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From Crate to Gate: where the real trophies are won

by | Feb 3, 2023 | 8 comments

I can guess, with uncanny accuracy, what a team’s performance will look like in agility. This has nothing to do with the breed, or the experiences I have had with the handler. I can do it in a state I have never visited. I can do it in another country. I have. How do I know? Because the stuff that happens outside the ring, the behaviors that fill the gap from crate to gate, are where the real trophies are won.

Downtime Matters

From crate to gate really starts with your dog’s crate time at the trial. If your dog won’t eat or drink, won’t enjoy a chew they normally devour, or–worst of all–does not sleep, this is a serious concern and should be treated as such. Doing the legwork to find what works best for your dog’s downtime will pay off in ways you can’t imagine. If your dog is only ever crated at trials and barks all day long from his crate between runs it should come as no surprise that your ring performances look nothing like class or the backyard. Happy crating is so important to me and to my clients that I have two hours of content all about only this, which you can find here if you are so inclined.

Walk Together

I expect pushback on this one. I expect a mountain of “yeah, but…”s. I expect to be told about so-and-so’s dogs who drag them everywhere and still wind up on the podium. The fact remains: loose leash walking will change your dog sport life in such ways you can’t imagine until you commit to training it. Think of it as walking in connection from the crate to the gate. Think of it not as obedience but as enjoying each step, together. Think of it as starting as a team all the way back at your car. Think of it a vital skill as important as any other skill you commit hours to training. I promise you will not regret it.

Waiting is a Human Concept

So the dog is relaxed in the crate and walking with you on a loose leash to the ring area. Now what? What you do with that time matters. How you occupy your dog’s mind and body while you wait your turn weighs heavily on your success (or lack thereof). The options range from stuffing the dog with food to letting the dog watch agility, and include everything in between. Not each of these options is a good idea. Dogs do not understand the concept of waiting; they have no idea they must enter the ring in a specific order and they are anticipating the ring entrance with no concept of when it will happen. Training a reliable “placeholder” behavior for this time is not only going to help you on course, it is a kindness you can afford your teammate who can’t understand why they are being made to hang out ringside. Placeholder behaviors include down stays, stationing, and even clever mind games. What will work for you depends on you both, but none of them work if they are not adequately trained ahead of time.


Of course a dog that rests in the crate, walks nicely to the ring and waits her turn patiently still needs to know how to enter the ring and set up, and as this is a highly charged moment for handlers (and many dogs) I suggest training it down to the very last detail. Entering on that loose leash, removing it early, and setting up in such a ritualized manner that your dog has no questions about what is expected will go a long way toward your success on that course. Everyone knows to teach a start line stay or starting position, but few people put the time into training leash off or motion-toward-setup rituals. This stuff matters, and it is an easy place to put some time and save yourself (and your dog) the frustration of a confusing entry routine.

Before You Fill Out That Form…

Of course, if your dog has not been exercised, enriched, and fed well every regular day of her life the best training in the world will not support you as it could on trial days. Get to the trial with plenty of time for these things if you are traveling and do not see them as pieces you can cut out of the schedule. Wellness first, always.

For more information hacks, and training tips to improve your crate to gate game, please join me February 21st at 6pm Pacific for the webinar, Success from Crate to Gate. Register HERE.


  1. Cat Warren

    Hi, Sarah:

    Will the webinar be available for viewing after the Feb. 21 date? I may have a conflict, but would love to consider this if I can watch later…

  2. Nancy Sorensen

    How long is the Crate to Gate webinar, and will it be available after the session? I’m on eastern time, so trying to plan the timing.

  3. Cheryl Lee

    Thank you for this opportunity to listen to your podcast. I have listened to several and taken some Fenzi classes and I really value your training

  4. Mikel Miller

    After a very disappointing weekend, frantically searching for answers online, I listened to your appearance on BadDogAgiity’s pod cast. I have listened to CogDogRadio before, but when I learn about your seminar!!!!! OMG – Manna from heaven!!! and it starts tomorrow!!!! OMG, can’t wait!!!

    My poor little Boston Terrier is amazing in class, nailing Masters level courses and having the best time, but poor little thing – she only runs for me about 20% of the time at trials. She is SOOO WORKED UP!! I’m an experienced handler and while I have nerves at AKC trials, I have absolutely NO nerves at NADAC trials (as I do not covet those titles like I do AKC). So, I don’t think that is it. I’m really hoping your WORKED UP webinar helps. See you tomorrow!

  5. Victoria C. Anderson

    Your podcasts are the best! Despite 80 percent being over my head I persist in trying to understand and will often go back and listen again and again – thank you! Clearly dog training is not something that comes naturally to me and my background did not prepare me for this but…. here I am – retired and learning to do dog sports with the best pups in the world! I feel like you talk about training plans and I feel like I have some but…. I know I don’t. As a teacher I would write lesson plans with measurable objectives. I could do that because I understood the material. In dog training – not so much. Is there anything you could offer me in terms of how to set objectives/goals to articulate a training plan? It is fine for you to say no. Thanks again for being willing to share your depth of knowledge!

  6. Judy Shackel

    I’m very interested in your material. I’ve done agility, lure coursing and barn hunt, but now we just do obedience. I’ve had multiple UDs, OTCH/OGM but my current dog is struggling. He has his UD and multiple HITs/200 score.. But he’s often very stressed in the ring. He can do great, then the next trial he won’t bring the glove or article back to me or even the dumbbell. That was a first! (today). He has great ring entrance/set up. I’ve been showing since the 70s, never had a dog like this guy! Suggestions?
    Frustrated Handler

  7. Reegan

    Hello , I am after information on Crate to gate. Is there a replay of your webinar ?


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