Monday - May 26, 2000
Your First Agility Trial Primer
Advice for attending your First Agility Trial as requested by WT Rosie and her Mom.
First off, determine where you are going. Now this might seem self evident, but most agility trials are located anywhere but conveniently. Some are located at a local club, others at the local community centre, and still others are located somewhere in the country. And we are not talking about the "SMART COUNTRY" where drinks are served at 5:00 pm sharp and talk is all about horses. NO, we are talking about fields, crops, cattle, and sheep and a location on some obscure rural route.
And why is this important, because you have to figure out what time you have to leave to make your first run. Check your map, calculate travel time, and now add that to the following:
1. Your morning prep time
Now you add that all up and you can see it does take some time just to get there. Don't forget to check when you are running. The 'nice' thing about the novice or starters class is that you usually go first. And having a dog that probably measures in the 16" height class, you will probably be in the ring about 5th, given that there a very few dogs at the 8" or 10" plus height.
Calculating backwards and given that an agility trial starts at 8:00 am, actually 7:45 am sharp, you will be getting up around 4:30 am to start your fun day with your dog(s).
Packing and Food
Now the list has discussed a variety of thing you need to take to a trial, and of course this varies for an indoor to outdoor trial, and the season, and the projected weather forecast. Yes do check that, because you are going to be at the trail ALL DAY having fun, and weather can change over a 16 hour period. Assemble all your goodies, and pack everything thing you can in the car the night before. (Tent, chairs, mat, xpens, crates, dog supplies, people supplies, health care, clothing, shoes, boots, raincoats leaving room for you, your passengers, and of course the dog(s) - don't forget them). At this point you realize that you need a bigger car, van, truck or trailer to go to the trial; therefore, try packing the car a week before the trial in order that you can rent or buy a more appropriate vehicle for your dog(s).
Food glorious food. Well most trials don't have it - it is strictly bring your own. Remember fast food is fun for a few hours until indigestion sets in. YOU WILL NEED TO BRING YOUR OWN. However, if you are lucky and are a fan of junk food, your trial will be located new a small urban centre with a Macdonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Dairy Queen or not. And Macdonald's doesn't open till 6:00 am in most rural locations, plan accordingly.
Some tips for snacks - those small peeled carrots are a great snack. Also freeze a large juice bottle full of filtered water so that you and your dog(s) have a cool drink for the day. Farms tend to have limited water supplies and sometimes questionable water quality. Pack sandwiches, snacks, doggie treats, dog food, hot drinks, cold drinks in your cooler or appropriate container. The cooler and thermos should be the last thing you packed before you leave the house.
Travel and Arrival
Hopefully your significant other will be traveling with you to provide assistance for children just don't like getting up at 4:30 am and being co-operative - neither will your dogs. And yes it is dark at that time in the morning even in the summer.
Upon finding the right locations - and that is easy for you will spot others traveling with dogs that early in the morning and they will definitely be going to the same place that you are. And don't worry about arriving early, the organizers have already been at the site for several hours having FUN. Yes they get to have more fun than you, and you can see it in their faces when you check in.
Check your instructions for the trial for there are usually restrictions on where you can park. Park as close to your set up area as possible. At some outdoor areas, you can use your car as part of your home base. Hopefully your significant other will "cheerfully" set up your area while you go check out what is happening.
Check-in and Measuring
On your first 2 trials, you have to have your dog measured. The judge will provide a card to record your height, and the second measurement will confirm the height. Now everyone who is getting their dogs measured is in the same boat as you, and all will be chatty. It may help calm your nerves, which by the way where shot when you missed that all important turn-off on the highway about a half an hour ago. You will wonder why your dog measures 15 1/2" one day and 16" the next, and I can not offer any explanation for that. And you have to have your dog measured for each agility association you compete in (AKC,NADAC, CKC, AAC etc)
Once you get your dog measured, you can check in at the desk and receive your package which will contain a running order and your number/arm band/stick on - whatever. Check your times and you will notice that you are near the beginning and it all starts at 7:45 am and it is now 7:30 am. Yikes you have been having so much fun, the early morning has gone.
Take your dog for a quick pee/poop and one for your self, and drop you dog off at your area or with your significant other and get your tired sorry little ass (oops) to the ring. Just because you feel that you have already put in a full day, and of course you have, no need to feel exhausted for the REAL FUN is about to begin.
