We left off with all of the morning necessities finished and all set to start the trial itself. As much as possible, I try to keep the schedule and routine consistent at trials, but schedules, building layout, and weather mean that some flexibility is needed. Usually though, the routine doesn’t change so much as the timing of it, even at a huge event like last week’s AKC Invitational.
When I get to the trial site, I check in for all of my runs for the day, marking conflicts and moving dogs who are too close in the running order. Please note that I mainly trial in a part of the country where exhibitors are expected to resolve these issues themselves- I have been yelled at for moving dogs and marking conflicts when we’ve traveled to other areas, so this apparently isn’t the case everywhere. I pick up my course maps, look them all over, and take photos of them to store in a journaling app on my phone. I used to keep the hard copies, but found I had 20 years worth of paper course maps and little ability to find the ones that might have actually been useful. If possible, I leave the dogs crated in the RV (ideal) or car (second choice), with battery operated Ryobi fans on if needed, but some venues or weather conditions require crating in the building. If I need a holding crate near ringside while my jump height is running, I would set that up.
About an hour before each run, I take the dogs for a potty walk. When I settle them back into the crates, I would put on either their Back on Track coats or K9 Fitvest cool coats depending on weather. Chili considers anything above 70 degrees to be extreme heat, so I sometimes get funny looks for breaking out the cool coats, but her comfort is my priority. I have found that the coats have a calming effect, along the lines of a Thundershirt, so in perfect weather I usually put the Fitvests on dry and without the ice packs. Then I head back to ringside for the walk through.
The next part of the warm up can be done with more than one dog at a time. Ideally, I have a second person available but I can make do with a crate close to the ring. At most trials, I run 3-4 dogs in 8 or 12 inch Master. At big trials, this is not a problem (unless my 8 inch dog conflicts with my 12s), but at a small trial, the hounds are sometimes almost, or literally, back to back, which requires me to warm everyone up before anyone runs.
About 8-10 dogs before the run, I will get my dog, wet them down if its hot, and take them for a quick potty break. I’ll head to ringside and take off the Back on Track coat before heading to the warm up jump (cool coats can stay on for now). I use the jump as a quick warm up and to make sure the dog knows what the running surface will be. Most of the time, I just ask for one jump in collection and one in extension, but I might warm up a back side or start line stay if I plan to use those skills. Please note, warming up is not the same as training the behavior. If your dog doesn’t have a skill like pushing to the back side of the jump, it isn’t fair to expect everyone to wait while you monopolize the warm up jump trying to train a behavior at the last minute. (Like say, at a major event like the Invitational……just saying.) Rewards at the warm up jump and ringside come from a tug toy, which my dogs will also retrieve and tug on to varying degrees.
After the warm up jump, we’ll settle on a Fitpaws stretching mat at ringside to wait for our turn. If it’s even remotely warm, I’ll have a fan pointed at the mat. The mat will be “home base” and is where the cookies will be after we run. I also keep a drink for myself and a water dish for the dogs there. The mat and toy are consistent from trial to trial, but I have several identical ones and always travel with at least one extra. If this seems silly, I refer you to the Busy Bee scene in the movie “Best in Show”. For my hounds, the cookies in the toy at a trial need to be more exciting than training cookies- usually I have steak or grilled chicken for them. I use tug toys that are washable and they are cleaned regularly for food safety reasons.
About 2-3 dogs before our turn I’l take the cool coat off. While we hang out on the mat, each dog has preferred activities. Chili will play fetch and get wound up, Juno and Wally like a good belly rub, and Salsa alternates between cuddling and wrestling. I usually save active play for 1-2 dogs before the run since keeping my dogs aroused isn’t as easy as it would be for more traditional agility dogs. The toy stays at the mat, but I take some food up to the ring gate with me. As we approach the ring, I’ll ask for some heeling or tricks until the dog before us is about 30 seconds from the end of their run. Then we have the last cookie and I will pick up the PBGV girls to carry into the ring. Juno and Wally are too heavy to carry, so Juno heels into the ring. Wally gets really excited watching other dogs run, so I try to keep him sitting in front position as much as possible. Then we head to the line for a fabulous run!