When is my dog ready to compete? In this 2-part blog post OneMind Dogs Coach Megan Foster shares her thoughts on the topic.
When you see agility for the first time, you instantly think “my dog can do that!” and you’re right. Any dog and handler team can learn agility and enjoy competing together. The second thought that happens, and usually is the first question I’m asked when starting with a new group of students is “How long will this training take?”. And then, after about six to eight months of training, students are looking over longingly at more advanced classes running full courses, and I’m often asked “When will we be ready to enter a competition?”. This is a great question, but one that has more than one answer. “It depends” is usually how I start my answer. Keep reading to find out what all of the factors may be!
When is the dog ready to compete?
Dogs are eligible to compete when they are 15 - 18 months old, depending on the organization the competition is affiliated with. However, this is the last factor I take into account when determining if my dog is ready to compete. My decision is based on skill, and less on age and time spent training. Each dog is different and unique, and may require more training, or different training than another dog.
Before entering a competition, I would like to see in training:
- Confidence in performing all obstacles (contacts, weaves, tunnels, table) independently
- An understanding of the most common handling techniques
- A solid start line stay
- The ability to focus and have a good state of mind in a trial environment
- The ability to put together long sequences, without immediate reinforcement (food or toy) from the handler
Of course, it is absolutely ok to enter a competition before all of these skills are solid. Many handlers enter their dog in classes with only jumps and tunnels, if their dog’s other obstacle skills (contacts and weaves) are not quite ready for the competition scene. This gives the team the ability to “get their feet wet” in a competition environment and start gaining experience this way, while the training continues at home.
In some agility organizations, you have the option to enter a competition “unofficially”, and are able to bring a toy into the competition ring! This is ideal for teams that have most of the skills listed above, but maybe aren’t quite ready to delay that reward yet.
In the second part of this blog post we’ll look into the skills that are required before entering a competition, in more detail!
Coaches / Instructors that contributed to Megan’s post:Karen Holik, Laura Bussing, Stephen McKay, Anna Eifert, Jen Pinder, Ivette White