Walking the Course
15 minutes before the run starts, the judge will call the entire class to the ring for a briefing and your walk through. The judge will explain his/her rules and the count for the table. The judges, well most of the them, are very friendly and really want you to have a good experience, especially if it is your first time. Listen and don't get too nervous.
Now you get to walk the course - fortunately the course is numbered and all you have to do is follow the numbers in order - real easy. You will have time to walk the course several times, so the first time just figure out the route. From what I have seen of AKC trials, the novice/beginners course are simply laid out, with no real traps - they like to save that for the next level which you may spend years trying to obtain (unless you are running Baxter where you will spend years just trying to get him around any course). It is helpful if one of your more experienced agility friends walk the course with you. And no you cannot walk your dog around the course.
Now the second time you walk around you will get a feel for how the course was designed and how to efficiently run the course (that will come with time). You will notice some of the other folks running an imaginery dog around the course, pacing off distances and working out their hand signals. Now you first thought will be "WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY DOING". Don't worry - they are on another planet and rarely have I ever seen their dogs place. Walk thru the course a third time and this is really important.
TRY TO DETERMINE YOUR RUN STRATEGY WITH YOUR DOG'S LIMITATIONS IN MIND.
Don't concern yourself with being efficient - remember work with your dog strong points and help him with his weak areas. The important thing on your first couple of runs is experience. There are a lot more trials, and the clubs are more than happy to take your money for trial after trial after trial.
Take one last look at the course, and keep to your decisions. Now hurry back to get your dog for your first run is only moments away.
You must check in at the gate, and the organization usually likes to have 1 dog on deck (that is the next dog to run) and 3 dogs waiting. When you enter the ring you must remove the leash and collar - yes folks that means your dog is totally free to do whatever. Sit your dog right at the start line and wait for the whistle. It may take some time to clear the ring from the previous run (poles down, setting/changing jump heights, or best of all "clean up on aisle four" - well mistakes do happen). Take a big breath and your are off.
Now hopefully you have set a goal for you and your dog for each run - and that depends upon your dog. I have had several goals for Baxter, such as:
1. Going across the start
As you can see there are many goals at a junior level, and wining or even completing the course may not be your first priority when you start out.
You will probably not remember your first run, well maybe not your first ten runs but it is all experience. Hopefully some one can video tape it and you can review the run afterwards.
Now do not be surprised if your dog screws up. The judges at this level expect this, and will allow to complete at least one piece of equipment successfully before you leave the course. They are usually very nice. And if your dog acts likes a complete ass out their, do not hesitate to pick him up and leave the course. DO NOT LET HIM JERK YOU AROUND OUT THERE for he will think that it is party time very time you go into the ring.
Leaving the ring with your dog in your arms may be embarrassing, but it shows you know what you are doing. There is nothing worse than to watch another person struggle with a poorly behaved dog and use up too much time. The judges will call time out. It is better for you to determine that and be in control.
Now if your dog does really well, pick him up after he crosses the finish line with lots of praise. The ring steward will give you your leash and collar, and you walk out of the ring a proud terrier owner. Personally I have not experienced this feeling.
OH and you are not allow to bring any sort of doggie treat in your hand or your pocket when competing. You are also not allowed to touch your dog but your dog can touch you. And you cannot physically force him to do a piece of equipment. And most importantly YOU CANNOT SWEAR - save that for when you go to your car for a private moment to gather your thoughts.
Well you have just completed your first run and it was lots of fun (or so they say). However, since you have a Welsh Terrier you will get lots of praise for trying. And everyone will adore you dog, and of course a few will call him a mini Airedale. And they will remember you for you have an unusual dog doing agility. Fellow terrier owners will offer praise, encouragement and advice, and border collar owners will just shake their heads for they cannot understand why you would even own a terrier let alone compete with one. This is a good time for your dog to lift his leg and pee on the other silly dog owner, or for him to take a good bite of fur from the big dog standing across from you. Finally this is when you can be really proud of your little darling - they take no guff.
Now wasn't that fun. And you get to do it again in another 4 to 8 hours depending how they have organized the trial. And the following day too, but the running order will hopefully be reversed you will be able to get up at 6:30 am not 4:30 am for another FUN DAY DOING DOG AGILITY.
Don't forget to pack up and drive home safely.
Bill, Baxter & Bertie who all go next weekend for a 2 day outdoor agility trial without Ed who will be out of town on business (wake up time 4:00 am both days).