Your first show

If you have been working with your dog in agility training and got both your dog and yourself up to a reasonable standard, you might be thinking it is time to consider entering your first dog agility competition. You will almost certainly already be a member of an agility club or training group, and your group should be able to help you to work out when you might be ready to enter your first competition, and guide you through picking a suitable event and how to submit your applications before the big day itself.

Once you have got this far, you will usually get plenty of advice and guidance on the day from both your group and the event’s organisers, particularly if you let them know that it is your first time. However, you will of course be keen to ensure that you are as prepared as possible, and don’t miss anything! Read on for our top tips for the day itself.

Walking the course

Find out where the ring is that your class will run in. This is straightforward at a smaller show but more confusing if there are 14 rings!

Before your class starts you will be given the opportunity to walk the course. There is usually an announcement over the tannoy when the course has been set up and you can walk it. If there is not a tannoy keep an eye on the ring you will compete in, you will see the course being changed and the handlers descend on it.

You are usually allowed several minutes to walk the course, but allowances vary, anything from 15 to 30 minutes is usual. Once the competition starts you cannot walk the course again even if the ring stops for lunch.

Allow at least 10 minutes to walk the course thoroughly, first work our where it goes and then walk it to work out how you will handle it. Repeat until you have it fixed in your mind!

Going to the ring and checking in

Find out when  you need to be at the ring your run, and make sure that you get to your allocated ring on time. The caller at the ring will usually announce which running orders they will take, so it may be necessary to ask how far they have got.

When the ring is nearing your running order, find the caller for the ring and make sure they have registered your presence and ticked you off the list. You may be given your scoring ticket at this stage, or it may be allocated to you later on, as your time comes nearer. Make sure the person scriming (the person recording the time and the faults given be the judge) has the correct ticket before you start. They will usually say ” when you are ready Caroline” or something like that. If they say “John” in that situation, they have the wrong ticket!

Make sure that your dog has had every opportunity to go to the toilet before your run, as doing this in the ring leads to elimination!

Join the back of the queue and take the opportunity to observe how other handlers are managing the course and run through in your mind how you are planning to approach it. Make sure that your dog is warmed up and ready to go, but ensure he keeps back plenty of energy for the ring! Praise your dog and stay positive, so that he is excited to get going.

Be aware of other dogs around you, and wait until the handler starting directly ahead of you has already begun the course to get your own dog hyped up and ready to run. Do not use a clicker around the ring, as this can upset other people’s runs or preparation rituals.

Waiting to start

When your turn comes around and you’re waiting at the start line with all eyes on you, you will probably be very nervous. Try to stay calm! Once you get going, you will feel much better.

•Remove your dog’s lead and leave it at the start line; do not complete the course holding the lead. Do not carry a toy or treats, bumbag or any other item. If you do you will be eliminated. The exception is shows such as UKA when you can say before you run that you are running not for competition. You cannot do this at Kennel Club shows.

•Remember that if your dog keeps their collar on, it must lay flat to the skin and not have any hanging tags or attachments on it, or anything else that might flap around. If it has you will be eliminated.

•Leave anything else you will not need for the course (such as your bag or coat, if it is warm) outside of the ring. Remember that at many events, toys and treats are not allowed into the ring at all; check the rules before you get that far.

•Wait to start until you are specifically instructed to; do not assume that just because everyone is looking at you, it is time to begin. The judge or screamer will give a verbal indication such as “when you’re ready” to let you know that you can begin.

Working the course

Hopefully everything will go to plan, and your time in the ring will be over within the blink of an eye! Don’t get stressed, freeze up or panic if something goes wrong, however; these things will happen now and then, even to experienced handlers!

•If something goes wrong when your dog is on the way around, it is really important not to get stressed or annoyed, or react differently to how you would do if the same thing happened during a training run.

•If your dog takes the wrong route around the course, this means automatic elimination. However, don’t see this as a failure in your first event, and keep the whole experience positive for your dog. Usually the judges will be happy for you to complete the course even if you are eliminated partway round.

•Again, if your dog misses a contact point, check with the judge that they are happy for you to repeat the obstacle (they almost certainly will be) and complete the course.

•Remember that entering  weaves in the wrong place or missing the start of the weaves will lead to faults being allocated to your score, and that you must track back and repeat the obstacle and get it right to avoid elimination.

After you have completed your run

Remember to collect your lead before exiting the ring, and praise and make a big fuss of your dog, even if everything didn’t go exactly to plan.

You may well find that your team or training group are waiting for you when you exit the ring, and you will all be keen to dissect how things went and how you found it. But take care of your dog first and foremost; cool them down and calm them down, offer plenty of praise and some treats, and offer water when your dog has chilled out somewhat.

Learn from how things went your first time, but don’t analyse everything to death. You may find yourself managing surprisingly well and scoring highly, but you should by no means expect this during your first event. Regardless of how well you and your dog perform in training sessions, your first few competitions will form a steep learning curve, and you will usually have to complete a few competitive runs before you and your dog really hit your stride.

Make sure that your dog finds the whole experience positive and enjoyable, and looks forwards to your next competition.

Then, relax and enjoy watching the other competitors!