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The Novice A Guide: Entering Your First Trial


July 22, 2013 by Julia

So, you have decided to enter your dog in your very first AKC Obedience or Rally trial. You’ve been training for your sport of choice, ideally you’ve been to some matches or Show ‘n Go’s, you like what you are getting from your dog, and you think it is time to test the proverbial waters.

Choosing the Trial

If you are lucky, your local club will have a trial in a facility you know. But if they don’t, or that trial isn’t until next season, then you’ll need to search for a trial. Be sure to look at least a couple weeks in advance so you have time to mail in your entry. Check out AKC or InfoDog to see a listing of shows near you and their entry closing dates. The lists are broken down by state, so if you live near a border or you aren’t seeing anything in your area, you’ll want to check out your neighbor states. Click on the host club’s name to view the trial information. From here, you can review the trial premiums or contact the trial secretary – trials hosted by MB-F (Infodog’s owner) will have a link to the premium on the top left hand side, or check the host club’s website.

While our goal is to have well-rounded dogs who can work well under a variety of situations, many dogs and teams (especially in Novice A) have some sensitivities or preferences to consider. When you have a list of trials, you can ask your dog training friends to find out more about each option. In my experience, most people offer the same types of information, but here are some items to consider.


  • What is the venue like? Is it crowded, loud, quiet, etc?
  • What is the ring set up? Is there room to warm up? 
  • What is the crating space like?

Each dog is different, so you will need to consider what type of venue will work best for your dog.  If your dog is sound sensitive, a loud indoor location may be too much for them. Conversely, a dog that is comfortable in noise may be unnerved by a location where you can hear a pin drop. Your dog may not do well in tight quarters or may have trouble competing in an outdoor location.


  • Is the judge tough, fair, or easy in their scoring?
  • Does the judge have any pet peeves or quirks?
  • What is their demeanor? Quiet, loud, friendly, stern, a jokester? 

Most judges are clear and kind to their Novice A competitors, they know you are new to the sport and want to encourage you. That said, each judge has their own approach. Some may be very strict with the rules to make sure you understand what is required of you while others may forgive or gently correct any newbie blunders. This approach generally translates into their scoring, where some may only knock off points for obvious errors, others may tick off minor items as well. Personally, I prefer “fair” judges to strict or easy ones because I don’t want to be nitpicked but I believe I deserve to be dinged for obvious mistakes. Others may like tough judges because they want to be judged as strictly as they would critique themselves. Still others prefer the easy judges because they are invested in having fun over being a polished competitor.

Some judges have pet peeves or areas where they are stricter – certain errors they correct more heavily or ring etiquette that they are particular about.  I’ve found that most judges are upfront about these preferences, but it is good to find out what you can ahead of time so you can prepare. And though it isn’t very common, you do occasionally run into judges that others have found to be biased for or against certain breeds.

You should also consider how you and your dog may do with certain personalities.  Some teams may enjoy showing under a tall, loud, male who cracks jokes the entire time. Others may do best with a short female who speaks only to give direction.

The Host Club(s) and Other Trial information:

  • What is the host club like?
  • Does the trial fill quickly?
  • Do they do or offer anything special for Novice A competitors?
  • What ribbons/prizes do they offer?

Most clubs have a core group of people who work very hard to put on their trials and do an excellent job of making it a positive experience. Some offer goody bags or small “beginner kits” to newbies with information, treats (both human and dog), and perhaps a small keepsake.  Another thing that I prefer, though it doesn’t matter to others, is a trial that offers rosettes (fancy ribbons) and/or a goodie for qualifiers or class placements. While this may sound superficial, part of my attraction is that clubs who offer those items are typically the ones who go above and beyond to make their trial great. My Novice A dog completed her CD and earned her 2nd RA leg at a trial that offered rosettes for qualifiers and canisters of treats to 1st thru 4th class placements. We did not place for our final CD leg, but we still had a beautiful ribbon to celebrate. We were 4th in Rally Advanced and I still use the treat canister we won nearly every day.


Xena and I received green rosette ribbon for our final CD leg.

Standard qualifying or "Q" ribbon

Standard qualifying or “Q” ribbon

Submitting your Entry

Once you’ve selected your first trial, it is time to enter. The trial premium includes an entry form with the trial information filled in at the top, or you can use the blank entry that AKC provides on its website. If you are running late, many trials also offer online entries for an extra fee.  

