February 4, 2022

Episode 300: Eleven Reasons to Trial

In this episode (29:45)

In this podcast, Sarah, Jennifer and Esteban talk how having goals for trialing, beyond ribbons and titles, can help you improve your dog agility performance.

You Will Learn

  • How being clear on your trialing goals can save you time and money.
  • What Jennifer and Esteban do with their ribbons.
  • How your goals can shift through a dog’s career.
  • How you can structure your goals leading to big events.


(upbeat music) - Welcome to Bad Dog Agility, (dog barking) a podcast helping you reach all of your dog agility goals, whether it's competing under the bright lights of the televised finals at Westminster, or successfully navigating a homemade course in your own backyard. We'll bring you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. Are you ready? - I'm ready. - I'm ready. - I'm ready.

- The show starts with your hosts, Jennifer, Esteban and Sarah. - I'm Jennifer. - I'm Esteban. - And I'm Sarah. And this is Episode 300. today's podcast is brought to you by HitItBoard.com and the new Teeter TeachIt, an easy-to-use tool that controls the amount of tip on your teeter so you can introduce motion to your dog in a gradual way. Go to HitItBoard.com for the new Teeter TeachIt

and other training tools and toys. Use discount code BDA10 to get 10% off your order. That's HitItBoard.com. Today, we're gonna be talking about all the different ways that you can use your trialing to help improve your dog agility. And I think that there's more reasons for trialing here than a lot of people have thought about, and that's why we wanted to put this podcast together and really give

you a different way to view your trialing and the goals that you set yourself every time you go to a trial. So we're gonna start, we have 11 reasons here for why you might want to trial your dog, and we're gonna start with the most obvious. So my number one reason, not number one as in most important, but first reason in the list, is to get titles, right?

A lot of times that's everybody's first goal. They wanna get that Novice title, the Open title, get into Masters. If it's your first time doing agility at all, that first title, that Novice title, is really, really exciting. So what do you guys think? Titles. - I have a dog right now and my goal, my whole objective in why I'm trialing her as early as this weekend is to

get her mock. That's her number one goal. So getting titles in her case, I want the mock so I can enter Westminster. - Exactly. Which is another subcategory coming up. But yes, getting titles because of the titles, but also getting titles cause they unlock other things. So the second reason that I have, and this doesn't really apply until you get to the master's level. And this is I

suppose, a little bit more AKC specific, but is to get points. So once you get to the master's level, now you can start accruing points. You need the points to get mock. So it's kind of a subset of getting the title, but you also need points to qualify for certain events like the invitational. Now, one of the things that I wanted to point out about both of these

things is that you should really be thinking about what your goal is. So for instance, if your goal is to get a title, which title, right? If you wanna get your novice title so that you can move to open so that you can move to masters so that you can start getting points for mock, then the titles you wanna get are in standard and jumpers, right? Time to

beat titles aren't gonna help you on that goal, fast titles aren't gonna help you on that goal, premier titles aren't gonna help you on that goal. So we wanna kinda get specific about what it is we're trying to get out of the trial. And I like this idea of having a goal for the trial, because I think to some extent, everybody doing agility has to worry about time

and money, right? Their finite resources, different people have different amounts of both of those, but they are finite resources for everybody. And so if your goal is to get to masters and start getting points and you have limited resources, you can put to the side, at least for some amount of time, fast, time to beat and premiere, right? And if your goal is to get points because you

ultimately wanna go to the invitational, well, fast, premiere and time to beat don't give you points towards that particular event, right, Jen? - That is correct. And along the same lines of getting points, what I thought of when I saw this on your list was actually a year that I was going for top 10 points for USDAA. So the Q did not matter for my championship title. I

already had my act. And the legs did not count towards national qualifications. They were truly runs that I was entering to try to gain points for top 10 rankings. So very, very similar, just looking at different example and different organization, that same idea of what is the goal, what is the objective and the idea of those points, not leading towards any other event or any specific title. -

