Monday, October 25, 2010

Preparing to Trial - Part Five (Are we ready?)

How do I know if I'm ready to enter my first trial? The answer is different for every dog and handler team - there are a lot of variables to consider. In my mind, your goal with your first trial (particularly with novice dogs and novice handlers) is to get out there and see what (performance) you have in trial. This will give you an idea of what you need to work on and what a novice course looks students are going to be shocked when they see a novice course (in that WOW, this isn't so bad kinda way).

I think there are four key components to answer as part of this decision:

1) Relationship - 40%
Your dog has to want to be with you to play the game. Calling a dog back to you over and over again isn't fun and it's really hard to qualify with a dog who is zooming around the ring. Momentary lapses (holy cow mom there's ring crew over there!) are different than "hey that smells nice, oh look a dot on the floor, look a butterfly, hey! there's a dog outside the ring that wants to play with me". Your dog ought not to climb on judges or ring crew - he ought not to mark the agility equipment - and he ought not herd you or bite you. If you've got that relationship (aka Bobbie Anderson - Building Blocks for Success) - you're in good shape!

2) Obstacle Performance - 30%
Your dog has to be confident on all of the obstacles and capable of performing them safely. If Fluffy can't do the dogwalk at home, Fluffy isn't going to do it in trial...Perhaps you shouldn't enter Fluffy in Standard but you could enter FAST and JWW (watch for an upcoming post on contingency plans).

3) Your expectations - 20%
In the career of every novice dog you've got to make that first entry. You don't know what you're going to get in trial until you get out there and give it a go. Your goal for your first trial is to get out there - a Q is nice - but it probably shouldn't be your ultimate goal. Remember novice is for novice dogs and handlers - everyone who is running in Excellent was once on the startline in novice with a green dog...We've been there before and we'll (god willing) be there again with our next dog too.  NQ's happen and it's OK!!

4) Zen - 10%
You've got to be ready and confident out there. If you're bouncing off walls with butterflies your dog is going to feel it...Who's that person on the other end of my leash - it looks like my mom - but this woman is CRAZY!!! Peppermints, gum, ginger, visualizations all help - use them! Find your happy place and have fun!

When I brought Murphy out as a novice A dog - I did not have the relationship I should have had with him - and my expectations were WAY high. As a result my first few trials were pretty disappointing.  When Teller made his debut in late March 2009 I went all the way out to Syracuse where (I thought) I could trial anonymously. Turned out it wasn't so anonymous - but it took some of the pressure off me and allowed us to reach some zen :-) Ahhhhh, the things we learn with time and experience!

Teller's Debut at the Onondaga Kennel Club Trials - March 2009
BTW: look at all the space between obstacles in Novice!!!

Let's recap the series so far...
Part One: How to find and enter trials (this "what height will my dog jump in AKC (USDAA/CPE/NADAC/DOCNA/ASCA) agility events?" post is an unintended companion to part one.
Part Two: Packing for an agility trial - what you need for your comfort and your dog's health and safety.
Part Three: Arriving on trial day - what you should expect and what you need to know.
Part Four: A Rules and Regulations Quiz (open book) - And the answers ...
and that brings us to Part Five - How do I know if I'm ready to trial...

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