Hey…I remember the days. I’ve trained your dog it seems forever and you just want to get out there and see how it goes.
Quite frankly it all depends on you and your dog.
Trialling too early can scare off some dogs, trialling too late can make training seem ho-hum to some. Is there a perfect time? I don’t know, but it’s a matter of knowing yourself and knowing your dog. Talking with people who know the two of you just might help.
Here are some guidelines: NOTE, these are not all from me, most comes a person named Robin. 🙂
1. What are your goals for your dog? Do you have any? If you don’t,
The best goals are are performance oriented. Good goals are “I want nice fast sits on the table.” “I want a happy dog in the ring.” “I want my dog to do 2-on 2-off.” Adapt your goals to your dog. You should make short-term goals (this weekend, I want a good start-line stay), and long term goals (I want to be able to do 3 jump lead-outs). Your short term goals should never be discarded if they will adversely affect your long term goals. So letting the dog break the start-line “because he might Q anyway” is a bad decision.
2. What are your goals for yourself? Do you have any? If you don’t,
Again, not title oriented. “I want walk a course smartly and run like I walk.” “I want to be a team with my dog.”
Once you have set your goals, think about ways to accomplish them. And where you are on the journey to accomplish your goals will also help you know when you’re ready to trial. But here are a few more tips, some concrete things.
1. Is your dog crate trained? He’ll need a nice, comfy, quiet place
to hang out at the trial. Keeping him out all the time will exhaust both
of you. Doesn’t need to be a crate, can be safely stowed in your car, can be tied to a tree while you both take a break from the busyness of life, can be lying quiet under your chair, etc. My dog stresses in a crate so I work around it all. 🙂
2. Is your dog used to riding in the car? if not, you may wish to work on this as many trials need to be driven too.
3. Has your dog been exposed to the shows before entering? It’s a
really good idea to take your dog to some shows before you actually
enter so you can get him used to the noise and smells. Check all the rules first, some trials don’t allow unentered dogs on the grounds.
4. Do you understand all the basics of the sport and feel confident
of the rules? One of you needs to know what they’re doing out there, and you’re the only one that can read the course maps. That makes you team captain. You don’t want to spend all your time fumbling around the course, you want to know what you’re doing and convey that to the dog.
5. Does your dog understand all the equipment, and is he relaxed
and confident in his execution? If your dog is tentative on the teeter
or can’t do weaves at home, it’s going to be worse at a trial. It’s
ALWAYS worse at the trial. It’s never better, so think about that before
6. Can your dog work on both sides, does he know how to switch sides,
and can he read your crosses? If not, he’s not ready to trial and
neither are you. Even novice mandates side switches! NOTE: I have seen some owners do some creative things that have resulted in clean runs. so it all depends on just how creative you want to be. 🙂
7. Have you practiced in more than one area? Yes, I know there are
stories of how some dogs do fine at a trial after only having been
trained at home-but those are the exceptions not the rule! Remember that if your goal is for your dog to be relaxed and have fun, then your job is to help him figure out that agility is something he can do (and have fun doing) anywhere.
8. Do you feel confident about entering? If you aren’t confident,
don’t enter. I don’t mean confident you can get all clean runs, but
confident that you and your dog can have a GOOD TIME.
8. Finally, do you have a positive attitude? Are you prepared to
laugh at mistakes, not cry? Can you put agility into the right
perspective–that it’s a fun game we play with our dogs? Can you be
absolutely, positively sure that when things go wrong out there and
everyone is watching, you will NOT get upset, and you will NOT start
blaming your dog? If you’re not sure, please do not enter. Though I have to admit, at times it is your dogs fault….and all you can do is laugh about it. 🙂
If you can answer yes to these questions you are ready to enter an
agility trial. Remember there’s no huge rush to title. This is a game
you play with your dog, and having fun at the trial is an end goal, no
matter what your score ends up as.