So you’ve been training with your dog in agility for a while and you think you might be ready to compete. But how do you know for sure? The most important thing to remember is that every dog is different. Dogs mature differently and have varying confidence levels. While some dogs are ready to go at 15 months (the minimum age in most agility venues to start competing), others may need more time. There are many things to consider when deciding to compete for the first time. Take the following steps to help determine if you and your pooch are ready to move forward.
Get your dog comfortable in the environment. Lots of agility trials are held in barns or at indoor sports facilities with surroundings dogs have never encountered before. Your dog must be comfortable around unfamiliar dogs, people and noises in different situations. Agility trials can also get very loud and crowded, so it’s important that your dog is exposed to that prior to competing.
When you first get a new dog - puppy or older - consider taking them with you when you travel, especially if you already attend agility events. Most show grounds allow puppies older than four months. Exposure to this kind of stimulus in a positive way will help your dog become more at ease with things they will encounter during their future agility career.
Have a solid set of skills. Prior to competition, your dog should be able to accurately complete all obstacles to the criteria you have chosen. For example, if you have trained a stopped contact, your dog should perform that behavior with confidence anywhere. If a dog is unsure on an obstacle, competition could make them even less sure of themselves and could result in the dog shutting down.
Attend a Match or Run-Thru. Test your pet’s confidence with an agility match show or run-thru. This is basically a fake trial; it gives your dog exposure to agility in another location while being around other people and dogs. Most places allow you to use training aids during these events, such as food, toys or clickers. Keep these trial sessions short, successful and happy.
Morris K9 Campus offers run-thru’s and match-style competitions for agility training participants to provide them with a chance to practice. If you feel ready to take the next step, consider signing up for one of our upcoming trials.
Don’t be nervous! As a handler, sometimes your first competition can be nerve wracking. Be careful of getting too nervous at the match. Dogs pick up your emotions, so being nervous is not going to help your dog. Try to remember this is only a game, and that no matter how your run goes, there are people there to support you.
Choose the right trial. Once you feel confident in yourself and you are seeing confidence and performance from your dog , you are ready to find a trial to enter! Smaller trials are often a little less intimidating. Some clubs even hold Novice only trials. Ask around and see what facilities people recommend for beginner dogs if you haven’t been to one before.
Record and report. After your trial, report back to your instructor about how things went. It’s always a good idea to find someone to videotape your run. If things went well, pick a few trials to go to next. You don’t want to overwhelm your dog, so stick with the occasional trial to start. If things didn’t go as well as you hoped, make a training plan and try again later. There will always be trials to go to, so don’t rush it. Let your dog blossom at their own rate, and as always, enjoy the time spent together. At the end of the day, agility is a sport that can and should be enjoyed by all participants.