…keep your mouth shut as someone is exiting the ring. I could have called this post “Agility Trial Etiquette” but that seemed a little too boring, and I sincerely hope people read these words and take them to heart.
Make no mistake, I do not claim expertise; only experience. I recently visited our state’s biggest AKC agility trial–just visited (trust me I would have been in the dirt, but there were circumstances outside of my control). Visiting and observing inspired me to write this, because I feel like there’s a serious problem with the way competitors are treating each other. Is this a new problem? No, it’s been there as long as I’ve been running (going on 12 years), but I feel like I now have the voice and the experience to say something about it. So here we go:
When a person finishes their run and is leaving the ring with her dog do not say anything to her unless it is positive. 100% positive. “Well at least…” comments DO NOT COUNT. Acceptable comments are “nice job!” “great run!” “he looks good!” etc. Unacceptable comments are “you know you should have…” “that bar was your fault” “you should work on those contacts” “your DOG had a great time out there” etc. This is not the time or the place for advice to be given. And while we’re on the topic of advice…
It is never appropriate to give unsolicited advice. Ever. Just don’t. It is especially inappropriate to advise someone you don’t know. I will, on occasion, give advice at trials because I teach this sport professionally. But the people on the receiving end of my advice always fall into one of two camps: they are my paying clients and they either asked me, or I asked them if it was OK if I give them some information (perfectly acceptable if they say they’d rather wait for their lesson), OR they are my very good friend and they asked me. Period. You may think that you have a life-changing piece of information for a fellow competitor. I understand the feeling. It’s still inappropriate to shove any kind of information down anyone’s throat be it training, religion, politics, or otherwise. The 2×2 vs channel debate alone gets people more heated than creationism vs evolution, so just keep it to yourself.
The flip side of this coin is that it isn’t OK for you to ask a person for advice that you have no intention of paying for. If a person who is neither my paying client nor my very good friend asks me for help at a trial I will politely inform them that they can contact me for a lesson if they’d like to address the problem. Needless to say this doesn’t usually go over especially well, but it keeps me sane in the trial environment, which is, after all, my playground too. If you have a question or concern about something in regards to training, it likely can’t get handled that weekend anyway. So go home, contact your coach, or set up a lesson with a new coach if you feel it’s time for that.
Remember when I said it’s not cool to say anything other than a positive and affirming phrase to someone as they exit the ring? It’s not cool for YOU to say anything else as you exit the ring, either. As rude as we are to each other sometimes, the kind of rudeness that bothers me the most is the kind many competitors show their willing partners–their dogs. Make it a point to pay attention only to your dog as you exit the ring. Do not look to your friends for affirmation OR for consolation after your run. I have a rule; whenever Idgie and I finish a run we make a beeline to my chair where she gets to eat some treats, then we go for a walk. Anything that anyone says to me while we make said beeline is met with “thank you!” regardless of what they said. I don’t even hear it most of the time. If my close friends want to come up and tell me something about the run while Idgie eats treats (and they usually do, and it’s usually a high five, because that is the kind of company I keep) that is fine and appreciated. One friend always gives Idgie a treat too, because she knows the way to Idgie’s heart. All of this is in the interest of respecting my teammate and my fellow competitors. If you are frustrated with your run and just can’t contain your frustration, at the very least deliver your dog to her crate with a bone and then go be mad at yourself somewhere else. Dogs can’t discern whether we are upset with them or with ourselves, so be sure that all you show post-run is kindness and joy. After all, you’re lucky you get to play this game.
Finally, don’t steal anyone’s thunder. If a person is ecstatic about their run, be ecstatic with them (even if they’re you’re student and they are systematically breaking their own contacts one trial at a time…). And if they’re upset, let them be, so long as they’re being nice to their dog about it. The moral of the story? BE NICE. LOVE YOUR DOG. HUG YOUR FRIENDS.
What being nice to dogs and people might get you: a blue ribbon DAM team! (And for the dog nerds I know read this, check out Idgie’s tongue flick and lean…she was less than pleased to be posed so close…my bad!)