Most trials are held for 2-4 days, so your next decision is how many days you should enter. You’ll need to consider the time commitment, travel, costs, and last but certainly not least – your dog’s tolerance for both.


Most trials start as early as 8am – official schedules for the trial typically are not published until entries have closed and you’ve received your armband number. Novice A classes used to be done at the end of the day, but that is not always the case these days. Depending on the size of a trial, the day may run until early afternoon or early evening. 


I would suggest that most Novice A competitors choose a trial within comfortable day-trip distance to reduce the stress (and cost) of your first foray into the ring. However, if your chosen trial requires a longer drive, the premium will list nearby dog-friendly lodging accommodations. Depending on the area, this may range from 4 star hotels to camping sites. AKC has partnered with Motel 6 to offer a 10% discount for AKC competitors, and I’ve been told that Red Roof Inn also provides a discount if you use the code 601153.

Entry Costs

The entry fees are usually listed on the premium’s entry form or on the pages immediately proceeding it. Many clubs offer discounted entries for someone entering a dog in more than one class and many newbies (myself included) mistakenly think that entering Rally & Obedience on the same day make you eligible for the discount – sadly, it does not. Obedience and Rally are considered separate trials, even if they are happening in the same venue, on the same day, with the same judge. If you are entering a regular class and an optional titling class in Obedience, this discount may apply.

Your Dog

Some dogs are not phased by new places or long car rides, while others are worn out or stressed out by them. Keep this in mind when choosing how many days to compete. You want to make this first experience fun for both of you and being tired or on edge will not do you any good. If you think your dog will be stressed out by a long wait at the venue, you can moderate your dog’s trial weariness by crating them in the car (if weather allows) or taking them somewhere nearby for a short outing. 

Dash is a weary traveler

Dash gives us his opinion of long travel days

Preparing for The Trial

While you should be ready to compete before you send in your entry, a little last minute cramming isn’t a bad idea. Practicing heeling patterns without your dog can help you get a feel for the pace and transitions. The more you build the muscle memory, the less you have to think about it in the ring and the more consistent you can be. You’ll want to amp up any proofing work you are doing, especially if you know there are any particular distractions likely to occur at the venue.

You should consider what items you’ll need at the show and what bag(s) work best for your needs. I have a specific gear bag that I use for shows with plenty of room for both my stuff and my dogs gear. I tend to over-pack, but my basic suggestions are:

  • Entry confirmation (including your armband number)
  • Extra clothing and shoes for you (in case of inclement weather, accidents, temperature issues, etc)
  • Camp/Folding chair
  • Travel crate
  • Spare leash and collar
  • Poop bags
  • Water/water bowl
  • First Aid Kit
  • Copy of Rabies certificate
  • Treats
  • Toys

If you don’t have a travel crate or camp chair, you’ll want to either buy them or borrow them before the show. I suggest a folding metal crate for travel, unless you have a very old or very mellow dog. If your dog can be a little too creative, you may also want to buy some carabiners to secure the crate doors.

So, you’ve selected your trial, your entry is confirmed, and you know what to pack. Up next is the fun part – competing! (article to come)


  1. Susan Beals says:

    AKC is not the only venue to offer titles. Depending on your area you may also find ASCA or UKC trials. ASCA rules are almost identical to AKC. UKC rules and exercises are slightly different in some cases. Both ASCA and UKC trials tend to be smaller and much more laid back. The trials also tend to be very welcoming to new competitors.

    • As they say, write what you know – I have heard about those venues, but have never participated in them. I figured others could talk about those venues. I may try UKC in the fall and will write about it if I do.

  2. I am glad I found your page. I entered my boxer (love this breed)in the Texas Kennel Club confirmation trials on 12/6/14. I have been trying to find a confirmation class, but your site has really encouraged me. Thanks!

    • admin says:

      I’m glad you found me! I haven’t done conformation, but I think a lot of the prep (outside of training) is similar. If you haven’t seen it, check out this article – – not that you can NQ in conformation, but I know from friends that it can be a tough ring.

      I am curious, how’d you happen to find my site?

      • I “googled” Training for first time handlers. I went through several pages, going past most of them. Then, I found your perfect post! I am excited to find information which answered my burning questions! I have sent emails and called people but I wasn’t getting anywhere until I found your site.

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