Advocating for your dog at trials

We all know we need to be an advocate for our dogs ALWAYS. This means not putting them in an unsafe situation or not letting someone treat them inappropriately, etc.

When we are trialing and under rules of an organization/exercise we can sometimes lose our judgement and become “obedient” to rules and worry if we are allowed to help our dog. YES, you should always put your dog first over rules of a sport or organization. A classic example was when dogs would get stuck in the agility chute. We aren’t allowed to touch equipment – that is ingrained in our head! When you realize at that point, it doesn’t matter because your dog is stuck and flailing in the chute fabric, you don’t worry about the rules!

A less obvious example that is not safety related, but emotionally based, is giving a 2nd cue in the obedience ring. That is just points off and IF additional support ends up being an NQ, that’s OK. If you really need to reassure or re-cue your dog, then so be it. There are times they NEED that extra communication/support to remove pressure and reduce stress. If you have ever been in that situation and did nothing, you likely remember it going south from there! Put your dog’s emotional state first!!

I recall a time during out of sight stays (a timely example!) where my dog got up during the stays and was frantically looking for me. Gosh, I think that was about 16 years ago! I could see what was going on after someone mentioned she was up, and I didn’t know what to do as we are not “allowed” to go back until the time was over. Duh! Luckily a good friend told me to GO GET MY DOG!

Some recent examples I have seen/read involves nosework. Your dog’s foot or nose gets stuck in a box while searching. Another sport where you aren’t allowed to touch objects or containers in a search area.  If they are in distress, who cares!! Help them get the box off of them. And you can always ask the judge first, but immediately responding to your dog is ALWAYS Ok! As an AKC Scent Work judge, I would never fault a team for that. Put your dog first, always!

And something I read recently about being required to return your dog to their crate immediately after competing. That may be a club’s desire, but it’s not a rule that I can find! If your dog needs time to decompress and get more personal interaction with you, then you find a place to be able to do that. If your dog is well mannered and under control, they can’t force you or take your run away!

We have to feel empowered to respond to our dogs when needed even if it’s outside of established rules. Rules are set up to establish structure and guidelines during normal situations. When something unexpected arises, toss out those rules and tend to your dog!

Happy empowered trialing!!!


  1. Many years ago I was judging a trial where a dog got tangled in the chute. The handler just stood there as the dog became more and more entangled. I teleported across the ring and got the dog out, fully realizing I might get bitten. The lady said she was afraid to touch the chute cloth because it would NQ the team. My response was: ” If you ever do not touch the chute cloth when your dog is entangled in it in my ring, you will be excused from the trial.” Thank you for writing this. I am sharing it with my classes and saving it for further sharing. No Q is as important as the welfare of our dogs.

    1. From the outside it seems so silly that a handler would freeze but I can tell you I’ve been there too! A rule follower here and took me some experiences to realize when it was OK to “break the rules”! Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. to make my dog feel better about himself i begged and pleaded with the judge to just let him do a couple rally things. he had acl surgery and was limping but wanted so bad to do rally. yes we bombed but he was so thrilled he limped and pranced the way out of the ring and all the way to the truck. Yes by all means think of the dog first, many rules are to be broken

  3. An important reminder. Dogs are not robots and it’s necessary for many to decompress before returning to their crate after a search or run.

    1. But please remember that some of us have dog reactive dogs, so please be aware of where you are decompressing your dog so other dogs can get to the ring without causing them stress.

      1. Absolutely Tina! Due to the nature of NASCW nosework trials were the environment is setup to be friendly to reactive dogs, we need to be considerate of this. Parking and potty areas for reactive dogs are often provided so should be used if you need more space. I have asked many people around the country and all have said they haven’t been to one trial where there wasn’t a place a dog could be walked away from the parking area. Some dogs may also have physical limitations that require stretching or movement before being crated again.

  4. Advocating for your dog can come in many ways. One obedience trial I was in, the judge was doing the stand for exam in the hot sun when there was a huge tree beside the ring that provided shade. When it came to our turn and the judge indicated it was time for that exercise I asked her if we could do it in the shade. What did I have to lose. My black dog hated being in the sun so figured it was worth the try. The judge congratulated me on thinking of my dog first and moved over to the shady area where she also examined every dog after us!

  5. Novice handler, before a CGC test we were doing for practice. They had all ten dogs wait in a small area off from the test area. Some of the dogs were not dog friendly (as they instructors knew from the class we had spent ten weeks in!) and everyone was amped up. Another dog was lunging at mine, the owners trying to restrain it. Other dogs were pacing, barking, whining…..we were told in order to test we had to wait our turn in this area. I should have walked away….still wish I had, but I felt like I had to follow the rules. By the time it was our turn (next to last) we were both wrecks. And on the loose lead walk, with my normally happy mutt being a total wingnut, the instructor told us that obviously we weren’t test material and to return to our seats. Only one dog of ten passed, and most had passed the mock test the week before no problem. I still wonder why I didn’t just go outside…….

  6. I have a 14″ Mini Aussie. I was at a trial and noticed the rubber on the dog walk was popped up. I was taping it when the judge/equipment owner came over and asked what I was doing. I told her and she informed me that her over-the-top BC needed to see that so she would know it was a dog walk. I told that it was a danger to my dog and other small dogs. She left it on and I will not trial with her again.

  7. I learned this one the hard way. I was entering my GSD in agility trials; because I ran at the lowest level, the classes were extremely small. So, allowing the ring crew to rush me, I would bring the dog up to the ring and have someone hold him while I walked the course. It pushed him just far enough outside his comfort zone that he became fearful and reactive to other dogs. Lesson learned. Now I tell the ring crew that I’m crating out of my car and will get my dog to the ring as quickly as I can…and they’ll just have to wait. I’m sure it’s less than a minute to run to the car and grab the dog. But the GSD may never compete again, because I made the mistake of doing what I was told. Still kicking myself…

    1. I think sometimes we have to learn the hard way and by posting this blog and others sharing their stories we can hope to give others the empowerment and to learn the easy way. Every agility walkthru should allow time for first team to be on the line. They can wait!! Thanks for sharing.

    2. I’m sorry this happened to you. The trials I attend there is “5 minutes until the first dog on line”. That gives everyone a chance to get there on time.

  8. I have two dogs that I run agility with. Gypsy, my Flattie, has severe anxieties and cannot compete. I was able to take her out one time and let her go on the course for a minute and a half. It was the most amazing experience for both of us. My other dog, Ronnie, is a JRT. She is very skittish around bells and whistles. She cannot compete when they are in the trial. I have put her first every single time. It is about our relationship with our dog. That is our priority here, not titles, points, or championships.

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