa encourages students to approach dog training as a team effort, where students learn as much from their dogs as dogs learn from their "parents," making training fun for humans and dogs alike! Misa can be reached at [email protected]