And I think that a lot of people, they kind of, they open up the calendar, they see that there's a trial, they enter everything that they're eligible to enter. And then they kind of think about the goal for the trial rather than being, I guess the point here is that you can be strategic about what you enter and you can enter different things for different reasons, even within

the same trial. Like you could definitely say, I would like to get the fast title. I need points for the in invitational. And you could kind of have both of those goals at a single trial. But my point here is that you don't necessarily have to, if you have one overarching goal that you are going towards, you can be strategic about your trialing. - Oh, maybe this is

later on your list. But I remember when I was getting ready for AKC nationals each year, I think I would be doing like all four classes, not fast, not time to beat, basically I never do those. And then so I'm doing jumpers and standard and then premier jumpers and premier standard, right? So four classes. But as soon as AKC nationals was done, like the very next weekend, getting

ready for tryouts, you have like, I wanna say like a month or two, I'm not sure if I'm remembering that correctly, but you got a month or two, just a couple weeks that you're ready and you want the dog to start getting used to backsides and you want the courses to be much more complex. Because I think now with the premier classes over the past couple years, there's

been a huge divergence in AKC course design where the masters in excellent level courses are pretty straightforward. And so I didn't want my dog, like seeing those courses all the time, you know, like getting used to that, I'm like, Hey, now I want you to think that every single jump could be a backside. - Right? - Throw it out there. You're gonna have five or six different options

at every decision point. It's a more complex decision tree for the dog. So I would just run the two premieres. - Right. Yeah, absolutely. All right. We've talked about it a little bit, but number three, qualify for events. So again, you know, there are going to be runs that matter for qualifying for events and runs that don't. So I remember for USDAA, we used to always just do

enough to go to the tournaments. Right? We didn't really worry about the titling because it wasn't our primary venue. So we wouldn't worry about titling classes, but we would go and we would do the grand Pre and the steeple chase, but we would only do it as long as it took, as many shows as it took to get qualified for nationals. Right? - Yeah. I know when you're

qualifying for nationals, in AKC, you need double Qs. - Yes. - Right. Two Qs in a day. So let's say you've got all your points already. - Yeah. - And you're not worried about titling it all. So if you botch the first run, like right away at 8:00 AM, people are like, Hey, I'm packing it up. Especially if it's on a Sunday. - Right. - Like if it

was a three-day show or a two-day show and it ends on Sunday. - And then the Cowboys play at 3:00 PM, I'm just saying. - Yeah like, Hey, I'm just gonna drive three hours back home. And you know, I'll be home by noon eating lunch. And so you might take off rather than staying. - Right. Exactly. All right. So now we're gonna get, so those are kind of,

to me the obvious reasons, but even there, I feel like people aren't necessarily thinking about why they're there and being strategic about their time and their money. So now let's talk about some of the other reasons that you might go to a trial. So number four, bring a puppy for socialization and being in the environment. So obviously when they're old enough to legally be there, but this is

a great reason because you don't even have to be entered, you know, with that dog, you could just bring the puppy along with another dog that you're competing with, but just having the puppy there and it kind of changes like your whole, the way you structure your time at the trial, right? When we show up with our puppies, we are all about like getting them out very regularly,

doing different things, moving away from all of the action and tugging with them, treating them a lot, making it a really positive experience, making sure we take them to the bathroom a lot. It's like all about the puppy. - Yeah. There are gonna be some trials though. You need to check where there are space limitations or creating limitations. So they will say specifically, and including some national events,

like no unentered dogs. - Right. - Then don't bring them. - And I would say this reason is one that I take into account when looking to travel to new locations, you know a lot of us, especially in the Midwest, we all have a facility within a couple hours and we do all our shows at the local facility. But when I get a young dog that I'm looking

to socialize, I might say, you know, hey I'm gonna take that little extra drive. I'm gonna do an overnight in a hotel. So not only is it maybe a reason why to trial, but why to enter a specific trial over another one or a certain location over another one. - Yeah, exactly. All right. Going along kind of the timeframe of a new dog. Number five is to FEO

before debut. So that's for exhibition only. And that means you can bring your toy into the ring. So I think that now that that's available, that is an absolute, I mean, I would just use that for every new dog I was trialing with. I would go in with my toy into the ring kind of bridge that gap between the dog having experience at home or at a class

setting and bridging the gap to the full run, no toy, you know, start to finish, having that opportunity to be in the trial environment, to have a lot of the aspects of a trial, but also some of the aspects of training, being able to take the toy into there and pick whatever I wanna work on. And then along the FEO, you know, I think also FEO for specific

issues. So you've got a dog that's been blowing their contacts. You know you need to work on it. You've been retraining and you enter for an exhibition only to work on that specific issue. You go into the ring, you do, you know, five A frames in your two minutes or whatever it is, you reward the dog. So FEO for specific issues is another great reason to go to

a trial reason. Reason number seven is to enforce criteria. So sometimes again, if we're working on contacts start line, you may need to take some trials where you go in knowing if my dog breaks, I'm going to lose this run and I'm going to fix it, right? It doesn't matter if they were legal, right? You're not doing FEO. You're doing a real run. It could be a Q.

