24 April 2009

Clip 'n' Save-Your First Dog Show

Some of my students are going to their first agility trial ever this weekend. I sent them a step by step email this morning, with a lot of the stuff you need to know if you've never, ever gone to a dog show. I don't think anyone ever told me what to bring or wear or do and it took me a while to sort of clue into how that whole dog show thing worked. I'm not even sure if I'd ever run a whole course on a field larger than about 20'x30' when I went to my first show. I'm not even sure if I had a clear concept of Contact Zone, and likely Ruby didn't either. We had no crate, no special leash, probably a very wrong outfit. But somehow I kept going, just tried to blend and eventually got a crate and got a better hat and sneakers with tready bottoms and figured out the whole thing by the seat of my pants, with the help of others, and in desperate avoidance of catty comments by more accomplished agility ladies.

Those agility ladies, mostly scared me in the beginning.

Ruby, bless her little heart, just went along with the whole thing. Not sure why. Oh yeah. The string cheese. That dog, complete food whore. Will put up with most anything to get a treat. The foundations of her dog show career.

So here's some things that maybe help you, or someone you know, if you're ready to go to a dog show. Shouldn't be scarey. And most important, just come find me and I'll help you decide if it's front or a rear cross, a hot topic in our classes these days. I'll be easy to spot this weekend at the SMART trial in Prunedale. I'm the garbage man at this one. It's a glamorous job, but someone's gotta do it. Just look for the scowling lady with the chubby knees with rubber gloves and a big bag of trash dragging behind her.

Before the Dog Show

You entered. Nice job. You should get a confirmation email, that has important stuff like what time to be there, how to get there, and whether it's black tie or cocktail attire. For the SMART trial, all this stuff goes up on the website, carefully placed there by yours truly. Because when I'm not being the garbage man for the dog club, I'm the web mistress.

Looky here:


Pretty! But also has run orders, so you can see the dogs that you'll be running against, if you go early or late, stuff like that. You should try to check this and just make sure you entered the right thing, and if something got messed up, let the trial secretary know early in the week that something got screwed up somewhere. Tell her on Friday night and you are gonna have one stink eye cranky trial secretary the next day. And maybe she is my pairs partner, don't you know. So let's avoid keeping her up late Friday night.

Plan your outfit! Pack your car! But really, plan your outfit. You want to look GOOD.

At the Dog Show

Get there early. Because you need to not only haul all your crap from your car to your highly coveted little 12x12 patch of land and set it up and learn how to set up your canopy but you need to get your dog measured. Which happens when the judge gets there, not necessarily the time on the info sheet. Judges are late sometimes. They need more coffee. Their feet are sore and their flight was late and there was a snafu with the rental car and the motel room sucked. But you'll get measured, don't you worry.

Bring a hammer. When you pound in the stake things for your canopy, hold it on the end, not up by the metal hammering part. This is how tool guys hold hammers. It works better and you'll look like a totally knowledgeable hammerer. Three hits. Bam Bam Bam. Each stake. Like a pro.

Take your dog on a nice walk. Go play some frisbee. Take some deep breathes. Maybe you have Guns and Roses on your ipod. You can listen to that. You'll be fine.

Check out the rings. Figure out where you'll be running. It might even all just be in one ring for Starters. Look at the order, or maybe even you printed this out because you are organized and brought a little clipboard and a pen and you have this printed and you are going to collect the printed course maps for all your runs and clip them on your clipboard and take notes and memorized them and figure out the gamblers route and stuff like that. Or maybe you're like me and that would be WAY too much work and you don't even grab course maps, except maybe for gamblers but probably not.

Because you will have a BRIEFING! The judge will go out there and hopefully you go to this and the judge tells you how many seconds and how many points and the whole back to back contact thing and you can ask any questions you want. Unless you're like me and you miss the briefings and you just run up to someone to find out the seconds or the tricky bits and they are irritated because really. The judge just said it in the briefing.

We haven't even talked about gamblers and snookers rules in class. Sorry. So many rear crosses to do, so little time. Ask the judge! Or find me in the garbage and I'll tell you.

So you will walk your course, and either follow the cones and figure out front cross or rear cross or threadle or serpentine (AHA! I told you there was a reason you had to learn these words!) or you'll be making it up yourself in gamblers or snookers according to the rules you don't even know yet but you will. I promise.

You memorize it. You can do it. Just memorize chunks and turns and the obstacles put themselves in there and you can do this. I know you can.

Go put a little check mark by your dog's name on the list outside the ring. Don't all run over there at once. They will. Wait til that crowd thins out and you'll get a turn with the sharpie. Dunno why everyone lines up like sharks at the fish parade to get that sharpie.

Keep your ears open. Orders change, there are announcements, sort of just keep tabs on your ring to figure out when you'll go. Jumpers runs, maybe take 30 seconds. Standard runs, maybe a minute. But jumps have to be set, the timer breaks, the judge has to pee. A dog peed by the tunnel. Shit happens. Hurry up and wait is sort of how it goes.

Before You Run

There's this person called The Gate who yells a lot and crosses dog names off the list outside the ring. They might be experienced in this, or maybe not. They might be able to tell you when you run or maybe not. Don't panic. But you do want to be near The Gate when there's about 5 dogs ahead of you. So before this, you should have walked your dog, jogged your dog, run your dog, frisbee'ed it, done a jump or two. You don't know what your dog likes to do yet before you run. So hello trial and error!

