Getting in the dog competition ring for the first time is certainly a scary endeavor or at least for me it was. I recently had my first experience with competitive dog sports and want to share my thoughts with anyone thinking about getting involved with competing. Rally is a less formal type of dog obedience trials that allows the beginner to get involved as you train yourself and your dog. Rally is not as strict as Obedience trials as you are allowed to talk to the dog and signal the dog as you move through a course setup by the judge.
The Dog Competition Ring Atmosphere
Although I had prepared for going through the course and practiced all the novice level signs I still had no idea what to expect going to a dog show. We, my dog and I, have never been to a dog competition ring and have not competed before. Man I am green. My dog had to get used to the atmosphere of being in a room with dogs everywhere and she could not play with any of the. Being a little anxious I turned to some seasoned vets to answer some questions. The advice given was outstanding. Several competitors told me what to do prior to heading to the ring along with some rule clarification that I had not known prior (no touching the dog, no tags on the collar in the ring, etc.). The best advice came from a very good instructor / competitor that told me how to focus on my dog right before going into the ring. All the great advice came just a bit too late and I went into the ring with a dog that was not focused on me or at the task at hand. We were excused from the ring, as my dog tried to run towards the judge several times. It really hit me hard as we had worked all year to get to this point and it looked like neither me or my pup had a clue. But, we never give up, and it is the journey that is important and we had another shot at it the next day. Quickly I got to thinking about how to do it differently the next day.
Getting Prepared to Compete
Now my dogs are very high energy, willing to please retrievers. They enjoy nothing more than working but you better keep ’em busy or else they get immediately distracted. The dog show is in my home town so we started at the house with some disc play just to have some fun and get in the mood to do some work. I am learning this is called “engagement” with your dog and is a way to look work/play. Then we rested a bit and had another short session of play prior to going to the dog show. I spent the time at the show between letting her rest in the crate as well as working through some focus games and some of the maneuvers we will have to perform once in the ring. Twenty minutes prior to our class (Novice A) we went outside and jogged around the parking lot playing at some commands, randomly as we go. This along with some good attention when we got back in the facility really got her focused.
In the Ring
Heart pounding we step up to the start sign. I get her focused on me and we start out. She was great and we finished the course with a 93 and a fourth place finish. Not bad for a dog that was wild the day before. I was so afraid she was going to jump the judge I held her lead too tight and got deductions for this several times.
What I learned from the Experience and Will I do it again
What a great experience this was. I was so glad I did not quite after our first attempt and got back in there to complete the course. Boy did I learn a lot. You need to know your dog from an energy aspect. I saw many a dog that it looked like it was tough just to get them moving and I had the exact opposite. A Fun Girl! I had a chance the second day to watch some other handlers that I know have years of experience and quickly realized they were not perfect in their runs. Many a person told me their horror stories of first time events that many were excused as well. I came away with new skills to focus on. Most importantly I was consistently reminded of why I am doing this. That is to have a good time with my dogs. I want to connect with my dogs and have a great time doing it. Training and competition are fun for us. Finally Yes I will compete again.