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 at an obedience trial (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 searching due to reactive dog policies. 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! I have always been able to take my dogs away from a trial location – either by walking around a block or driving to another location.

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!!!