Remember your first Q ever? Remember that day?

Well, another agility bloggers action day is here. After you’ve read this, you can go read a lot of bloggers’ opinions on the same subject by clicking this link.

The topic for this round is “improving agility organizations” and I’m quite sure I could write many posts on this topic, and maybe I will, but I’d like to start with how agility organizations, clubs, and competitors treat novice handlers.

Here’s my contention: Novice handlers are the future of dog agility and should be appreciated and coddled whenever possible.

The last AKC trial I went to had 200 dogs in Excellent Standard and 25 in Novice, and only four or five were in novice A, meaning that only a few dogs were being handled by novice handlers. (I’m not trying to pick on AKC, because there are similar ratios at NADAC, CPE, and USDAA trials.)

For those of you who don’t remember, here are the things a novice handler has to do for her first trial: find a premium, figure it out, send it in, possibly get told that her mailing it in three days after the trial opened wasn’t early enough and the trial is full, correspond with the trial secretary if there were errors in the entry or the confirmation, figure out when she’s likely to actually run her dog, based on a deliberately vague schedule, arrive at the trial, find a place to park, find crating space, get her dog measured (often at 7:30 in the morning, even if she won’t run until 10 or 11 or 12), wait around to run while watching all those more-experienced dogs and handlers run a challenging course (while the dog gets tired and the handler gets more and more nervous), figure out the course maps, walk the course, get her dog, run her dog, wait for results, and maybe, just maybe, get a Q ribbon for her pains.

Some novices are fortunate enough to have instructors who will help them through all these steps, and those instructors should be heartily thanked. But realistically speaking, most novices have instructors who are busy trialing themselves.

So here’s my dream for novice handlers:

Run the novice classes first thing in the morning. In a two-ring trial, set up the two rings with two novice classes, and let the novices run first. In a one-ring trial, start with the class where novices are most likely to succeed and where the dog can have fun. (Jumpers would be my preference!)

In the premium, explain which class will start the day and be run for the novices. Tell the novices to check the box on the premium that says “I am a novice handler.” (Add that box to your premium.) Let the novices know that the trial committee has arranged things to make their introduction to agility trials as smooth as possible. Preferred parking, experienced handlers working the rings and calmly helping the new handlers, special crating areas near the ring.

And imagine too that those novices have their first runs, and then they can relax and watch the more-experienced handlers run their dogs, instead of nervously waiting for their turn in the rings.

In the current system, trials are run for the benefit of the experienced handlers. I’ve been told at trials that the goal is to get the experienced handlers done by 1 PM. But why? The experienced handlers are the ones with the RVs, the multiple dogs, the ones who spend the weekend at a trial. When they finish by 1, they hang around and watch the novices and work the novice rings. If the trial started with the novices, those handlers would be done an hour or two later. So what?

And instead of having a great big ribbon for a MACH/ADCH/CATCH/NATCH/whatever, could we make that ribbon a little smaller and buy a special ribbon for a novice’s first Q ever?

18 thoughts on “Remember your first Q ever? Remember that day?

  1. Pingback: Remember your first Q ever? Remember that day? | Dog Agility Blog Events

  2. Merinda

    Thank you for this!
    As an instructor, I always try to attend my students’ first trials. I may have missed 1 or 2, but I remember how it felt when I first started: absolutely terrifying! I didn’t know who’s who, what to do, where to go, etc.
    I try to eliminate that for my students 🙂

  3. Hope

    Lovely ideas, especially identifying those at their first trial and making the effort to help them find their way.

  4. Chantelle

    I remember my second dogs first Q because a visiting member of the AAC (Agility Association of Canada) made these foam first “Q” gifts that all the novice dogs received. While it wasn’t for me as a novice handler it wad still appreciated. I have no idea where that first Q ribbon is BUT that foam first Q is still hanging in my office today. Why? Not because of the Q, but because someone did something that didn’t have to, in order to make me (and my dog if he could understamd) feel special.

  5. Doranna

    Most excellent suggestions! I’ve seen some of them in play (one trial in particular had volunteer mentors with name tags, which I thought was awfully clever). I frequently see experienced handlers go out of their way to support a nervous novice, and I think we’re all happy to do that (or we should be!), but those kind of moments are fortuitous–having a good structure in place to generate them more reliably is a great idea.

  6. Sherry in MT

    BRAVO!!!! I could not have said it better and am going to post this to my FB page as well. After just going to a trial where it was really fun to have two ring setups so that things didn’t run in “the same ol order” was nice. Our trials are small enough and the community small enough that we do usually get great support for our Novice handlers but your post is a great reminder of the WHYs!

  7. Deb Stevenson

    How about doing a mentor sign up sheet online, like many clubs do for workers. Sign up if you are willing to mentor a newbie, in advance of and at the trial to answer questions, help them find their way around, whatever. Then a Novice A person can go look at who signed up to mentor and pick somebody if they want help.

  8. Marilyn

    I love Agility — but I don’t do it. I’ve had Dachshunds for 43 years, and have never participated in any of the events because, despite research, despite reading books, despite attending classes, EVERY TIME I tried to attend an event, even just to watch and learn, I did something WRONG. (Not the same things… I always found something new to screw up.) And got yelled at. And if it isn’t going to be fun for me and my Hounds, why bother?