The dog comes off of the A frame without stopping, but they hit the yellow. They could still get the Q, but you came into this trial, knowing that you needed to put a stop to this like leaping behavior and using this, throwing away this Q to make a point to your dog, that the criteria still matters. So I think that a lot of times when we are helping

people, we'll tell them, you need to be very sure that in your next trial, you are enforcing that criteria. I know Esteban feels very strongly about this. - I mean, yeah, it's an opportunity to train and teach your dog. I think the two periods of time that good trainers do their contact work, when they are working on criteria is immediately after a big event where you basically let

the dog blow through their contacts, right? And they're gonna give you some fly offs. So, you know, kind of the start of the season or the event right after, that's always tricky when you have two big events really close together and only one or two trials in between. And if you only have one trial, maybe two or three days of showing, you have three standard runs, you kind

of gotta think, how am I gonna distribute my standard runs? Like, how am I gonna do this? And then the second period of time would be right before a big event. - Right, remind the dog. - So you're gonna notice that good handlers are going to park their dogs a little bit on the contacts, in the hopes that they'll be a little stickier at big events. And whether

it works or not, it's another issue. I'm just saying that that's stuff that you will see. - Yes, absolutely. All right. Number eight is to practice a specific skill. So here we're not necessarily going for the Q. We may be working on a skill like front crosses. And so I know you've mentioned this on the podcast. Both of you have mentioned this on the podcast multiple times, showing

up and saying, okay, I'm going to do all fronts on this run, right? To really practice my front crosses. Even though, maybe I typically do more rears or I'm gonna do all rear crosses on this run to make sure that my rears are nice and sharp. We talked last week about designating a run where you are running to win. You are running all out. You are pushing for

that extra speed so that you don't just show up at the big event and suddenly you're pushing and your dog is like, I don't know what you're doing. Why are you acting crazy? Right? Or running to Q, you know, really putting on for yourself that the purpose of this run is to qualify. No matter what I'm gonna be conservative, I'm going to, you know, if I get a

big wide turn, I'm gonna do everything I can to bring it in and keep it a Q rather than letting it be an NQ run. And I think that practicing a skill can also be map based. So it might not have been your goal for the trial. It might not be something you thought about ahead of time. Like I need to work on pushing my dog, or I

need to work on being conservative, but maybe you look at the map and you say, okay, I could handle this with X maneuver, but it is a really nice setup for this other maneuver that I have been working on in practice. And I haven't had the opportunity to try on a trial. So looking at this map, I'm gonna go ahead and do my first German turn in a

trial, you know, something like that. So I think that that can be kind of in the moment, but it's something you should keep in the back of your mind every time you go to a trial and you're looking at the map, you know, think about what options are available, what you might be able to practice on that run. Do you do some of that, like as you're getting

ready for international events, do you see things in masters or in premier where you're like, okay, I'm gonna try X. - Absolutely. And I don't know that it would be a reason that I would, or wouldn't enter a show as much as it would be a goal within a run. So I enter a show and I say, okay, as you said, this goal, no matter what I'm gonna

run, like I would, if it was round one at AKC Nationals versus eh we're three months away, I've got time to test my skills. I spent some time really working on rear crosses. I don't love it as a strategy, but I'm gonna go ahead and try that rear cross here to figure out can I now bring it into the ring and work on and practice the skill? Not

just in a very controlled situation. I mean, we talked about it before, because for me, a lot of trialing is to practice a skill because my training environment is so sterile. I train by myself. There's no other dogs, there's no other people. So to go to a trial, it's a big jump. So I'm using that very much for a practice situation for getting ready for those big events.

- Yeah. Let me ask you a question, Jen, do you collect ribbons? Like how often do you collect ribbons. - That has modified over the years. - Yeah, me too. I wanna hear yours. - It used to be, you know, in the beginning, everything, and then it was okay placements. And then it was okay titles. And then it was at one point I was collecting mock ribbons. And

