Your First Obedience Trial
March 31, 2021
Before entering a trial it is important that you are certain that your dog will continue to happily work with you and basically, that they are 'bomb proof'. Many activities happen at a trial that could possibly engender a different response from your dog from what you have seen during practice. For example, dogs competing in adjacent rings could be sent for retrieval of their dumbbell and your dog could see this as an opportunity for a game. Also, sausage sizzles are often on offer at trials and the smell of freshly cooked sausages and onions - yum - could be enticing to your dog, so it is important that you and your dog are prepared for as many different situations as possible. As a final check, you will need to be confident that he will work without your continual assistance such as feeding, guiding, talking etc as none of these 'practices' are permitted in the trial ring.
Before entering your first trial you must ensure that you are a financial member of your state's canine authority and your dog must also be registered with this body. Both you and your dog will be issued with a membership number and these will need to be provided on the entry form that you will complete before entering your trial.
As a member of your local canine association, you will automatically receive their regular magazine, which will list all of the upcoming trials for the next few months. It is important that you read each of the trial schedules and check the closing dates for entries. Another good habit to develop is to take note of the vetting time as it would be most disappointing to be turned away from a trial simply because you were not there earlier enough to collect your entry number and to have your dog vetted.
Before entering your first trial, hopefully you have studied a rules and regulations book that can be purchased from each state's canine authority. It is only a small, paperback book, which will provide information about each particular exercise and also what you can and cannot do in the ring. The book, for example, will highlight what instruction the judge will say to you and in return, what instruction you can give to your dog. Reading this book is a must for all triallers. Now the big day has arrived and you are packing your car. Your checklist should include food/treats, water, stake/crate, shelter for your dog plus of course, your dog and their lead! Also you will need to take some things along to ensure your comfort, such as chair, blanket, food and drinks, sunscreen and a pin to secure your entry number to your clothing, just in case the host club doesn't provide one.
At the commencement of the trial, the chief steward will introduce judges and advise of scratchings. Take note of the scratchings in your class as it may mean you enter the ring sooner than you think. Also be aware of where your ring is and set yourself up so that you are in a position to observe what is happening in your particular ring and listen for any instructions given by the ring steward.
Before your number is called to enter the ring, allow yourself ample time to prepare your dog. This will include taking them for a short walk to provide them with a toilet opportunity as 'fowling' the ring will cost you valuable points, plus you want them to be as comfortable as possible. You should also 'warm your dog up' and quickly run them through a brief routine so that they are focussed and ready to work with you. Now is the time to remind them of how much fun they had working with you and treat them for a job well done. Remember however, to empty your pockets of food before entering the ring to ensure that you are not disqualified. Now you are ready!
When your number is called, you will be invited into the ring and will be put through your paces. If you do not hear what the judge has said or has asked if you are ready, be honest and say that you either didn't hear or didn't understand. Remember, this is your chance to show what your dog can do so give your dog and yourself the best opportunity to get it right and do it well.
Hopefully, your hours of training are rewarded and your dog is on a pass. If however, they fail an exercise, it is recommended that you advise your ring steward that you will not be returning with your dog for the group stay exercises, if this is allowed in your state. It is best to work on any problem areas that you have individually before putting your dog into a group situation with you away at some distance from them. Remember, you are at novice level and your dog needs as much encouragement and support from you to gain their confidence in a trial situation.
Finally, regardless of the outcome of your dog's performance, it is recommended to stay behind for presentations to listen to any remarks your judge may make and also to cheer on your fellow competitors. This is always viewed as good sportsmanship and is a great habit to develop. Many good and long-standing friendships are made through dog trialling. Let's face it, we all experience the same highs and lows throughout our trialling career at some stage so it's nice to share them.