my dog do agility?
Baby steps in training
Basic Do's and
of the obstacles
Tips for each obstacle
What to Call Each Obstacle
dogs that are slow, scared, stubborn and crazy!
Entering a competition
Groups, discussion boards etc.
Entering a competition
kinds of events and how to find them
Different kinds of events.
There are basically two kinds of agility competitions. 1) "Matches"
(or "Fun Matches") and 2) Sanctioned trials. Matches are
open to mixed breeds and are usually less stringent in rules (i.e. you may be
able to use food in the ring and keep your dog on a leash). Matches are cheaper
to enter, and some people will purchase more than one "run" with their
dog (or dogs) just for the inexpensive practice. Matches may give ribbons or
prizes, but qualifications do not add to your dog's "title". To get a
"title" on your dog (it's a label, kind of like our educational labels
PHD and MD) you must enter a "sanctioned" trial.
Sanctioned Trials are put on by more organized
dog clubs. They must work under the "sanctioning" of a certain
organization, such as AKC (the American Kennel Club), USDAA (United States Dog
Agility Association) as
well as others such as NADAC. These organizations determine the standards by
which the agility trial will be conducted, including the kinds of obstacles used
(and the quality) as well as some variation in classes offered, and rules. Some
of the organizations require purebreds, some allow mixed breeds (see our link
for "Other Resources" for more details on the different organizations
and how to find more information on each one). Do not be overly concerned about
which organization you will become acquainted with in your first trial. The two
largest organizations (AKC and USDAA) have very similar obstacles and classes.
What's fun about having different organizations is, you can earn titles in each
one. That's double the titles. Imagine how much your dog's puppies will be worth
How to find them in your area.
For some reason, agility matches and trials are rarely advertised in newspapers.
Or at least they are hard to find when you are looking for them. And they fill
up early. If you are
interested in entering one, you must find out about them as early as you can. You can
subscribe to magazines offered by the organizations that have listings sent
every month, such as www.akc.org or www.usdaa.com.
You can also try such websites as www.agilityevents.net
and www.cleanrun.com. You can also visit the
websites of the different sponsoring organizations (such as akc.org and
usdaa.com) and get their listings. They primarily advertise sanctioned trials.
If you join a training class or club, they will often inform you of matches, as
well as some trials that are closest to your area.
Article feedback: email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My First Trial ....By
This article was first published by Clean Run
- The magazine for dog agility enthusiasts.
my first agility competition I decided to briefly visit two trials. I watched
several dogs at the Excellent competition level run the Standard course, talked
to a few friends, and had my dog measured for his jump height. I gained a basic
understanding of the trialing process, but I was completely unaware of what it
really meant to attend a trial. It was only months later that I realized how
much more I could have made of those pre-competition visits. One thing that did
impress me about my visits was that some handlers got confused and lost on the
The third trial I attended was the
first one I competed in. I arrived that morning at the trial site exhausted. I
hadn’t slept the night before because I had been so concerned about the
possibility of getting lost on the course myself. I had also been concerned
about the weather (late March), concerned about finding the trial location,
concerned about checking in and getting the course maps. And I had been very
concerned about not getting any sleep! As I had tossed and turned, my dog,
Percy, had snored in his bed while lying on his back with his paws flopped over,
probably dreaming about food; he kept licking his lips. Clearly, he had been
Now at the trial, I set up Percy’s
crate, and went to check in to get the course maps and my exhibitor’s entry
labels to stick on my coat. I studied the Novice Jumpers course for about 10
minutes, and then I heard somebody yell out “Novice Jumpers is open for
walk-through.” I thought, “Oh God!” The end was coming near and all my
fears were coming true; I was going to have to go into the competition ring.
Scared to death I must have walked that course for 20 minutes. I kept thinking
about what my instructors had told me: “Watch the more experienced handlers
walk the course and try to do what they do.” I was running a fast Cardigan
Welsh Corgi. The woman I was following ran Border Collies and was very
experienced, so I tried to observe what she was doing.
That day the small dogs ran first
and Percy was about the fifth dog in the ring. When the gate steward yelled out
“Percy’s on deck,” I was terrified. But when she told me, “Go into the
ring when the current dog is on jump #10,” I reminded myself that this was
only a game and I should just do my best. I relaxed a bit and put Percy in a
sit-stay, took a two-jump lead-out, turned, and signaled him to start. He flew
over the first three jumps and made the turn very nicely. Then I heard the bar
on jump #4 go down. We just continued on the course—and he did the pinwheel
nicely—I executed two front crosses, and we didn’t kick any other bars. And
I didn’t get lost on the course! Looking back on that run now, it was a great
first run and I should have been very proud of that first effort. But during the
trial all I could remember was that we kicked a bar and we were
After the run, it was 8:15 in the
morning and I had to wait until 4:30 that afternoon to get back in the ring for
Novice Standard. With a lot of time on my hands in a remote location, I talked
with my friends about dogs, agility, the weather, the time we were wasting
waiting around, and so on. I didn’t understand that I was “wasting” my
time out of ignorance. I was trying to relax, but I kept thinking about jump
I still think about jump #4 and
all the other mistakes I’ve made, but now I try to learn from those mistakes
instead of obsessing over them. What I should have been doing between runs was
watching all the other dogs running that Jumpers course to see how they handled
each challenge. There were some very experienced handlers at the trial that day
who were running their new dogs in Novice and I missed them!
