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Part 1: Are You Ready to Compete in Dog Sports?

You’ve been training with your dog for awhile now, maybe even several years, and you’re finally considering taking the plunge into competition events. There are many great reasons to compete in sports such as lure coursing or flyball, but also several points to consider. No matter what you decide, consider the following.
Note: I currently compete with my dogs in agility so that is the primary example I will use. However, the majority of these considerations can apply to all canine sports and even conformation shows. If you have any experiences to add, share them in the comments!

Can You Justify the Cost?

Let’s get this one out of the way first. Competing can get expensive. One of your first but less costly expenses is that your dog will likely have to be registered with an organization that sanctions trials or shows. For the Agility Association of Canada (AAC), getting a dog identification number is only $12 CAD; obtaining a performance event number (PEN) for a non-registered dog of a recognized breed with the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) costs $53.90 as of this writing (plus microchips and signed photographs from your veterinarian). But the biggest unavoidable expense is the cost of entries into each competition. From what I have seen, agility runs tend to cost roughly $17-25 each. And, of course, your dog likely will not win or earn a qualifying score every time. A great example of this is the game Snooker in AAC agility; many handlers refer to Snooker as their “donation” because the dog can be whistled off the course in mere seconds for making one wrong move. That means you may have paid $25 for 15 seconds (or less!) of play.

Additional costs include your time, food, travel, equipment, and accessories. There are ways to lower these costs with planning (article coming soon!) but some of them are inescapable. Before you decide, make sure to find out how often events are held in your area. Will you have to travel far? If so, consider fuel costs and maybe even hotel stays. Like most human sports, you generally don’t need all of the fancy or trendy gear available but you may need some travel-specific items such as a folding crate, different leads and collars, and more. Finally, if you do decide it is worth the money to you, make sure you won’t be decreasing your budget for things your dog may actually need, such as a dental cleaning or quality diet. Priorities!

Is Your Dog Ready?

For most sports, dogs should have a fair bit of training and experience before they begin competing. This will vary by dog and activity. Some organizations have minimum age requirements for the dog in order to promote safety. If you’re working with a trainer, she should probably be able to give you a good idea of whether your dog is ready or not. You can also attend competitions, prior to making any decisions, in order to compare where you and your dog are in relation to the other beginners.

If your dog is very fearful or reactive, it is probably best to try and work on those things first. That’s not to say that a nervous dog should stay home, but there’s a difference between nervous and genuinely petrified. Events can be very loud, crowded, and busy. It is much harder to keep an aggressive or skittish dog away from the other dogs and people at an event than it is in a class. There can also be a lot of downtime throughout the day. Is your dog content to sleep in his crate or go for short walks in a new environment? Do you know that you can get your dog to focus with plenty of distraction?

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Will You Enjoy It?

This seems obvious, but we generally picture our reactions to successful outcomes. The reality is that there will be times – okay, many – where things do not go as planned. Perhaps the best litmus test is to ask yourself: How would I react if my dog pooped in the ring? Yes, I am being serious. There is always a chance that your dog will eventually poop (or pee or vomit) at a horrible time. Dogs get anxious and hold it in as long as possible, or they won’t go in a new environment, or maybe it is too cold outside. Whatever the reason, it happens. Will you yell angrily at the dog in embarrassment? Or can you clean up, shrug it off, and move on? Consider how you react under pressure. In some competitions, such as agility and conformation, the handler is also in the spotlight.

Do You Have Enough Time?

It is one thing to attend training classes one or two times per week, but training for competition can be more time consuming if you’re really serious about it. Events will also eat up your weekends and can drag on into really long days. As mentioned above, various lengths of travel will also be involved.

So, do you have enough time, money, emotional stamina, and a good relationship with your dog? If yes, branching out into the world of competition may be right for you. If not, maybe reconsider or come back to the decision later. In the meantime, or if you’re not sure, some clubs hold fun runs or other opportunities to try out a sport. Contact your local organizations and ask to attend events and see what they offer. There’s nothing wrong with trying it out.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

Wondering why anyone would compete after reading the list above? Check out Are You Ready to Compete in Dog Sports? Part Two.

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