Observations from Our Inaugural Agility Trial

In an agility exercise in class one night, our teacher Jeff, ran our group through a series of seven jumps. Raven and I learned many variations a team could do with seven jumps. Halfway through one of the variations, Raven ran off to another area to do the dog walk, but I called her back and we picked up where we’d left off in that jumping exercise. When we were done, Jeff explained that stuff like that also happens in trials, and you have to learn to get your dog and composure back on track.That was a lesson that I kept in mind all weekend of the DOCOH Agility Trial because I figured I’d need it. I wasn’t disappointed.

On our last run, JWW, Raven took a trip to the Bahamas after weaving out of the poles and I needed her back for the panel jump and the rest of the course. I had to work really hard, but she did leave the island and came home, and we went onto qualify even with an 8-second traveling penalty. It’s good to remember you can salvage those flighty moments.

Here are a few other things I learned, observed, felt, and thought about over the weekend as I participated in my first agility trial.

The more advanced moves you know, the better you will get through the course because you have more options. However, you can get through the course with basic moves if your dog is motivated, you have a good relationship with her, and you can bellow.

I don’t use the right lingo for all the agility terms yet, but the concepts are in my head, and so is the plan to practice the concepts and grasp the lingo.

If you’re not in the best of shape, seek out your chair immediately after your run. Remember to bring a chair, or you’ll be using the cold, hard bleachers to recover on.

Professional photographers are on the sidelines taking pictures of your runs. Those pictures are expensive! Find another exhibitor to reciprocate taking pictures of each other’s run-throughs.

You will get a lot of tips. If someone overhears a tip and thinks to the contrary, they will share their point of view with you when the coast is clear.

Tips are good. They broaden your perspective. When the time comes, chose the one that works best for you, or make your own up and use it.

A certain amount of naivety is a good thing. As our judge, Roger Eiermann, said, “Don’t focus on how many mistakes you’re allowed, but instead, focus on doing your best run.” I thought about that and concluded when you start recognizing your mistakes while you’re running, then you have to learn the mind games to get you through that.

The first-time you exhibit in an agility trial is probably one of the only places where you can go back to being a child before having to realize what the real world is like.

With a few exceptions, I had never been more nervous than when waiting in line for our first run. The man in front of us was just as nervous. He told me he performs in a rock band, and doesn’t get as nervous performing rock as he did that agility course. We compared notes later and found both our nerves decreased from one ring to the next. He’d gotten a title on that first run and I’d gotten my inaugural run out of the way. Talking about your nerves and other stuff is a good thing because you find out you share a lot with other exhibitors.

Watching Raven as she concentrated on staying behind the starting line while I walked away from her for a lead out tickled my heart. Staying is not her forte, and she worked really hard to do that. The bond between human and dog is one of the best things in life and agility reinforces that.

Carry more plastic bags than you need. When arriving and departing, you may need to throw someone a spare when the second part of a two-part dump happens. What’s that saying…something happens. And it can happen in two parts. Sometimes three.

A compliment lasts a long time. A compliment followed by the word “but” turns into the anti-compliment.

I don’t need to remember to bring my nifty plastic armband to agility trials.

Unlike rally, agility exhibitors get to see the map of the course they’ll take with their dogs as soon as they check in. They can check in no matter what time of day they arrive. If they are entered both days, they check in on day one, and get their numbered shirt sticker for both days. If they lose the sticker for day two, they can get a blank one from the sticker goddess and write in their number.

Unlike obedience competitions, it’s do-it-yourself check-in at ringside. Put a check next to your dog’s name. Someone did that for me on our last ring on Sunday. This is an Agility Angel at work.

Agility Angels are everywhere. They glisten and are what make agility trials happen.

You can get just as happy seeing someone else’s dog complete an obstacle he’s been refusing tens of times before as you can if it were your own dog.

You learn a lot by watching how the good exhibitors run a course, and even more on how they get themselves out of occasional predicaments.

It’s an amazing feeling when you think you didn’t qualify and you found out you did. When you think you qualified and you didn’t, it’s the same feeling, but the flip side.

By the second day, I found out who my competition is. Placements are divided by heights, not the whole dang class.

Rose was able to tolerate Raven’s crate yodeling. (I wonder if she wore earplugs.) Rose is an encourager, and one of the reasons Raven and I entered. Encouragement rules! So do Rose’s raffles. (Thank you for both.)

Other agility students rallied behind Raven and me. That was a big thing and helped spur us on, and I hope we are encouragement for them, too.

After the trial, Raven arrived home to business as usual, bossing her cohorts around, shoving her ball at me, and gobbling up dinner, which included a startling amount of chicken wings. Dogs are so very grounding.

Now that I’ve touched the sacred soil of an agility trial, I look forward to another one where people and their favored breed of dog gather to jump, weave, and make contact.

About Helen

I'm a Southern California living in South Florida. I've been here for 10 years as of October 1, 2007. No matter where I live, I'm a dog lover, and my breed is the Dobermann Pinscher of the Working Group. I am also fond of the Australian Shepherd of the Herding Group. My life revolves around my dogs, which is something those family members of mine don't understand. So I'm an island in that respect, but have built friendships with those who are doggie lovers and respect the canine as much as I do. Some do rescue, some train in, compete in, and judge AKC trials. The common thread is our dogs are family.
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