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These training tips offer great advice for anyone who is competing or thinking about competing in dog sports. They are brought to us by Alison Smith, co-owner and head trainer at Personal Paws Inc. in Toronto, Canada. She holds a master’s degree in Public Relations and Marketing but left the corporate world three years ago to pursue her love of dog training full time. Her current canine partner, Jack-Daniels CDX GO RAE, competes both north and south of the border and is a High in Trial winner. Alison and JD have qualified for and competed successfully in the AKC Obedience Classic and AKC Rally National Championship.

It takes hard work and many hours of training to get your canine partner ready for the show ring. From AKC Rally to Agility to formal Obedience, there are many varied skills and exercises that must be learned before heading off to that first show. But transitioning from the practice ring to the show ring involves much more than just learning the required exercises for each type of competition.

The most common mistakes I see at shows are not necessarily related to a dog and handler being unable to perform the required exercises, but instead are mistakes that stem from handlers who have not effectively prepared to transition from the practice ring to the show ring. I take special care to teach my students how to make this transition successfully and to ensure they have a positive experience in the ring. Here are some of the things that I do to help make the transition from practice to show both successful and fun!

Transfer Environments

Every show will present you with a different environment in which your dog will be asked to perform. Shows can be indoors or outdoors, cramped and noisy, or spacious and quiet. Flooring can be grass, different types and textures of rubber material, or even fake turf. Just because your dog performs beautifully at home or your training school doesn’t mean that performance will transfer to a new environment. To ensure that your dog will perform to the best of his ability, be sure to practice the same exercises in as many different environments as possible.

Expose your dog to the show day routine

Before going to a show, simulate the routine you will follow with your dog during a practice session at home. I often make my students bring their crates to the training school and then work through a simulated show setting.

Example: Arrive and get your dog set up in his crate; check in and confirm when you go in the running order. If you are in a Rally or Agility class, you will need to walk the course. Then get your dog warmed up and take your turn in the ring in a simulated judging scenario. You will need to figure out if your dog needs a really quick warm-up or perhaps needs a little more work pre-run in order to perform their best.

Anther great idea is to do a run-through or “show & go” at an alternative location to your regular training school or find a fun match where you can gain experience with less pressure.

Know the Rules.

This may seem obvious, but all too often I see handlers who seem to have never seen a rule book. Of course there will always be helpful competitors and judges who are willing to clarify rules for you, but it is your responsibility to know the rules before going to a show. Bring a printed copy or download the rule book to a tablet or iPad for easy reference when at the shows.

Knowing the rules not only reduces your stress level at a show but it also shows the judges and other competitors that you respect both their time and the sport in which you have chosen to participate.

Make a checklist and be organized

Taking a few extra minutes the day before the show to ensure you have packed everything that you will need can save you a lot of panic on show day.

Typical items you should have on your check list are: crate, chair, towel for dirty or wet paws, a blanket or sheet to cover your crate, water for you and your dog, bowls, special treats, rule books, proper collar and leash, copy of the judging schedule and your confirmation of entries, poop bags, equipment such as dumbbells, gloves, scent articles etc.

Get to the show early and find a space to set up. Get yourself checked in and make sure your dog is settling in nicely. For some dogs this means time to relax in their crate, and for others it means getting out and having a good look around.

Have a plan for the day and stick to it as much as possible. Being organized will make for a much more relaxing day for both you and your dog.

Walking the Course

If you are competing in Rally or Agility, you will have a chance to walk your course. Far too often I see competitors who don’t take full advantage of this opportunity. I always have my students walk the course exactly as they will run it with their dogs, using their verbal commands and hand signals, the exact same way they will when their dog is with them. I also have my students frequently practice walking courses at home with their “imaginary dog.” You may feel silly talking and gesturing to an invisible dog but developing the habit, and formulating a strong plan, really pays off when you do run the course with your canine partner. When running a Rally course remember to “read the signs!”

Lastly, remember to slow down, breathe, and have fun! At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you and your canine partner have fun and go home smiling.

Happy training and see you at the shows!!!!