As I continued trialing, I
realized that there are many facets to an agility trial, and running your dog is
just one of them. Working as part of the ring crew is another aspect, and I
discovered that it provides a real education. My discovery began when I
volunteered to work at a trial as a score runner for a Standard course. As I sat
there, the timer, the scribe, and the assistant scribe started talking about the
teams and their strategies on the course. They discussed how smaller dogs run
courses differently than larger dogs, how different teams worked different
solutions to course traps, how handlers made mistakes in body position, how the
judges positioned themselves to see the contacts, and so on. I could not believe
the valuable information I was gaining from experienced handlers just by sitting
in the ring listening and walking score sheets over to the score table.
At other trials I worked as a
leash runner. People standing around the ring steward talked strategy—how to
handle a trap, the handler’s position on the lead-out. They said things like,
“They’re going to try something wild and exciting,” or, “That team is so
fun to watch; it’s as if they’re dancing out there.” It was another
educational opportunity, and it was free for the taking.
Armed with a little handler
experience and pointers for what to look for on the courses, next I sat in the
ring setting bars for jumps. It was fun and exciting, and it furthered my
education. One day I watched a handler do a blind pinwheel on a Jumpers course
and I had a front row seat! Watching people layer obstacles, handling dogs from
20' and even farther away, is inspiring with an up-close perspective sitting in
the ring. It can open your eyes to what is possible and provide you with new
techniques and strategies to solve some of the toughest course challenges.
Looking back at my trialing
experience, I realize that I should have spent more time visiting and working at
trials before I started competing. This approach would have made me more
familiar with the whole trialing process—helping to build courses, working
with the ring crews, talking with judges—all the while learning from everybody
else’s expertise. Working at a trial is part of the trial experience. It helps
the club sponsoring the trial, it supports the sport, and to a Novice handler,
it provides an education that has no equal. Actually, a handler at any level can
benefit from this interaction.
Today I ask those that are new to
training in agility to consider taking a couple of hours and visiting a trial. I
ask you to actually talk with people around the competition ring, being mindful
not to interfere with those preparing to enter the ring or those leaving the
ring. Watch the teams run the courses, see what the judges are doing, and talk
to those you know and don’t know, and especially to those that compete with
the same type of dog you are training. At the first trials I visited I cheated
myself by not interacting more with the competitors. I should have asked more
questions about how the process works.
After visiting a trial or two,
consider volunteering to work at a trial before you start competing. Do
something that allows you to interact with others working a ring; for example,
be a score runner, leash runner, timer, or course builder.
While nothing can replace the
experience of competing in a trial yourself, you can enhance your preparation
for your first competition by taking advantage of other aspects of the trialing
process. If I had spent more time visiting and working at trials early on, I may
have even been able to get a little sleep that night before my first competition—then
again, maybe not.
~ Rick Parry has been training
in agility for over five years and has competed in both the AKC and NADAC. He
has trained two of his own dogs (both Cardigan Welsh Corgis) and he has been an
instructor for more than three years. He has helped students at the puppy,
introductory, beginning, intermediate, and competition levels of instruction.
Contact him at email@example.com.
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Making the Most of Your Agility Walk-Through
By Mary Mandich
The first time through the course, walk the dog’s path and look over the course from your dog’s point of view. Step over the jumps. Okay, you don’t have to walk up the A-frame, but do go to the end and stand at the bottom so you can see what your dog will see. Get down to your dog’s eye level at the tunnel exits and walk out of the weave poles as your dog will come out. As you walk, see what your dog sees. Look for off-courses, traps and refusal planes that you might not notice if you walk the handler’s path. This is the information you need to plot your handling strategy.
The second time through the course is when you walk your handler’s path. First, figure out where to place your dog at the start line and where you’ll stand for the opening sequence. Then, proceed through the course, moving quickly past the easy parts so you’ll have time to spend on areas where you need to figure out handling strategies – points where you’ll need a front cross or back cross, or to call your dog around a jump, etc. If there are parts of the course where you find it difficult to figure out what to do, go two or three obstacles ahead and work out where you’ll want you and your dog to be when you get there. Then, work your way back toward the tricky part. Often, what you need to do will become obvious.
Walk through a third time and look for long straight lines between a series of obstacles. This is where your dog should pick up speed and gain some time. Adjust your handling strategy so your dog can enter these stretches and take the straight lines. Also, look at the end of each of these fast, straight stretches. This is often where the judge has put a difficult off-course, trap or contact obstacle. Recheck your handling strategy at each of these end points. Will your plan fall apart if your dog has moved well ahead of you? Is there an open invitation to your dog to fly off or miss the contact? If so, now’s the time to rethink how you’ll need to handle your dog in these speed zones!
Now go back to the points where you need to be
in a particular place to execute a manoeuvre such as a front cross. Memorize a visual cue so you can move accurately through these manoeuvres when you run the course. For front crosses, memorize what the jump stanchion (or tunnel exit, etc.) looks like at the point where you execute your pivot for the cross. You will use this image to find that same point when you’re running the course at top speed. Incidentally, this is one of the most valuable tools I have for handling a course that requires pinpoint timing of front crosses.
If you have time, go back and walk the course several more times to practise your handling moves and double-check your memory of the course flow. As you leave the course, remember to check in with the gate steward. This is also a great time to make a mental note of the two or three dogs that will run ahead of you so you’ll know when your turn is coming.
Use the time while you wait for your run to practise the course. How can you do this? Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and visualize the start of the course. Now, run through the course and physically practise your handling moves.
Forget part of the course? Take another look and fill in your memory blank. Do your mental run-through at least twice so that you commit the course and your handling to memory. Sound weird? Not really. This visualization exercise (sometimes called psychocybernetics or “air handling”) is well known to athletes in many sports where it is considered an essential element of executing a successful performance.
Finally, potty and warm up your dog. Head for the start line. Take a deep breath. And go for it!
Written and copyrighted by Mary Mandich, who has trained her Welsh Springer Spaniels to multiple performance titles, including the highest awards in agility.
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