Congratulations! You Got In!
Woohoo! You finally got into your first NACSW™ trial! Getting into a trial is half the battle after all. New competitors are often anxiety ridden and the best way to battle your anxiety is to be prepared. Start by reading the Rule Book!
When you arrive you will find the parking area and potty area for your dog (probably the human potty as well)! You will need to visit the registration table to check in, sign the waiver, and receive your run order number. You may wish to bring your cell phone to the table and take a quick photo of the run order. I personally like to have it handy just to see who is competing!
Be Prepared for Anything
Once you are checked in go get yourself and your expert sniffer set up for the day. Depending on the weather you are trialing in you may need and desire different things. Living in New England I have gear for pretty much any weather scenario Mother Nature can hurl at me. And I have used it all.
By the time you are all set up it shouldn’t be too much longer for your competitor briefing and possibly a walkthrough. You may wish to bring a small notepad and pen to the briefing so you can jot down any important details. I also like to bring my phone on the walkthrough and photograph each search. Funny thing is I don’t really look at my search area photos, I just like to have it for my trial records.
It’s All About the Numbers
Once the briefing and walkthrough are complete it is just about time to get started with your trial! Pay attention to the numbers in the parking lot. Do NOT make the Gate Steward come hunting you down. You should be paying attention and getting your dog ready a few numbers before your turn. How early depends on how quickly the numbers have been moving.
It is always a nice courtesy to tell the Gate Steward you know you are up soon and will be there especially if you are parked further away or in the reactive dog parking. Sometimes you will run 2 elements back to back and sometimes you will not. Just watch the numbers and be ready. If for some reason you are not ready when your turn comes up tell the Gate Steward. Trials run so much more smoothly when everyone is ready to go when it is their time.
Parking Lot Etiquette
At NACSW™ trials dogs are not to be milling around in the parking lot. They should only be out to potty and to head to/from their search areas. So if you do get your dog out too soon just head back to your car after pottying him and wait. This is so vitally important to our reactive friends. Please don’t be that person wandering around aimlessly. Keep your dog on a short leash in the parking lot (maximum of 6 feet) and respect everyone’s space whether or not they are reactive. If you reward your dog with a tug toy and/or crazy play remember not to do that in the parking lot. What may be your dog’s favorite reward might just be the downfall of another competitor. Be happy and have fun with your dog, but don’t tug all the way back to the car!
Another thing I need to address is talking about searches in the parking lot. Don’t do it! A quick thumbs up or down is all you need. Think about the other competitors who may be affected mentally by a lot of negative talk. (Positive vibes welcome!) Or worse, they hear a tidbit that makes them get a preset notion in their head about a hide. This is true for talking about other trials or even training as well. It is best to just talk about something other than nose work (/gasp). Trials are stressful enough, we don’t need to make it any harder than it already is!
There will be a break at some point during the competition for lunch (unless it is an element trial). How that plays out is really trial dependent. Sometimes the whole trial will stop and everyone takes a break together. Sometimes the judge and volunteers for a particular element will stop and the other element will keep going so they are not all “on break” at one time. As long as you are keeping an eye on the numbers you will be fine!
Be prepared to be flexible! Sometimes the flow may be changed midway through and that is okay! Remember any changes made are to make it run more smoothly and quickly. Every team will run every search so no need to panic.
Ribbons & Things
Once the last dog has run there will be a little wait and then the awards ceremony where you collect your title ribbon for your magnificent team! I like to bring a pen and paper to the awards ceremony just in case the judges say something striking. I also like to jot down the statistics of how many dogs passed and what percentage passed in each element. You can always look that up after the fact on the NACSW™ website. Don’t forget to collect your score sheets to see what comments the judges had for you! You can also see if you were Pronounced for any particular element.
Remember to relax, breathe, and have fun with your dog.