When Should I Compete in Dog Agility

How can you know your dog is ready for an agility competition?  I swear, some dogs are born ready!  Others seem to tolerate shows at best, and at worst, have screaming meltdowns every time.  Outside of natural propensities (you know your dog best!), there are a few things to think about when you’re determining if you are ready or not, beyond the club rules.

  • Are YOU ready? I know, that’s a cop out of a question, but think about it.  You are the captain of your team.  If you don’t feel ready to compete, your dog certainly is not!
  • Do you have a good foundation as a team?  This point is often argued.  Some say that dogs can start in fun runs just as soon as they can master tunnels and jumps, so the dog will get used to the atmosphere and learn that trials are fun.  Others say you need to be sure your dog knows every obstacle and is prepared for anything.  I generally believe somewhere in between works out great – but erring more on the side of experience!  If you go too early and your dog does poorly and you get frustrated, you may get a bad taste for competitions!  If you know for certain you can go JUST for fun, then it could be a great experience!
  • Is your dog ready?  Have you socialized your dog sufficiently to not panic about new places, sights, smells, and people (both human and canine)?  Agility classes are a great way to get your dog started on this important socialization, and so is visiting trials (that allow it) without entering to run.  By not adding the run-stress, you can concentrate on getting your dog used to trials before they have to work them! (Thus accomplishing what you wanted to do in question #2!

At the end of the day, there is no hard and fast answer for the question ‘when should I compete’, because every dog and every person is unique, and every team is different.  However, the questions above are a good place to start in determining how prepared you are for a competition.

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4 Comments on “When Should I Compete in Dog Agility

  1. I was taking my dog to agility class but not sure I wanted to compete. Then I saw a trial, with all the crazy novice dogs and thought “my dog can do at least that well”. So we picked up the pace on training to polish off a few more skills (like weaves) and entered a trial. I went to the first one with only a few goals: that my dog would pay attention, and do the weaves, if he did the teeter, that would be a bonus in my book. We NQ’d at the first meet, but it also pointed out what we needed to work on (pause table!). But we started to get the rhythm of trials. We went back to class with more determination and interest. Doing trials really focused our interest in training. My dog has really stepped up, his confidence has increased, and I am seeing that he puts on his “game face” when we go to trials. I still try to concentrate on a few personal goals at a time, but after 5 trials, he has his novice title and is moving on to open. You may need to just try one to see if you and your dog are ready! It’s kind of like golf – the practice tee is just not the same as playing on the course!

  2. I started trialing very early, as a novice handler with a novice dog…resulting in much “zoomies” back jumps, NQ after NQ on my runs. The experience helped me get calm about NQing because was the norm. It was just for experience not for success. However, the handler stress and confidence level hit from all the NQs sure wasn’t fun. I’m a pretty calm, confident person in everyday life but would turn to anxiety jello on trial days because I wasn’t in control or really ready to succeed yet. I didn’t enjoy that. Maybe made me tough though? I can say that every “Q” I get now, at the AKC Open level is VERY VERY sweet after our rough start. I feel the value of all the Q’s. Sort of like a needy kid getting a gift.

  3. Excellent advice! I think that even us more experienced handlers running our new dogs for the first time often forgets that our mental game, as well as their confidence affects the results we will see in the ring. I have definitely seen a few things after reading this post that I will need to work on with my young one before our first show… EEK come to think of it, I AM the problem in the team!! Lol
    Thanks for the great posts and advice!! Really enjoying the site!
    “Run it like you won it.”