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10 Tips for Novices

Some words of wisdom from experienced and successful competitor Loretta Mueller.

During my travels giving seminars and trialing in agility, I encounter lots of novice teams. Being a novice is not easy, I remember it well...the nerves, the mistakes, the "what ifs". But, if I could write a letter to myself, it would contain some advice that pertains to agility as well as life (and other dog sports!).

So here goes: 

Dear Self,

Here are 10 things that I wish I could have told you (and you were probably told, but you were not in the right place on your journey to actually hear and understand).

1--You have many years of competing with your dog, many trials, many qualifying, many mistakes...don't treat each run as it is the most important one of your life. Ace won't like it, Zip will bite you and well...your dogs won't like it and it's not worth the torment!

2--Novice is important, not as your first trial, not as your first Q, but as that starting place for all the training you have done to continue into the dog's later career. No matter how much you want to Q, you need to really focus on handling and testing the skills you have.

3--It's not the end of the world, no one will die if you handle the threadle incorrectly, or don't have perfect timing, or your dog misses a contact.... I promise. It's just a dog trial.

4--You are the only constant to your dog at a trial. Different footing, different people, different dogs, different equipment... please focus on being as normal as you possibly can. See #6.

5--Surround yourself with people that are more talented than you, people that are going to lift you up, help you succeed, and be there to congratulate you when you reach a milestone. In return, act the same to others.

Mueller's Lynn on course. Photo courtesy of GreatDanePhotos.

6--People do weird stuff when they are stressed. Don't take it personally, it's their thing. Just as when you are wigging out because you forgot to walk your novice JWW course and you were pretty freaky.... It's life. Accept and move on.

7--Lead out, take a deep breath, and smile at your dog. He loves you. He adores you. Be the person that is deserving of that love.

8--If a person is mad at you and they won't tell you, there's nothing you can do about it. If they choose to tell you, then the lines of communication are open. It's the same with dogs. Keep that line of communication open. If there is something your dog is doing wrong, show him how to do it right. It works great for dogs and people.

9--There is only room for one crazy on the course. Work hard to let it just be the dog.

10--Repeat after me: It's the journey, it's the journey, enjoy the journey.

This post is dedicated to you, Acer pup, my special, special boy. You were the first, the one that I did all my learning on. Thank you for sticking with me. The Cheetos, I am sure, helped sometimes in that regard.

Loretta Mueller has been involved in agility since 2003 with her first rescue dog Ace. Since then she has been done a variety of dog training activities including USBCHA herding, competitive obedience, rally obedience, service dog, and agility training. She has achieved ADCH titles with four Border Collies: Zip (retired due to back injury), Klink, Gator (who earned his ADCH at the age of 2 ½), and her youngest dog, Lynn. Lynn is already making her mark as the Central Regional Grand Prix 22 Champion, as well as being a Steeplechase a


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