Responsible Agility Dog Handling
You have practiced for weeks getting your timing down and really getting in sync with your dog. You approach the trial ring and you have done your walk through and made important decisions like what crosses to use were and what traps you must help your dog avoid. You and your dog are revved up and itching to start. You remove the collar and go! Everything is perfect, your timing and your dogs form but just when your pride starts to swell out of nowhere comes a loose dog that follows after your dog barking and snapping at him. In that brief moment you have to make a decision, do you continue or stop and collect your dog?
This has happened numerous times to many people and is one of the most annoying incidents to have to deal with at an agility trial and begs the question, where the heck is the dog’s handler? It is the handler’s responsibility to not only have their dogs fit and ready for competition, but to also have full control of their dogs at the competition. You need to know if your dog will stay quietly in an ex-pen when left alone or if they need to be crated. You need to know if your dog will try and slip a collar under the excitement or stress of a trial atmosphere and use an appropriate and legal restraint if there is any question. And while your dog’s first trial may send them running out of the ring, it is your responsibility to be sure you have done everything you can to mentally prepare your dog for his first competition.
You should never enter a competition setting with a dog that has never been to an agility clinic, fun match or class. You need to know how your dog is going to respond to that atmosphere in a friendly environment where you can have control of your dog and there are others to help you and your dog work through issues that come up. Just because your dog will run a course at home or even at the park, does not mean they will be able to control their emotions in a competition setting. There is a lot of mutual trust that goes on at trials that allows handlers to take off their dog’s collars and run a course. Trust that all the other dog owners have control of their dogs or their dogs are securely confined so they can run the course without fear of their dog being run down by another dog.
And while “accidents happen” take all necessary precautions to ensure your dogs are mentally ready and you have control of them at all times, you alone are responsible for your dog’s safety. If you see an accident getting ready to happen, if you can tactfully do so, approach them and help them avoid the situation. Otherwise, report the incident to one of the show officials so they can address it. I doubt anyone goes to a trial thinking they would like their dog to cause an uproar and our sport is about helping others enjoy it. No one likes to hear “loose dog” at a trial so lets all do our part either by preparation or education to keep it a safe and fun environment for everyone, especially the dogs.
Also, keep control of your dogs while on leash. Pay attention to them. At a trial last year I was walking by (some 15 feet away or so) with my dog and two dogs on long lines came rushing out at my dog. They didn’t make contact, but came within a foot or two of being able to. My dog had been attacked earlier in the year (not at a trial) and was already nervous of dogs going after her due to that. So their going after her like that totally messed her up all day. When we got out there and she saw those dogs sitting on the sidelines, she just stopped and could not work because she was too nervous. It ruined the entire day and we ended up going home early.
Thank you Crysania for that story as it makes a great point. So sorry to hear that happened to you and your dog. Unattended dogs should not be tied by long lines. Tying a dog can be bad news alone as it has the propensity to elicit aggressive behavior in dogs that may not normally be so especially in a high emotional setting as a trial or match.