The first step to doing dog agility competitions

One step leads to another, as the saying goes. But sometimes it’s that first step that is the hardest! Taking the leap to start doing agility competitions is no different. But I have found it to be true, that as soon as I take that first step in anything, I see the light that is needed for the next step. If you are nervous about going from the backyard to the ring, have no fear. What seems like a ‘dark’ tunnel will open up to increased clarity once you take that first step. Which is? Simply this… going to one! That’s right, just visiting an agility trial is going to give you a huge boost of knowledge and confidence. It’s hands down one of the best ways to start the process. Both you and your dog will start getting a ‘feel’ for the environment, and you’ll pick up on a hundred little details ahead of time. Just pack a notebook (for jotting questions), your dog, and a chair. Then park yourself ringside next to someone who looks like they are one of the competitors (or a competitor’s spouse). You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find people very willing to teach you everything they know! I don’t recommend registering to do a trial until you’ve sat and watched at least a few of them.

How do you find competitions in your area? I suggest going to They have a searchable database of events coming up in your area. Choose your state and the ‘venues’ desired (i.e. agility organizations that host the trials). Try all the venues and go to a variety of them if possible. If you have a mixed breed, however, you may want to rule out AKC trials, but you can still learn a lot from watching them. The organizations don’t differ all that much from general rules and basic equipment used.

In future blogs, we’ll talk more about the organizations. You can also visit this page to read more.

33 Comments on “The first step to doing dog agility competitions

    • I know of a few people who use pedia-lyte at trials. They swear by it, since it’s got all the electrolytes in it. I personally have never tried it with my dog, though I know he loves sweet things to drink, lol! He’s careful with it! doesn’t splash at all, and slowly drinks the entire bowl and then licks for more. Just stay away from ANYTHING with xylitol in it (an artificial sweetener) as it is toxic to dogs. I would suggest using Clean Runs’ products since they’re approved for dogs, or pedia lyte without fake sweeteners.

      You’re welcome, and I hope it helps!

  1. Hi!
    I have a Mini Aussie,Lizzi who refuses to drink water at practice sessions and will eventually take a little sip at an all day trial-I live in Florida and it’s just toooo hot for her not to drink!She drinks fine at home from a “fountain” type running water bowl–I’m looking for a bowl I have seen,but cannot find on line–It is kind of a blue/gray round hard plastic travel bowl with lid with an orange colored handle–I want it to use at home for a while and hopefully train her to take water at trials-Does anyone know the bowl I am talking about and where to get it?
    Thanks for any suggestions

  2. My 7 yr old daughter is very interested in agility. Can you recommend a DVD or book that would give us a basic knowledge of the sport and where to start in the training process?

    • I suggest the DVD Backyard agility and the book Introduction To Agility. Both of them are available at, (the DVD isn’t posted on the website yet but will be available if you call and ask) as well as a great Agility starter kit Agility in a Bag. I think those are good places to start, and also look into a local 4-H or FFA for a trainer in your area! Hope you and your daughter enjoy agility together!

  3. I also want to add the suggestion that volunteering to work at a trial for a few hours or even all day is a GREAT way to get a birds eye view of how a trial “happens”, the rules and the timing. It was really the timing that made me nervous as a novice… how long till your run, when is the walk through, when do I potty break the dog, etc. You meet lots of folks, learn about who teaches in your area,usually get a free lunch/beverage at a minimum and sometimes earn $$ off for that clubs next trial or classes. Its best if you leave you dog at home the first time you volunteer so you arent worrying about the pup. I like to volunteer for ring crew, leash runner, scribe runner… something close to the action so you can watch the other dogs and handlers… and anyone can learn them. And you learn that even experienced competitors can have not so great days… so you dont need to worry so much about your own first time.

  4. I just attended my first ever 2 day agility trial last week with both my Chihuahuas. My one dog was entered in 2 classes on Sunday, so on Saturday I took both dogs and set up an exercise pen (on the opposite of the ring from where the entry and exit gates were). They were close enough to where I could keep an eye on them, and I went and volunteered for the ring crew. Volunteering is a great way to watch up close and get a feel for what you need to learn to do. It also helped me be not so nervous about it the next day when we actually competed for the first time, as I had already seen plenty of mishaps! Everyone is applauded for their efforts, and it IS supposed to be fun for both you and the dog!

    My dogs have always been crate trained, which anyone who competes with their dog in any form will need to be comfortable with or you (and your dog) will be a wreck. They need to be able to chill out in between classes and get used to all the sights and sounds of competition.

