Managing Dogs With Trial Stress

Everything is fine when you are training agility in class or at your own training field; your dog is happy and excited to run and there are no worries in the world. When you take the same dog to a trial, he acts all stressed and worried. What can you do?

Tips from the coaches

  • Find the best way to get your dog excited. You can use a verbal cue that the dog associates with something exciting or you can touch the dog in a certain way to help get them into the correct mental state. You can also let your dog watch the previous dog run the course. Get more tips from our Building Drive foundation video.
  • Expose your dog to situations that are somewhere between your regular classes and a competition. You could have one of your training buddies act as a judge in your training class and use a whistle. If your dog worries about people, ask some of your friends stay close to the startline and act as timers. Ask some of your friends to visit your class and let the crowd make some noise. Let the other dogs bark. Have someone act as an announcer. Increase the distractions gradually so the difference between a very quiet class and a very noisy competition is not overwhelming for your dog. Does your dog react to sounds? Find some tips on the Sounds foundation training video.
  • Create a routine for trials, and get your dog used to that routine in training as well; the way you walk to the startline, the words you use to leave your dog in a stay, the way you lead out to the course...
  • Check your own thought; are you the one who’s worried or nervous? Dogs sense our emotional state very easily. If your dog thinks you are acting weird, it’s only logical that your dog might start acting weird too. You can get your dog used to you acting weird by practicing it. You could try walking in a stiff manner or acting nervous in training. One of the best ways to get agility handlers nervous is to create a competition in class; whoever runs clean and gets the fastest time, wins and gets a little prize! Ask everyone to bet a little amount of money for the winner, and you'll create even more excitement. Read more about learning to handle your ring nerves.
  • If you’re not sure whether your dog reacts to your state of mind or to the surroundings, try letting someone else take care of your dog, the warmups and cooldowns etc, on the trial site, and bring the dog to you to the startline. You can even try what happens if someone else handles your dog in a competition.

Looking for more tips? Join the discussion about this topic in our discussion forum!

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