  9. Kim

    Excellent idea! I always wondered why novice handlers had to be the last to run during the day…while all others that are old hands at it get to go home early (and rarely stick around to help out the novice classes). I think we do a great job of supporting novices in my area…I find that it is in the novice runs where people clap and cheer for every dog regardless of how the run went, and elite runs (unless gorgeously executed) are largely ignored 😉

  10. Julie

    What a great subject and so near and dear to me as I just started competing. My first USDAA trial was like being in a foreign country where you speak the same language but have NO idea what the heck is going on. I was afraid to ask for help as I didn’t know if that was a “rude” thing to do as the few people I did know were trying to get ready for their runs. It was pouring down rain and butt cold but amazingly we Q’ed our 2 runs that day! The trial secretary was wonderful and so sweet and understanding. She even texted me a few days after the trial and asked if I had a good time.
    My 2nd trial was an AKC trail. That was not a good experience. I had emailed the trial secretary and told her i was a Novice A and that this was my first AKC trial and if i needed to know anything in particular and what time should i be there for measuring. She sent me back the premium, which I already had- thanks. Got to the trial early thinking it was like USDAA where I needed to measure and the TS asked why I was there so early that I wasn’t going or run for at least 5 hours. I bit my tongue!! I asked her how I go about getting measured and she was so unhelpful and down right nasty that my husband and I almost left the trial. Thankfully I ran into a friend and she spent 5 minutes helping me find a judge to measure my dog and we sat for 7 hours and waited for our first run in 100degree weather on Mother’s Day. Thankfully we Q’ed both of our runs so the day felt like a success.

    I just did my 3 rd trial this weekend which was AKC. We had a great time! All of the people were very nice and my dog Q’ed all four of her runs and we earned her first 2 agility titles which was really exciting for me. It didnt take long for the trials to feel comfortable. All of you beginners like me, be patient and the trials will feel comfortable pretty quickly! Agility is an extremely daunting sport to get into when you have never done it before. Everyone seems to into each other and u sit there with your thumb up your nose afraid to ask questions for fear of looking more stupid than you actually feel.

    Please, you veterans, If you see someone looking a bit bewildered, I beg of you if you have a few minutes it really could make a beginners day a wonderful experience.
    Thanks for the discussion.

  11. Nicole

    Lovely article! And yes… I remember my first Q…… 17 second clean Nov A 20 inch JWW run at our home trial…we also Q’d in Std that day… I was FLOATING. Especially since I had been constantly told that my dog was not ready, but was never given a reason why….. :/ I wholeheartedly agree that the Novice need to go first. Often times we forget what it is like running a Novice class….. how stressful it can be. And then if the run doesn’t go as planned how bad we might feel…

  12. Mufaasa's Mum

    Hmm, that’s an interesting way to look at it. In the AAC there is no distinction for novice handlers (aside from juniors. But we have a few junior handlers in my club who could run circles around most “experienced” adults). I like the idea of the bigger ribbon for your first Q, especially as those first ones can arrive as a result of beginners luck and you might have to wait a very long time for the next one.
    They way things are run at my local trials the classes are cycled (starters, then advanced, then masters) for each division (so the day might start with standard, than gamblers, etc). The convention is usually that on the first day the starters classes are first, than the next day the order is reversed. However, there has been a move at a few trials to always have the starters run first. Not for the reasons that you listed, but because most competitors are in Masters, as soon as their class is over there’s no one left to volunteer for the poor starters classes. Which actually makes having the starters first a great idea (full disclosure, I have been competing in agility for less than a year and am still in starters for everything with only two Qs under my belt).
    Volunteer issues (and maybe getting to sleep in for an extra 20 minutes) aside, going first or getting to watch others run can be a bit of personal preference. I like to go first because if I watch everyone else run in my class I can second guess my game plan, which is usually where things go wrong. Others hate going first because there are several areas where they’re not sure how to handle it and they want to see how others do it first. So I think some variety in the running order gives everyone a chance to get their ideal set up.

  13. Michelle

    I’ve been going to trials on and off for over a year and yet I still feel like a novice handler. My dog and I are still at novice level (Level 2 in CPE). While people have been nice to us and helped us along, I still remember waiting around for a few hours for my first run and getting more and more panicky (we were not successful because I was so nervous that I made a lot of mistakes and stressed out my dog). I absolutely love your ideas for Novice teams. I would love to “get it over with” early in the day and then be allowed to relax and enjoy instead of watching all these amazingly smooth teams before going out and feeling like a total embarrassment to the sport.

  14. Kristy Loman Chiodo

    I very clearly remember my first Q’s with each of my dogs. Those are the ribbons that hang on my fridge to this day. I so appreciate your advocacy for the novice handler and their novice dog! I was so nervous at my first trial, I could barely breathe. I’ve been trialing for about 1 1/2 years now and I’ve seen some of these very nuturing instructors that have walked the course with their students, cheered them on when they run, and celebrated those first moments with them. We really should make the novice feel like a superstar, as they embody the true spirit of our sport.

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