Some of the things my dogs and my stalker dog like to do before they run. This might not be useful information. I'm on a roll. Just skip ahead if you're bored, kittens.

Ruby-sleep in her crate til 10 mins or so before when I force her to wake up and go for a jog. And run around. Then I let her go back and hang out for a few minutes until it's almost her turn. I make the gates crazy. And just before her turn, we run over to the ring super fast, run up and down outside it and try to time it so she can just run in and NOT HANG OUT outside the ring. She hates that.

Otterpop-has to go out really early and play frisbee for a while. She likes to do some warmup jumps if they're not near a clump of dogs. She hates dog clumps. She likes to sit on my lap under the canopy to feel the love before she runs. Otterpop is a basket case. I try to get her to the gate right before she goes in too and keep her out of the dog clump. Did I mention I can make The Gate crazy? A lot of The Gates are always The Gates and they know I'll be there. Gates who are not always the gate, not so happy and forgiving. Well, hell. Not gonna change.

Gustavo-he is very low maintenance. Because he grew up at these stupid dog shows. He'll hang out and tug on a frisbee or sit on my lap and can just run to the gate and go if we're having a conflict (usual) or whatever. He doesn't care. Thanks Gustavo.

Hobbes-He has to run around really fast with me and I make him bark and do a bunch of downs and give him a meatball. The secret weapon. I make him bark a lot outside the ring. Maybe I do not recommend this for you if you want people to like you. They are confused when I run Hobbes so don't say anything when I'm letting him bark his head off and leap after blades of grass. He's kind of like Ruby. Sleeps and goes, then back to sleep.


You should work! But at your first trial, maybe not tons and tons because maybe your dog is not used to be trapped in a crate or an xpen under a canopy with barking dogs everywhere. Maybe they're scared. You should check and plan on spending some time with your dog. Don't let them be scared! Working is good though because you can watch good and bad and ugly handling and see your teacher mess up and it will be fun and funny! Setting bars and fluffing chutes and running leashes is so easy even a diabetic cat can do it. If you work, you will get raffle tickets to not win stuff that you don't even need, if you really think about it. But there has to be a lot of workers per capita to keep the show on the road, so think of it more as you can go home earlier if you work a lot.

Check your scores

Or not. I won't even try to tell you now how to read an accumulator sheet. It's the score thing. Just ask whoever is there trying to turn the page of the book it's posted in. Make them tell you if you Q'ed and if you even won a prize. If you won a prize, you can even go get a pretty ribbon from the ribbon table and write down what class it was. And hang it on your dog's cage. Take it home to show yer friends and neighbors and relatives and the mailman. Or not. I think I stopped picking up ribbons after my first year of showing. You might like these though, I guess people do. I'm just a jaded old horse show bitch.

Write it down on a scrap of paper if you Q'ed so you remember. Then you will lose the scrap of paper in your car. These are ways to remedy this called sign up for the USDAA website membership and also, most trials post the results a few days after the show. So then you don't even need to use your memory. You will probably remember.

The Most Important Thing

For real. It's supposed to be fun. Not nerve wracking or horrible or weeping inducing or vomit starting. Just try to enjoy it, and maybe it might even end up a horrible fiasco from hell, but try to have a good sense of humor, find some fun in it, learn from mistakes and be happy about what went right then come back to class and practice some more.


Anonymous said...

You forgot the to tell them about pooping their dogs! Make sure your dog poops out hir breakfast (or at least hir dinner from the night before) (outside the ring) before festivities start and things get hectic -- your dog might be a little reluctant to let loose in such a new and exciting, and well, hectic environment, and it's not like s/he can bring a book and just relax and take hir time.

And make sure s/he pees before each run. And that you pee 8 times before each run (that will come naturally). Ghew gum for dry mouth of nerves before your run, but don't forget to spit it out (not on the ground, even if The Gate is calling you--find Laura and spit it in her garbage bag). Unless you are really, really good at walking and chewing gum at the same time, not recommended for agility runs.

And don't forget to come out today (Friday) at 2 p.m. and help set up (you can put your canopy in a primo spot, then, and you will get a free voucher for a run for your next trial. Next trial. You make it to your first, it's inevitable.

Anne said...

I always make sure I have a poop bag in my pocket when I'm getting ready to run my dogs, because if I have a poop bag, my dog will NEVER, EVER poop in the ring.

Anonymous said...

Good strategy, Anne! Be sure NOT to carry a poop bag and you dog will be sure to go right where there is nothing to scoop it up with except maybe the gum wrapper you stuck in your pocket!

Elf said...

Good advice, especially The Most Important Thing. We all have trouble remembering that, too often.

If anyone wants to download a PDF of how to read accumulator sheets, click here.And here's a bunch more useful stuff for agility beginners.

Deb said...

And since most of us agility ladies are in the over 40 age group-bring your reading glasses to read those course maps!

Unknown said...

Hi Laura, I'm just now home from my very first Trial at Prunedale today and I wanted to let you know how helpful your blog was. Turns out, Desi does not like to come out of her crate too early and line up with the dog clumps. She prefers to make The Gate crazy and come out just right before her run - going straight from Crate to Gate. Thanks for the fine examples -very helpful!

team small dog said...

I'm glad this was useful! Good job to everyone who tried out their first trial this weekend!

Food Fan Frank said...

This is an awesome post for newbies! I am going to get into agility this summer with my dogs, and I will definitely be referring back to this. Thanks for posting!