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If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…

by | Feb 22, 2014 | 18 comments

…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!)


  1. Katherine Dupee

    I love this article and totally agree! being new to agility with my Bearded Collie I have gotten a lot of advice. On one run the best thing that anyone could say as we were exiting the ring was, “he is a lovely color” I just had to laugh. He is beautiful, and funny and not always going in the right direction-but we are loving this sport and gaining confidence, and having fun! After a run I also head right for the spot where I keep his treats, praise him like crazy. I have actually had people comment while watching us that he must have Q’d he was getting so much love. Then we also go for a nice walk before I put him back in his crate. After that I talk to friends and watch everyone else. I have told people that I don’t want to hear any helpful advice for a little while so I can kind of digest what happened and concentrate on the good parts. Hearing……well, you did send him right into that off course tunnel, or do you realize that you missed that jump….right after a run is just too overwhleming for me. We all tend to look at what we did wrong at first and not all the good things that happened too. But after a while I am ready to hear what they have to say and take it as a learning experience. You are so right….”Be nice, Love your dog. Hug your friends” That is what this sport is all about for us! Thanks!

  2. Martha

    Agreed with everything you said except, don’t ask for my help or advice. How are people supposed to learn the sport if trainers like you have such a high option of themselves? Not everyone can afford a trainer. So try being kind yourself. You know the saying a duck might be somebody’s Mother,

    • cogdogtrainer

      Totally fine to disagree, of course. I hope the type of person I am comes through in this blog. Being kind doesn’t mean I have to give my knowledge (which is my livelihood) away for free. I expect to be paid just like any other professional–and it is really none of my business what people can and can’t afford. What I meant in this post is that asking for free advice at a trial is rude; if you disagree then ask away. People will either give you what you’re asking for or they won’t–it’s up to them.

      Peace 🙂

  3. debra hay

    Wow, thanks so much for posting this! I have been running agility for more that 10 yrs mostly in Canada, and the comments I hear are not really acceptable. This is supposed to be FUN with your dog when did that change? I think it changed when the que or the win became more important than it should. We are not all going to the olympics ! We need to enjoy the moment, and be thankful to our dogs for being there for us.

  4. Almondale Whippets

    This is such wise advice! I will definitely be keeping this in mind, both in respect of my words and actions to my friends and fellow handlers coming off course, as well as a reminder to concentrate on my dog only when leaving a run – thank you

  5. Kristýna Hrazdilová

    I am usually “full of emotions” when leaving the ring… But I have just two ways to express them. I use two sentences (or similar ones) while running for a toy and tug with my dog:
    “You are the best!”
    “I am so stupid!”
    But both in the same excited voice – so you can´t distinguish them when you don´t understand the language 🙂
    I think the main problem is people take agility to seriously – and it is just FUN….serious things looks really different!

    • salkeela

      LOL to your two comments! Works for me too.

  6. julie

    I think I’ve trained my friends not to ambush me. But so glad that someone recognizes that saying “Your dog sure had fun out there” is still not an acceptable comment. Ditto silent sad mime faces!

  7. Julia Ecklar

    So, so happy to read this! I have actually been fulminating for the past week about writing exactly this sort of thing following an AKC trial I attended last weekend. I was totally floored when I exited after my first run — which had made me _very_ happy! — only to have someone I’d never seen before say, “Did someone record that for you?”

    I said, “Yes!” Delighted to know I had it on video to look at later.

    “Oh, good,” she said. “You’ll be able to see exactly what you did wrong at the weave poles.”

    Seriously?!? A total stranger exits the ring, smiling and playing with their dog, and _that’s_ the first thing it occurs to you to say?

    Later that same day, a different person “greets” me coming out of the ring by saying, “If you ever get that dog under control, he’s going to be great!” I said something like, “I can’t talk right now” and tried to walk away. She _followed_ me, continuing to “explain” what she thought I needed to do. I finally had to say, “Stop talking to me.” At which point she turned to someone who _is_ a friend of mine and said, “What’s she upset about? That was a compliment!”

    Bless her soul, my friend replied, “No it wasn’t!”

    I want to make a t-shirt that says, “I love my dog. I don’t care what think about our run.” 🙂

  8. kmassoth

    Great article! One thing that I have noticed is the other competitors saying horrible things while a person is running. It may never be heard by the team in the ring, but by standers/ring crew can hear it, and it’s just as hurtful (especially if you know the team). I love this sport and keep a positive group that will give kind words and advice when it’s appropriate.

  9. sonya

    I agree with you %100. The problem i have is seeing people come out of the ring unhappy with their dogs and being terrible to them. jerking them around , scolding them and throwing them in their crate to think about what they did wrong.LIke the dog knows what they did wrong. they are just having fun and running and the next thing they know their owner is mad at them. Most of the time i think if a mistake is made it is probably me making the mistake not my dog. I feel bad not saying anything and sticking up for the dog. It really upsets me to see this .
    Have you encountered this and did you say or do anything or just mind your own business?

  10. rk

    I can honestly say I’ve only heard positive stuff at agility. And I have a dog that you could say a lot of not-nice things about. The worst thing ever said, as we left the jumpers ring, where we knocked down all but one bar and demolished a triple was a grumpy “let’s rebuild the course” from, of all people, the judge.

    The obedience and breed rings are a different matter. Lots of grumpy cats there.

  11. Caitlin

    Beautifully said!

  12. salkeela

    Nice article 🙂 And even more important to bit your tongue if the competitor is your daughter…. or so I’ve found. 😉

  13. dobemonkeydog

    YES! I don’t want unsolicited advice. I find usually the unsolicited advice is given so “they” can boost their own ego, or attempt to make you feel bad about something you were apparently pleased with. How can any unsolicited advice be useful? “They” don’t know what my goals were for my dog for that run. “They” don’t know how much my dog has experience in the ring …..

    Back in 2007, my Doberman ran his first trial, and it was his first experience in the ring. He did great! He was focused, fast, and awesome. He missed one weave pole. Who cares?! He did great. As soon as I was walking out of the ring, a stranger comes up to me and says, “I don’t know why you are happy, he missed a pole”.

    Recently, my Kelpie had her first trial, and her first standard run was great. She didn’t hold her contacts, BUT, it was her very first time in the ring. Kayla holds her contacts in practice and run thrus. My goal was to get her in there, let her have fun and try to work as a team. She got first place ……. BUT of course, someone said to me, “Can I give you some constructive criticism?”, I said no …… and hoped that was that. “They” thought that was rude of me. This person went to a friend of mine and told my friend I needed to teach Kayla to hold the contacts because “she” had a Border Collie and they will try to get away with everything.

    Honestly, I made a conscious decision not to correct my Kelpie’s contacts on her first run at her first trial, because I wanted her first experience to be a good one. If she had more trial experience, yes, I would have corrected her, but her first run ever was not the time to do it.

    Seems like every time I go to a trial a wanker usually finds me. It doesn’t even bother me because I know what they have to say, tells me more about them than about me. It is just static to my ears. I don’t trial to compete with everyone else, I trial to compete against myself. To see if my Kelpie and I can do better than we did the day before. What we don’t get right only shows us what we need to work on. I have joy over the good things we do, and work on the things we didn’t.

    I really do try to keep to myself at trials to avoid these unsolicited advice givers, but they always hunt me down.

  14. Christy M

    Awesome. Perfectly said.

  15. Hilary A

    I run a rescue BC that is very nervous, so I may be the only person that actually likes people to tell me that my dog looked like she was having fun, as I leave the ring. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, folks…consider the sentiment behind the statement.


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