Are You Ready?
Q. I have been training Buddy in agility for about a year and I think the time has come to take the plunge and enter a show. My trainer says to wait a bit. How do you know when your dog is ready to compete?
A. I will never forget my first agility show! I didn’t win anything, but I was so proud of how I handled myself and my dog on the courses. Your first time in the ring with Buddy will be a lasting memory. Make sure it is a good one.
Is your dog prepared? Assess your dogs’ performance in class honestly. Buddy must be able to tackle all the agility obstacles and string them together on a course. Competition introduces new variables into the agility equation- different equipment , a strange venue, and a nervous handler. Don’t be hasty to fill in your entry form.
Proof your performance. Try running a course at a higher level than you will enter at a show. Can Buddy cope with increased difficulty? If he sails over the finish line with no faults and a fast time, you have nothing to worry about. If he struggles, it’s back to the drawing board. Introduce Buddy to some of the things he will meet at his first show. Get a friend to stand in the middle of the ring as a judge and find someone else to stand at the side eating ice cream. Is Buddy still focused on his agility?
Take advantage of practice rings and progress tests. Put your name down for interclub matches. Look out for simulated shows. These are the closest you can get to the real thing and you can still correct Buddy if he goes wrong.
Are you prepared? Even the most seasoned agility handler will get nervous at a show. You and Buddy are a team and your dog will pick up on any negative thoughts racing through your mind as you stand on the start line. Can you cope with the extra pressure of competition?
Offer to help at a show. It’s a good way to learn the ropes and meet fellow competitors. You’ll get an idea of what to expect when it’s your turn to strut your stuff in the ring.
Practice running different courses. There are an infinite number of equipment combinations and you should know where to go without reading the numbers on the jumps. Work the spaces between the obstacles.
Learn to think positively. If you stand in the line wishing you had done more contact training, your dog will sense your doubts.
You can do Buddy more harm than good if you put him in the ring too early. If you have not adequately prepared yourself and your dog to meet the challenges set by the judge, you will leave your first show disappointed and frustrated. Buddy will wonder how he has let you down and the agility game won’t be much fun anymore.
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Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at: www.aslanagility.com