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How to NQ


February 17, 2014 by Julia

People like to say that training with your dog is a journey, not a destination. Consider every NQ a pit stop on that journey. And everybody NQs. Unless you and your dog are robots, it will happen to you at some point. I’ve seen some seasoned handlers NQ in rather spectacular fashion, so it isn’t just the newbies either.

Julia and Xena, with sign that reads "I train Boxers in Obedience. I enjoy a challenge. My name is Julia. I am Cornell."

I don’t do this because it is easy…
Photo credit: Zac Doob

I was lucky enough to learn how to NQ relatively early. Xena, my Novice A girl, was environmentally sensitive and I spent the beginning of our career learning how to work with her particular challenges. When we were competing in Rally and Novice A, I suffered through some painful NQs. Being a green handler, I was absolutely crushed that my dog who “could do everything” in class would completely shutdown at a trial. I remember sitting in my camp chair with tears streaming down my face after one of our first NQs. I felt like a failure.

I was lucky enough to have excellent mentors who helped me with two key things: They reeled in my rush to compete and they helped me learn to work with Xena in ways that allowed her to be successful. I learned to NQ without breaking down and both Xena and I benefited immensely from this change. All 6 times we left the Open A ring, we were both happy. We only left once with a Q.

Here are the lessons I learned. I hope others can use it on their journey.

#1:  Don’t go into the ring counting on a Q

Lots of people say you shouldn’t go into the ring until your dog is performing at 110% in practice.  I don’t believe that, but you should not walk into the ring if NQing would put you to tears (or make you pissed off, if that is your default. I’m a crier.). I do think in order to be “ready” for a Q, you need to have trained your dog to perform consistently under a variation of distractions. Taking a dog into the ring when it doesn’t have a chance just isn’t fair, as much as putting yourself in the ring when you are expecting only one outcome isn’t fair.

#2: Never stop handling (catch them before they fall)

Your #1 job is to be a partner to your dog. If they are struggling, you need to help them. This could mean intentionally NQing by giving your dog the help they need – be that giving an extra command or thanking the judge and leaving the ring. And if they’ve already NQ’d, for Dog’s sake, support them, even if it “breaks” the rules. This applies to dogs that shutdown OR dogs that go wild. Plan for what you’ll do if things go south – how can you help your dog and work through the problem?

This fall I entered Delta in Beginner Novice at her second-ever trial and she began to fall apart on the recall. She looked worried and moved towards the gate, and even sat down for a bout of nervous scratching. I gave her an extra command, which NQ’d us. I didn’t regret my decision – she needed my support much more than I needed a Q. When I left the ring, my only regret was putting her in a situation that unnerved my normally confident girl. I focused on what I wanted, rather than what I didn’t get, and made goals around that.

#3: Focus on the positive

Fellow competitors have an unfortunate habit of asking “What went wrong?” While you need to understand your performance gaps and work on them, focusing on them will not serve you in the long run. This concept was reinforced for me when I listened to Lanny Bassham’s With Winning in Mind. I made a conscious habit of mentioning things I liked in our performance whenever someone asked me why we didn’t Q. I was determined that there would be something good to say even if we failed every exercise. My favorite example of this (friends have probably seen it enough), is Xena’s first time in Graduate Novice. She bombed nearly every exercise, but she didn’t shutdown or give up. I was so pleased by her effort, I couldn’t stop smiling.

#4: This is your sport, so PLAY

I once described getting nervous before entering the ring to one of my trainers. I told her I was forgetting to breathe so much, my face felt tingly and numb. She said “For goodness sake, Julia, this is supposed to be FUN!” I learned how to have fun in the ring with Xena, I’m relearning it with Delta, and I’ll probably need a refresher when I start to trial my next dog. Make fun a regular part of your training so some of it can make it into the ring with you.

Don’t let fantasy “ruin” reality

I still walk into the ring with a hopeful picture in my head of a nice qualifying score. If I’m being entirely honest, that image usually includes a ribbon too. But if that fantasy doesn’t become reality? That’s OK. We’ll be back.

Dedicated to Xena (03/10/03 – 02/16/12), Renee Fulcer, and Brenda Finnicum, without whom this article would not be possible.


  1. Well said. As a Cynosport Rally and Wag It Games Judge I love to see competitors have a great time with their companion. Planned NQs or a major change in plans in the ring to support the dog and team relationship are a beautiful sight. When I see a hanlder place their importance above the ring rules it warms my heart. I actually include the idea of supporting the dog in my briefing as so many competitors are afraid to break the rules. BRAVO to you and thank you for sharing your journey.

  2. […] were not nearly as ready as I had planned. So I decided to take my own advice – keep in mind how to NQ and committing to embrace the awkward. If we couldn’t be polished when we stepped on to the […]

  3. Kama says:

    I am one of those people who believe in being 110% in practice before going into the ring. Funny enough, that is not because I feel it will improve my chances of qualifying versus not-qualifying, but rather because I feel it will give both me and my dog more confidence walking into the ring. Ultimately, I feel that confidence will affect my dog’s and my stress level, how much my dog does or does not enjoy the competition atmosphere, and how well I am mentally prepared to handle the run (NQ or Q). I really enjoyed your post, and look forward to reading more!

  4. […] what did I learn? I am getting better at failing. A funny thing to say, but NQs are getting more comfortable for me. I’m less self-conscious when things go […]

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