I don't even collect those anymore. (laughs) I collect ribbons from like big events, like national events, but even at nationals I don't typically do much with the individual round placements or the clean round ribbons. It's like, if I make it to finals, the finals ribbon. And a lot of times it's just so that I can like take a nice photo on Sunday or Monday. And then once I

have the photo, a lot of times they end up in a drawer. Although I do have a very pretty display case and trophy case that I put 'em in, but I don't take many of 'em home with me. I have a record book that I take the stickers and I put the stickers in there so I can keep track of everything. But the ribbons themselves is mostly for

the photo op. - That's so funny because I've had the exact same experience. I think Sarah had it too, you know, when you start an agility, my reason for going to trial was getting those ribbons, getting the Q and in order to get the Q, no, in order to get the ribbon, you had to get the Q, right? In placements, of course, better than non placements. I was

all about that. Starting in Texas, this is like 20 years ago, they used to call out the announce, announced the winners, right? - Oh yeah. - Everyone would crowd around the table. - I totally forgot about that. - And then everybody would clap and stuff. And then it reached a point after several years where they just left it out. It was like, self-serve. - Right. - Go find

your own sticker. Like, stick it on the ribbon yourself and then take it home. And then years later, many dogs later, boxes of ribbons later that you end up throwing out. You're like, okay. You know, I don't even need to take the ribbon. I don't even need to take the ribbon. And I know with the most recent dogs, like I just wasn't even bothering with the ribbon. And

sometimes they offer toys and I would take 'em if they're useful, like a food bowl, but if they're like squeaky toys or something that I'm never gonna use, I just leave 'em there. Like you don't need to get 'em. And the thing that changed that though, well, I guess two things. So I was running other people's dogs in a lot of spots. And so those owners, like the-

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And, just like you mentioned about the photo op, right? So social media, I think kinda reversed that. So there are a lot of trials where if I'm not gonna share anything, then I'm not gonna pick up the ribbon. Like I just leave it there. To me in my head, I'm now thinking that I'm probably saving clubs a lot of money. I'm not using all the

ribbons, right? - I was just gonna comment that a big shift for me was when I started holding trials and I had to buy the ribbons. And so I'd look at every ribbon differently and open up these boxes and go, oh my God, that's hundreds of dollars, right? - Yeah. - So now that I have to buy the ribbons to hold the trials, it does put a different

perspective on things. - That's so funny. I was gonna ask if y'all had ever taken the ribbon to take the picture and then put the ribbon back. - I had. - All the time. - Pre-COVID. - All the time. Absolutely. - Right. - I had. That is so funny. (laughs) - More and more trials even have, and we have this now, like the photo room, the photo op,

the photo station. - Oh, that's a great idea. - And it's put up just so you can go over and like do your photos. So like we have a different backdrop each month. So right now it's Valentine's day with a red table and some little pillows that say, be mine, and you go over, take your photo, take your photo with your ribbons. And then a lot of people

walk right back over and return their ribbons. - That's awesome. - Yeah. And there's no judgment here. Like I am not being judgmental. That's the whole point of this podcast, right? There are so many different ways to approach trialing, but it's just funny because the way I approach trials 20 years ago with my first agility dog is very different from how I approach agility with a current dog

that you're trying to get ready, not just for nationals, but to, you know, make the finals or win nationals or whatever. The local trials mean something different. - Right. - You're gonna use them differently. - Right. And we have three more, but before we even get there, we're kind of talking about the lessons learned here is that it's not just about no judgment from us. It's also about

giving people different ideas for what they can do, but also giving you the idea that the people around you may have different reasons for being there than you do. - Right. - And so, like, you know, we've talked on other podcasts about how you'd have a double Q on the line, but your dog doesn't hold quite on the A frame, but it was technically legal and people are

like, why didn't you go on? And you're like, well, that's not my goal, right? My goal isn't the Q. My goal is to make sure that my dog has understanding of their contact criteria. And so, just know that other people around you are there for different reasons and all the different reasons have merit, depending on the goals that that person is working towards. Right? The person who needs

those points and it's the last weekend before the invitational cutoff, it may be totally valid for them to let their dog blow through that A frame to get those 20 points that may be the difference between making a it or not. Right? - Oh, absolutely. - So I really like giving people the room to have their own reasons for being there. All right. So we are on number

nine and I call this a checkpoint, information gathering. So I've advised several people to kind of go down the path, they'll ask like, I'm not sure if my dog is ready for the trial. We've been doing great in practice or their dog has had issues. I think it's especially dogs that have like environmental issues. So they have not been trialing maybe for COVID. They haven't trialed for a

year. They're trying to bring their dog back. They wanna know how best to do it. And I say, checkpoint, enter a trial and for one day, maybe two, cause sometimes I think dogs can be better on the second day once they have a chance, but enter one trial and then reassess. So my point in putting this here as its own goal is this is information gathering, which means

