Up and down the west coast, dog sports events – from official trials & shows to workshops & training opportunities – are available EVERY weekend of the year. (Maybe not Christmas when it falls on a Friday Saturday or Sunday.) Exhibitors have an unprecedented amount of choice about where and when they spend time and money. With that in mind, all dog clubs need to be thinking about how to improve trial attendance.
The perfect illustration in our region is how agility trials have scaled back to one judge or kept the two-judge format but seen smaller profits. We will discuss how this microeconomic phenomenon came to haunt our local dog sports community later.
In general, there are only two ways to make money: Increase Income (improve trial attendance) or Decrease Expense (single judge, two days, ribbons as required). Along those lines, a club could split the weekend with another club but given that Saturday is the most profitable day, the second club would need to be given Friday AND Sunday (so a Hope AND a Prayer). Or two clubs could alternate annually for the corresponding weekend but that requires careful planning and cooperation between separate entities which makes the governing organizations (NADAC, AKC, CPE etc.) uncomfortable.
a laundry list of fun to improve trial attendance.
Here are some ways to attract exhibitors to your current event. Most of these involve pairing up with another club to hold an event. Or, if your club can hold the additional attraction, have a few more club members around to help. Some examples require additional administration (trial secretary paperwork) but many just need a club member to step up and help out. The idea is that you have already rented the facility for the first sport so it saves you that cost for the additional attracion.
In AKC, sometimes called B Match or Show N Go or Ticker. If room on the grounds, hold Matches or Show N Go in conjunction with the main sport if they are a different sport. Otherwise, you have to wait until the end of the trial day. For example: at an Agility Trial you may have an Agility B Match when the trial day is over or you could have a Puppy Conformation B Match or Obedience Show N Go DURING the day.
Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Tests – Trick Dog Tests – Farm Dog Tests (requires some small livestock)
These are all AKC pay as you go titles/test. All can be administered by a CGC evaluator who splits fees with the club or, if the evaluator is a club member, donates fees to the club.
Fits well with the pace of an agility trial. Good return on time investment. Would not want too close to exciting agility rings. Needs around four stewards ringside (the trial chair could be one) and a separate judge from agility.
Best offered before an agility event or some distance away as exhibitors are very noise sensitive. Works well as a Friday morning when you have a Friday afternoon start. Highest levels of obedience competitors are always looking for opportunities to compete, so small trials can be well attended.
FAST Cat Trial or Test
Lure coursing for all breeds! Requires special equipment and space so best to partner with a coursing club.
Barn Hunt Trial or Rat N Go
This takes dry space under cover. A trial has two to three rings and four to five levels You have to clear up the straw afterward so be thoughtful about where this is set in relation to the competition rings. Expect this to be done partnering with a Barn Hunt club.
Scent Work Sniff N Go
Scent Work trials may not work with other events because of the isolation issue (teams must remain in the car until called to work). But Sniff N Go – their version of a training match — might fit in nicely. Even these types of matches help expose new folks to how the sport works.
Partner-up in the Neighborhood
Work with a club holding an event in the same geographical area and cross-market both events. This allows exhibitors to get more chances to compete or train while in the area or to travel with friends or family who participate in a different sport.
Add unique games to be played post competition. You must have a game, rules and scoring written out before you start. These could be based on classes in other organizations to help with structure. In AKC, submit this type of event on the Special Attraction Form. Examples might be:
- Weave-a-thon ( like drag racing with weave poles)
- Tunnel Madness (4 or 5 tunnels with a timed course) or
- Retriever Relay (4-inch jumps and the dog has to hold an item in mouth going over # jumps to hand off to a team member)
Fun Things with Your Dog
Highlight that which celebrates or is enjoyed by the dog:
- Parade of Double Digits (price of entry includes a nice rosette ribbon when nationals do this)
- Retirement For Exhibition Only (FEO) runs of Double Digits (Dog may not be entered in the trial if this is AKC event)
- A prize for High In Trial Old Dog (oldest dog over 10 years with fastest YPS Qualifying run)
- Parade or FEO or Prize for High in Trial of Rescue/Rehomed Dogs (exhibitors need to sign up for this one)
- Painting with your Dog – dog paw prints as art
- Holiday Snapshots or Games – bobbing for hot dogs or watermelon eating contest or Fastest Recall or Santa pictures or Halloween costume contest or Photography contest.
Next Step…marketing of course
There are ways to improve the attendance of trials that are fun and could invite new exhibitors to your particular club and trial. After you decide what to add to your event, we need to talk about how to get the word out so you see an impact in the financials sooner rather than later.