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Preparing your students to enter shows...

As most of us know from our own experience, a handler's first show can be really quite daunting. Wellingborough Dog Training Club has developed a scheme to help their beginner handlers enter shows with confidence so they can have a positive experience. When they feel a group is ready, they run a special class to prepare them to enter the unique world of dog agility shows. Wellingborough trainer Joanna Loomes explains how they do it.

September 2022 marked one year since our most recent beginners class started their agility journey at Wellingborough Dog Training Club. As a training team, we discussed the group and felt that they were almost ready for their first show. We are always careful when making this suggestion to handlers, and only do so when we feel that they are ready for the show environment as we want this to be a positive experience for them all.

A key part of our training is running two classes side by side so that we can assess whether dogs are able to work through the distraction of another dog running. Of course, we also assess if they have the skills required to complete a course in a competition environment. You can never be 100% sure how a dog will react in a new environment, but we feel that this gives the dogs the best chance possible.

We always start with an hour - usually more as there's so much to cover - talking through everything and anything show related. We start with registering dogs and measuring, which usually leads to a long discussion about names and where to find measuring sessions. We are very lucky to have a KC measurer on our training team who can talk through the process in detail and share details of upcoming measuring sessions.

Group shot of our beginners with their rosettes from their class. Next, we discuss how to find shows on Agilitynet Show Diary, different agility organisations, show processors, types of show, reading schedules, understanding different types of classes and how to enter.

Often we recommend entering independent shows or anysize classes to begin with as these are generally slightly more relaxed.

We then discuss preparing for the event such as:-

  • How you know that your dog is ready

  • Things to take with you to ensure that you and your dog are comfortable and safe

  • Looking up the venue beforehand

  • Understanding your ring cards and ring plan

The main event
We discuss the event from start to finish including what time to get there, how exercise areas generally work, using your ring plan, key rules to be aware of, course walking, how queuing works, how the scrime starts you, how runs are judged, remembering to thank the judge, rewarding the dog and understanding results. Again, we are very lucky to have three Kennel Club judges on our training team who can talk through how runs are judged in detail and answer any questions. Then we discuss grade progression and our own club annual awards.

Another key discussion point for us is helping at shows and the different roles. Especially as we encourage all members to help at our own show and to provide ring party for our club judges at shows throughout the year whenever possible.

Following on from this, we cover general etiquette at shows and on social media.

There's so much to remember...
It's no wonder that this can be a daunting prospect for those new to the sport! At this point we have to remind everybody that all of this soon becomes second nature and that shows are lots of fun, where we enjoy time with our dogs and each other! We provide a handout with all of the information too as it can be a lot to take in.

We then take questions. One question that we are always asked is how you know what time you will run! The way the day runs is so alien to people who have never attended a show. The more competitive among us always ask questions about progression and how to change their grade!

A trial run
The second part of our class is putting what they've learnt into practice. Each partnership is given a running order and they practise course walking, booking in, queueing, waiting for the scrime to start them, thanking the judge and checking results. Of course, we end the class with a presentation and rosettes! Although nobody goes home empty handed!

Dominika and Dotty won into Grade 2 at their first show! This class has been invaluable to not only our members in preparing them but also in beginning to prepare the dogs as they learn to wait in their vehicle for a longer period than required for training classes and to queue and run with their handler feeling a little bit of added pressure.

Mentoring
Finally, we accompany our members to their first shows, if they'd like us to. The first of this particular group had their first show a couple of weeks ago, and we supported her with understanding the layout of the rings, reading the ring plan, course walking, when to warm up her dog, when to queue and checking results.

At the end of the day we also celebrated with her when she won both an Agility and a Jumping class, taking her to Grade 2 at her first show! What an achievement!

Obviously the obligatory cakes followed at our next class!

We've had great feedback from these classes and will continue to provide them, when we feel that classes are almost ready to compete, as we hope they help our members to feel as confident and prepared for the show environment as they can be.

 About the author...'
Joanna Loomes competes in agility with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. She is a member, trainer and committee member at Wellingborough Dog Training Club and is an accredited agility trainer with Agility 1st.

First published 9th February 2023

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