    I had showed my female, Rosie, previously in confirmation, so she is pretty confident in the ring. Not much rattles her. She was the only Chihuahua entered either day, and I entered her in a jumpers class and a tunnelers class. She missed qualifying time in the jumpers class by only 85/100 of a second! Mainly, I think, because I had to go to each jump with her as she hasn’t learned yet the “out” jump command. And I don’t run as fast as I used to!!! Needless to say, I was thrilled she did so well! Her tunnelers class she popped out on one tunnel and I didn’t catch it and she was trying so hard I didn’t want to make her go back and do it, so we just kept going. We had to do several figure 8’s and there were so many tunnels, she looked over at me a couple times as if to say “Are these ever going to end”???? She had never gone through so many at once in practice sessions and I wasn’t sure how she’d do.

    Anyway, it was all a blast, and I met really helpful people. The judge was told that new people were there for the first time, and he had all the Novice people come out for instructions and questions before we competed, which also helped. The local trials and fun matches are great ways to dive into such a fun sport, and helping at one definitely gets you on track faster! You are right there and able to ask questions and get advice (and a free lunch)!

    (Sorry I blathered so much about my dog, but heck, she did well, and I had to share it with somebody!!!!)

    • Caryn,

      Congratulations on your first trialing success! You wrote so many interesting things I don’t know where to start. First, I think that is awesome that you volunteered AND did your first trial. I was so nervous my first few trials that I don’t think I could have done that! I remember just wanting to absorb everything, all the little details. That’s why I recommend visiting a few trials first, before actually competing. It sounds like you may have done this, well, at least you were showing in confirmation, so you have had some exposure to a general atmosphere that is in dog trialing.

      Second, that was great the judge had a special talk for the novice people SO COOL. I don’t remember that ever happening when I was in novice. Anyone else? Maybe it’s new. Definitely a good idea. I remember not understanding the whole sit/down on the table bit, and it was sort of panicky to not know something going into the ring. I had to raise my hand and ask about it.

      Anyway, I’m so proud and happy for you and your little dogs, as they have their own set of unique challenges, but it sounds like you are on your way to a successful career with them!

  5. The best thing to do is cover his crate, give him a frozen Kong and walk away. Mulligan use to be horrible in a crate. He learned rather quickly there was no point to shrieking because he would never come out if he did. It took about six months of training but Mulligan in the loudest busy environment will happily go in his crate and take a nap. No barking no shrieking. I won’t lie though, the training was tough on me. I did feel bad about him freaking out in his crate. I knew though in the long run it would be better for him to learn to be quiet and rest in his crate. Good Luck Maxsmom.

  6. Thanks, but the problem is he has a very high pitched voice and can even sound like he is screaming. He is usually better if he sees me. But I have never tried covering his crate. But he is just a LITTLE spoiled and can be pretty persistant. I guess I will just have to be more persistant than him. We are still training so I think taking him to trials now will be a good idea.

  7. Maxsmom have you tried covering his crate? I need to cover Mulligan’s crate so he is not as reactive to his environment and will rest when at a trial.

  8. maxsmom, There’s lots of loud dogs at trials, so that won’t be a problem. I’d put him away from the crowd to stary, though. Usually all the competitor’s dogs are grouped together, near the entrance of the ring. So there’s plenty of room eveywhere else, all around the ring(s). If he’s fairly quiet, you can bring him closer and closer to the heavier action.

  9. My max is a little loud when left in his crate, will it work for him to take him and put him in a busy area at a compition. Or will everyone else be iritated by him.

  10. I attended my first trial on my own first (just to watch) and to get a sense of what goes on “behind the scenes). A couple of weeks later I attended another trial and brought my dog Bailey with me. He was so intent on what was going on and kept looking at me as if to say “Is it my turn now? Can I go in the ring?”.


  11. Yes, my avatar is Ziva. 🙂 That sounds great, and I’ll be sure to try it. I’ll be taking her to the park today, so I won’t have enough time to buy a mesh crate. Will her normal crate work? At least until I can buy the mesh one? Thank you for all the help! (Ziva thanks you, too!)

    • Sure, any crate would work! Not as good, because its better to have thinner walls. But its STILL exposure, so its all good. Have fun at the park today. (hmmm,,, it must be nice. Right now we got SNOW! Yuck!)

  12. About bringing your dog to trials, my new sheltie puppy Ziva is a bit skittish. Not shy, but reserved. (like a sheltie should be) She jumps when there is a loud noise in the house, and appears worried even when there’s nothing to worry about. I’ve really been working on socialization and exposing her, but if she’s going to be my agility dog, she needs to be calm in louder places. Any tips on getting a puppy (Ziva’s 9 weeks) to feel safe in those situations?

