Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do what at the where now?

While we were stewarding in the obedience ring back in August, my friend Donna (Sheltie and AKC Rally Judge Donna, not Labs and Beagles Donna) were discussing how many exhibitors in Novice A and even Open A looked as though they had no clue what they were supposed to do in the ring, what they were allowed/not allowed to do, ringside etiquette, etc. People were removing leashes before they stepped into the ring or leaving the ring without having clipped the leash on their dog. Some gave both hand and voice commands at times when they were only allowed one or the other. Some Novice A competitors had obviously not had it explained to them that there are major differences between what is allowed in Rally and what is allowed in obedience. (And that's probably all I should say about that.)

We've seen the same thing with new conformation exhibitors (hey, I was one of those not that long ago!). Some of the new folks didn't know how the classes progress, when they had to go back in the ring, when they should show up at the ring, etc.

So, we started talking about why that might be.

Let me take an informal survey here: How many of you have trainers in your area who offer competitive obedience classes? If the obedience classes you take are not geared toward competition, does the instructor have experience competing? Does he/she talk about competitive obedience at all?

For your handling classes, does the instructor ever talk about class progression, ring etiquette, counting points, how Reserve works, etc.? What about all of the unwritten rules that seem perfectly obvious once you've been at it for a while, but are totally unknown when you start out?

My theory is that many of the folks who were having the most trouble had attended some classes to learn basic obedience and/or how to best handle their dog in the show ring, but no one had talked to them about the other stuff that you really need to know before you step through the ring gate for the first time.

We've been thinking about offering an afternoon seminar on these things, kind of a what-to-expect-when-you're-exhibiting sort of thing. I would like to see new exhibitors have a positive experience their first time out, not feel like they got blindsided by a bunch of things no one ever explained.

What are some suggestions for topics you think we should cover? Is this something that you think new folks might attend if they are thinking about showing or competing?


  1. I would absolutely have been interested in something like that for conformation. The handling class I attended never discussed how the classses progress and what-means-what.... That is probably part of the reason I feel such anxiety when I think about the breed ring and finally hired a professional handler!

  2. I felt that way too, Jules, that first weekend I showed Ian. And believe me, whatever I could screw up, I did. So I had Donna's daughter Ariel handle him at the next set of shows. But what I realized as I stood there watching was that I didn't want to be a spectator anymore; that's why I had my own dog. Well, that, and Ian shows better for me. ;-)

    But once you've gone into the ring and boinked your dog's head on the table, dropped and spilled your bait bag, had your armband go fluttering off under the ring gate, and topped it all off with a wardrobe malfunction (and yes, this was all in ONE ring appearance), you kinda go past the mortification and things just sort of settle in. Not that I'm a terrific handler by any means, but I at least don't want to throw up when I walk in the ring anymore.

  3. Speaking for agility, I definitely took a short lesson offered by my agility school on "what to expect". We talked about filling out premiums, getting to the ring at the appropriate time, etiquette around the ring, what things to bring to a trial, things not to do in the ring like no treats (duh!), not touching your dog, collar type, etc. It was all helpful information. And of course, we were counseled to attend a couple of trials just to watch the goings on, before ever entering a trial.

  4. The handling classes this way are just to practice with your dog. Nothing else was discussed. Now I am taking a 6 week class, offered once a year at a local community college, and this instructor is more about the etiquette, how the dogs looks, critiques, etc. She would be great for a novice dog show person.

  5. My obedience instructor is a competitive obedience instructor. I think it's important for people to find a good instructor if they want to compete. Things are so different from a basic obedience class/manners class. Getting started out on the right foot, footwork, etc. are important things to learn. But for the "getting ready" part, my obedience instructor held a day-long seminar, some obedience work with our dogs, but much of it was about how to go to an obedience trial. It covered the full range of things. What to bring to the show site (how many people know to take a chair and snacks if the show doesn't have concessions?), how early to get to the show (depending on the dog), how to read the catalog and know approximately what time your class will start, how to warm your dog up before you compete, how to enter the ring, how to breathe at the starting line. How it's OK when the judge asks if you are ready to say NO if you are not ready!!! Even the easy trick of clipping the leash to the armband for the long stays. If you know what to expect ahead of time, it makes things much less stressful when you arrive!

    I've also taken a ring-nerves seminar, because I had terrible nerves starting in obedience. That seminar and some of the ring nerves books are outstanding.

    Good luck, I think it's something that everyone should have an opportunity to do, learn the tips and tricks of the actual dog showing process from someone with experience.

  6. I think there is also a call for a class for people switching over from reg obedience to rally and vice versa. After years of watching from outside the ring (and 3 attempts inside) I feel I have a basic grasp of the regular stuff. But now with Rally on the scene and being so different than the regular AKC classes I am afraid to step in that ring.(OK I am afraid whenever I am in a ring but that is whole nother issue.)

    I totally agree with finding a trainer that can teach trial type obedience that has experience. Thankfully that isn't my target audience. (tho I like to think I wouldn't muck it up to bad) And I have no issue refering those clients along to those trainers.