Dogs thrive on routine, but keeping a consistent schedule while competing can be hard. I compete in a variety of dog sports with multiple dogs, and have found that with planning and consistency it’s possible to create a plan that allows the dogs to know what to expect and to minimize stress.
We usually travel by RV, which I think is a big advantage in many ways. All of the dogs travel with us from the time they are puppies, so they are used to most of the rituals of travel long before they are old enough to be entered. I try to keep the trial day schedule as consistent as possible if we are commuting from home in the morning or staying in a hotel, but the familiarity of the RV setting and ability to bring all of the comforts of home does make things easier.
In the RV, we wake up at least 1.5 hours before our first class or walk through (longer for the breed ring, since you have to groom). Dave and I get ourselves dressed and ready first and undress any dogs who slept in their Back on Track coats. I try not to let dogs out before 7 am, because I can’t guarantee that they won’t bark and barking at any time of day is surprisingly upsetting to some in the agility community, but sometimes the judging schedule just doesn’t allow that. All of the dogs go out for 5-10 minutes in exercise pens to take care of any urgent business. Dave supervises outside while I fill water buckets in crates. The dogs come back in and eat breakfast, which was prepared the night before. Not doing meal prep in the morning is another attempt to minimize excited morning barking. I do feed the dogs who are competing, but only about 25% of their normal breakfast since I am really generous with rewards on trial days.
After breakfast, which takes most of our dogs 10-15 seconds to eat, everyone is walked in groups of 2 or 3. We try to make sure everyone is empty in the morning, because if the day gets busy it might be a while before the unentered dogs get another trip outside.
At this point, I prepare anything we need for the day, like packing the cooler and making sure enough treats are defrosted and ready to go. If we are at a breed show, I would start grooming. I prefer to work from the RV or car at most shows because the dogs are calmer and I have more ability to control the temperature, but if needed I would move the dogs who are entered into their crates in the building. Now it’s time to check in, pick up armbands or course maps, and let the fun begin.
Stay tuned for part 2, the Pre-run Routine.