you can't fail at this goal, but you have to really put yourself in the mindset of, I am here to gather information on where my dog is mentally, where they are with their skills. So this could be information gathering on your contacts on your start line, on your dog just working in general in an environment. But the purpose is to get information. And when you go in with

the goal of getting information, you should not then be upset when you don't get a double Q, because that wasn't the goal, right? The goal is the information. And so I like to tell people who are unsure if their dog is ready, do one trial. And if it doesn't go well, don't enter a trial for another one to two months, work on whatever the issue was that you

were working and then enter one trial again. Like, if you're unsure, don't enter four weekends in a row and just keep going back and back and back and getting frustrated, right? So that's what I mean by a checkpoint, like one point in time and then take time off again. - I suggest this a lot when people are retraining a behavior. I see a lot with start lines and

contacts. But you know, somebody wants to make the transition from a stopped A frame to a running A frame. So I tell 'em, okay, pull out a standard for a while. You need a break while you retrain, they retrain. And I say, okay, let's enter one trial. Let's see where it's at. Don't enter a bunch because if it's not good, you don't wanna be forced into weekend after

weekend. Enter one trial, see where that A frame is at. And then we can reassess from there and it's either good. And now you can enter more or you're gonna be glad you're not in there in anything else so that you can keep working on it. Same thing with retrains on the dog walk, I see that a lot. Start line procedures, pull 'em from some trials, take a

break, enter one trial and gather information about whether or not what you're doing is working. - Exactly. Perfect. All right. So, so number ten, exposure to surface. I almost forgot about this one. And then somebody asked in our VIP group about practicing on dirt before nationals. And I thought, yes, we absolutely do that. I remember we would practice mostly on turf and then if nationals was gonna be

on dirt, we would, you know, like you said, go the extra 30 minutes to the different place that has dirt to give our dogs some exposure running on that surface. - Absolutely super common here. We have mostly turf. And so before big events that are on dirt, you'll see people travel further distances or enter trials that they wouldn't otherwise do just to get on that surface. - And

then our last reason here, number eleven is social. So this may not even involve your dog, right? You can go to a trial to support a friend who is going for their mock or is going to have their mock celebration, or I've had birthday parties at the trial because half of my friends are all there anyway, for the trial, right? And so, we have birthday cake and stuff

like that. Being there for your friend's debut, just going to visit with- - Reliant dog show. - Yeah. The reliant dog show is always a fun one. - Watch other venues. - The shopping. - There you go. - Will enter shows or go to shows for the shopping and the vendors. - Exactly. Even like nationals. I think if, you know, I'm not sure that I would make a

cross country trip, but if I lived within four or five hours of nationals and I didn't have a dog that was going, I would go for the environment, for visiting with people that I don't normally get to visit with, for the shopping and all of that. So I think social is absolutely a reason to go to a trial with, or without your dog. - Yeah. It's gonna be

interesting to see what trials are like. I know Jen you've been out there, but I haven't trialed since COVID started. And that's because we had puppies and they don't know how to do anything. They're still working on the contacts, but they're two now. They're soon to be three. I think the poodle may just have turned three anyway, the debut, it's coming. - It's coming. - The next couple

of weeks. So we'll be back to trialing. For sure, I think the social aspect is such a big part of trialing. I can remember the times where I'm like, Hey, what's the next show you're gonna be at like, you know, checking in with somebody. Like, I'm gonna be in Dallas in two weeks. Are you going to that trial? Oh yeah. Okay. Yeah. I'll see you there. Jen, be

honest. Have you ever made someone come with you to a trial when they didn't really need to go or want to go? Just so you would have to go by yourself? - I wouldn't say I made them. - Of course you wouldn't say that. - I politely influenced, strongly encouraged, - Coordinated. - So that I would not have to go alone. - Yes. - Yep, absolutely. - Yeah.

And I think that speaks to the social component of dog agility, not just between handler and dog, but between handlers. - Absolutely. All right. So I think we kind of did our wrap up mid podcast there because we were talking about the different goals that you have, but I hope this gives you some good ideas for how to structure your trialing, how to really just change how you

think about it. So that you can make progress in your goals, but also so that you can feel better about trials, where you don't get the conventional reward of qualifying runs, ribbons, titles, and instead get something else out of your trialing experience. And that's it for this week's podcast. We'd like to thank our sponsor HitItBoard.com. Happy training. (upbeat music) - Thank you for listening to bad dog agility.

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. For more information, updates and links to all our socials, just check out our website, www.baddogagility.com. If you haven't already signed up for our email subscription, we would love to have you join the BDA community. Until next time, take care.

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