    • Awww, Is that Ziva in the picture? I see you set up an “avatar” picture. Cool.
      Anyway, about your question. You are definitely on the right track with LOTS of socialization. You’ll have to even be more aggressive about this with her personality. One idea that comes to mind. That is, to get her a a lightweight crate. Something that allows sounds and smells in (preferably as much mesh as possible). I might recommend these twist-and-fold dog crates because they can easily be packed in your backpack and taken everywhere. When you put her into noisy situations (like a dog trial) she can stay in there and feel safe, but be exposed to all the excitement. Try to put her in a busy area, near a thoroughfare of people that she can see walking about her tent. Make it comfortable and happy inside. Sit down next to her on a blanket. If she seems relaxed, bring her out every so often, and give her treats and toys outside the crate. Make outside the crate safe and fun. This is all precursary to making the rest of the world safe and fun. But we got to start small! 🙂

      Also, as she relaxes in the crate, you could also try exposing her to unpredicatable noises (that you make) outside the tent, that she can’t see the source of. When you make this startling noise, immediately pop into the tent a treat, and give her praise. She’ll start to associate loud noises with a quick fast treat!

      Hope this gave you a few ideas to work with. Anyone else have anything to help Zia? Leave a comment below!

  13. I was able to see the AKC National Championships this year, and brought my long-haired dachshund, Bowser, to watch. We even sat beside someone competing! They had two shelties, and we talked all about the best breed for agility and for our family. (Of course, they were biased towards a sheltie. Can you blame them?) I suggest to everyone to go watch a trial! I was so worried about competition, but it was a lot more relaxed, even at the National level, then I had imagined. Everyone was very helpful. By the time the puppies grow up, I’ll be ready and waiting to start competing.

  14. oops, I meant to add to my comment above, I want to get my dog used to events before running him in them. Do most organizations allow you to bring a dog that is not competing to an event to get them used to the atmosphere?

    • Emily, yes, you can bring your dog to agility trials to get them used to the atmosphere. Definitely a good idea! Just make sure they are on a leash, not in heat, and you bring a plastic baggie to pick up droppings (goes without saying I’m sure). Pack a chair, a camera, and a notepad to jot notes. You and your dog will love it. I hope to hear what you think.

  15. I am planning to run my mixed border/catahoula in NADAC events. Does anyone know if it is pretty standard to allow non-competitors to bring their dogs to events?

  16. Yup, all the same thing. It is a mock trial environment where you can use treats and train on course. It is a great learning tool.

  17. Are show-n-go’s the same as ‘fun matches’? My local club puts on both AKC trials and fun matches. I’ve never heard of show-n-go’s before.

  18. I would also recommend going to several Show N’ go’s (run thru’s, Fun Run’s) before attending your first trial. It is always a good idea to get your dog on different agility equipment. many tetters for instance can have different speeds which may both some dogs. The first time Mulligan saw a purple dog walk he wouldn’t go near it LOL!! So it is funny what can both our dogs sometimes.

  19. I have only done a couple of trials, but I did visit one before my first, and it was really helpful to see that so many of the dogs were, shall we say, less than perfect. On my first visit I saw dogs run out of the ring, refuse to down on the table, try weave poles several times without success, go off course, and many other mistakes. It gave me confidance that at my first trial I wouldn’t be the only one with issues! And it turned out we even q’d in our first run ever.

  20. I agree, I think it would help me to go to a few trials first. Thanks for the advice. I like this blog.

  21. Thanks for this, I am getting ready to take the plunge, so this article was helpful. I defitely think I will go watch a few events first!

  22. I found that my highly distractable dog needed to spend a fair amount of time just hanging out at trials before he could focus on the task at hand. And doing fun matches for awhile also helps ease into it, both for handler and dog – you get to have treats, practice anything you want (usually), and there is no pressure to win anything.

  23. What is the best agility organization? I’m confused by all of them. Though I think my clubs here train with AKC rules.

    • Hello “wonderwoman”,
      I don’t think there is any one that is ‘best’ persay. It depends on various factors like if you have a mixed breed or not, if you want more lenient rules and free-flowing courses or not. Mostly people pick organizations to trial under that have the most exposure in their area. Local clubs (such as the one you mentioned) will often focus on one organization, owning equipment that they might even use in a local trial. But not always. I know a local club here that does both AKC and CPE trials using the same equipment. In fact, many people in AKC like CPE trials too. But overall, you’ll be picking one organization and working to advance your titles right within them. Then you might want to occasionally trial in a second organization for the fun of it, or later on, after you have gotten lots of qualifying “legs” in your first organization.
      Hope this helps. There will be more blog posts on this subject, so visit often!

  24. Great article! I agree. I actually competed in my first trial before I visited one, and I was distracted by the environment. (not to mention my dog!) I think if I went to a few beforehand, it would have been better (though I qualified for it anyway! Yeah!).