Agility trials, also called competitions, matches or shows, are the ultimate objective for most people who take up agility training. It is certainly possible to simply enjoy training for fun or as a form of exercise for your dog, but if you want to take it to the next level then you'll be entering the world of trials and that means learning about the specifics of this exciting form of competition.
Trials are generally held by local clubs and sanctioned by various national organizations such as the United States Dog Agility Association, the North American Dog Agility Council, or the American Kennel Club. There are specific rules that both clubs and participants must abide by in order for the trials to be considered official. Courses must follow a particular format and be carefully laid out in order to accommodate the competitors based either on skill level, size or both. Other factors can also be taken into consideration, including the age of the handlers or dogs.
For competition purposes, dogs can be divided according to height, measured at the withers. Dogs will then compete in agility trials against other dogs of a similar size, with jumps and other obstacles adjusted accordingly. The competitors can also be separated according to skill level, usually under the designations of novice, intermediate and masters. Dogs have to have a certain number of successes at a particular level before they can be moved up to the next level.
While trials are usually held outdoors for space purposes, they can also be held indoors, either in a covered equestrian arena or an empty warehouse. Often, several different rings will be set up in one location. Organizations holding agility competitions will be responsible for ensuring that the ground is even and flat and free of any obstacles such as holes or mud patches, to ensure the safety of dogs and handlers.
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When you arrive for a trial, you will usually be given a course map, showing the exact order in which you and your dog will be expected to complete the obstacles. Handlers are given time to walk through the course and plot out their best path to take before beginning an actual competition run.
Once you begin a run, the judges will be watching to ensure that you and your dog complete the obstacles cleanly and within the allotted amount of time. Any mistakes will be counted as "faults" and take away from your final score.
The course will be reset between each run, to replace any obstacles that were knocked over or out of place. Once all competitors have completed their runs, the times and records will be compared to determine the final standings. Agility trials usually carry awards for placement and qualifying scores and sometimes special awards are also given for high-in-trial and other achievements.
There is nothing to equal the fun and excitement of showing off your dog's skill as you navigate a course quickly and cleanly. It can be a great way for you to form a bond of communication and trust while highlighting the level of your agility training. If you're enjoying your agility work, why not consider joining this thrilling world of competition and discover everything that agility really has to offer?