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?