** Please note this has been updated for 2018.
There are so many things you need to know and some of these things I am going to tell you are my opinion (indicated with a IMO) but since the club is responsible for everyone’s safety I am going to be a bit dictatorial so that both you and your dog have a great time and enjoy future success. A young man once said “You don’t know what you don’t know ‘til you don’t know it” and this is very true in dog sports. There are organizational rules found in rulebooks on websites and preferred methods learned as you trial in an area and customs and courtesies that folks need to tell you about. Hopefully I am giving you some of each of these.
First, let me make it clear the match I am describing is an AKC (www.akc.org) event which means dogs must be under control at all times and on leash everywhere except in the ring and at the warm up jump. If you do not have off leash control you are not ready for a match yet. Dogs may not be on a prong or corrective collar on the show grounds—martingales are okay but dog is expected to run in flat or rolled buckle collar for safety. While flexi/retractable leashes are permitted on the grounds they are not a good idea at trials because you should come to the line on a proper leash and (IMO) when walking your dog they can cause all sorts of injury to themselves and others if the flexi-cord gets wrapped around things like humans or dogs or trees or…you get the picture. If there is a serious problem or mishap the club must report it to AKC and punishments can be assigned for serious offenses even for a match.
There are matches for new judges/clubs and matches for training both allow toy rewards but NO FOOD on the course. Dogs must meet the same criteria for the match as for a trial—they must be over 15 months in good health and have an AKC number (http://www.akc.org/register/?pre=breeder&activity=puppy MIXED BREEDS are welcomed in agility). Also you need to be careful with your verbal corrections—nothing so harsh or loud as to upset bystanders. A match for a judge/club is run exactly like a trial with all the paper work and you are expected to run the course as designed.
A match for training purposes is for dogs and handlers that know how to safely engage the equipment on a course but you don’t have to do all the course as designed. It is NOT for LEARNING the EQUIPMENT but for experienced teams to practice skills (start line stays, wraps, contacts, serpentines, weave poles, shorter sequences) and for new teams to see where they are on the agility journey. You don’t want to put a dog in this type of match if they have never done the equipment or never been in such a stimulating environment. Why?? Because you don’t want your dog hurt by doing the equipment incorrectly nor do you want your dog to become afraid of the equipment or the environment and, since you are limited in your use of rewards and corrections, you don’t want them to become ring-wise (that is where they know you can’t get after them or bribe them like you do at home when they are being naughty or crazy)
We are offering a match for training purposes this weekend at Argus Ranch and if you have never been to the site or to a trial in general here are some pointers (IMO). We expect to START the match around 3pm. Arrive early and leave your dog in the car. Get the lay of the land and come into the building to get a feel for the energy and sound level. Dogs not entered in the trial itself should not be crated in the building until we get ready for the match—the energy level should have come down a bit by then. Watch yourself and your dog in the door way as folks are running back and forth.
We typically have you (or someone you have do it for you) sign up $5/3 min (cash check or worker voucher) during the day of the match (in this case Saturday March 24th). You may do each ring TWICE with a dog for a total fo FOUR runs. Each run is $5 for 90 seconds but be aware that a long time when you are working on your plan…or trying to get a dog to come to you. You will sign up by jump height and you may jump whatever height you wish. (IMO) jump lower for working on your handling or problem solving or a new place and regular height for conditioning.
At Argus, you may have to park in the back of the property until it clears out a bit. When you come in the door you have a ring to the left, a ring to the right, and a corridor up the center at the end of which is the Trial Secretary Table (I wear a red ball cap at trials I am working because I just can’t get the dirt out of my tiara). Only dogs ready to run are to be in the corridor up the center so please don’t drag your dog up to the secretary table to ask questions. You usually sign up for matches by the Secretary Table as well as find out when the measuring official is available.
To be officially measured you need an AKC number (http://www.akc.org/register/?pre=breeder&activity=puppy ) to be sound and over 15 months old. If you would like an unofficial measurement or to get your dog use to the measuring process please ask for assistance as the wicket is expensive and we don’t want it knocked about.
Potty areas are marked and most are on-leash. DO NOT use the field next to the arena for play, training or bathroom—it is being prepped for summer events and needs to be well kept (even if the gophers are not respectful we should be). Areas where dogs are allowed to be off-leash are marked but you may want to keep your dog on leash anyway to prevent injury—fields are not level and human and dog legs can get hurt. Also, other folks may not have the recall they THINK they have when their dog sees your dog or your dog sees their tennis ball/Frisbee/stick. Don’t assume anyone wants their dog to interact with yours.
You might not know about ring prep at this stage in your agility education so I am going to explain it from the perspective of those of us who are running dogs (IMO). Please let us focus on the course and our dog before and after our run. Don’t come into that corridor and start chatting about our breed or want to tell us how the run looked or ask questions about strategies. We are trying to focus on the job at hand and build the bond with our dog—who is getting amped about running before we go in and demanding praise and cookies when we get out. We may be running to get our next dog so timing is precious. Ask questions or share observations once everything is settled back down for that handler. This is especially important to those who are agility instructors—students might want to film their runs for discussion later but please let them enjoy the time with their dog.
Hope I haven’t overwhelmed you but, with more than a decade in the sport as a handler and trial secretary, I can promise you the more you know and plan and train, then the better and more successful your agility career will be.
Safe travels, Theresa and the Cardis