How do you know when your dog is ready to enter his/her first trial? It can all seem very intimidating! My Kala will be in her first trial this coming weekend and sometimes you really don’t know what to expect. We are going to a CPE trial and only entering a couple of the games. CPE is a very favorable venue when just starting out.
Here are a few things that I feel are important to have before going into a trial. The first thing is a good recall. You will be taking your dog to unfamiliar territory and although they may be doing a course where you train, they could decide to leave the ring or go jump on the judge! You want to be able to have control of your dog whether or not they complete the course. If this is your first trial , you will probably be nervous and your dog will pick up on that as well.
If you haven’t practiced that many courses, don’t worry. We practice sequences of about 4-5 obstacles. As long as your dog can do sequences, they can usually make it through a beginner course. Most beginner courses flow fairly easily, but you will have to switch sides at least once. If your dog starts going all over the place (the zoomies) just be patient and call him back to you and continue on. In CPE you will only be faulted one off course no matter where the dog goes. Now if they take a few more obstacles and then go off course again, then it would be another fault. You are allowed one off course fault at the beginning level. What if your dog leaves the ring? I don’t know if there is a hard rule on this, but I have been to many CPE trials and have never seen anyone excused from the ring if their dog went out of the ring and came back in. Now if the dogs goes way off and takes forever, it’s probably best just to say thanks and excuse yourself and go catch your dog!
In CPE, in Level 1 (beginner) there are no weave poles or teeter, so you can start without having these obstacles. Also in CPE there is a category called FEO – for exhibit only. You still pay your entry fees and you have to be registered, but you will not get any credit for the run. You cannot train in the ring, no toys, treats or redo’s, but you can keep your dog on a lease and do the course. It is a good way to get started without any pressure. Even if you start in Level 1, and your dog is not cooperating at all, you can call for your leash and still do a few obstacles on leash before leaving the ring. Don’t go crazy and try and do the whole course if you call for the leash midway, this would be considered training and is not allowed. Just do a few things and exit the ring with a thank you to the judge.
One of the reasons we are just doing a few of the games is that I don’t feel we are ready to do much on contacts. Kala can do the A-Frame and Dogwalk, but doesn’t really have a good bottom stay yet. We are entered in Jumpers (only jumps and tunnels), Colors (2 intertwining courses that should have one contact at most) and Fullhouse (gain points, one of the jokers could be an A-Frame or Dogwalk, but there will probably be something else too). Fullhouse is where I expect to do the best since if she goes off course (except the table) we will just be getting some extra points.
Everyone has to make their own decision about when to do for that first trial. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your dog and just go for the fun of it! Just as a reminder, to begin in CPE, your dog must be 15 months and registered with a CPE number. You will need to go early to get measured no matter what jump height you are in. If you are getting measured before your dog is 2, then you will have to be measured again for a permanent card after that. Good luck!