OB160: Ring Confidence for Obedience, Rally, and Agility

Posted in Core Courses

Instructor: Laura Waudby

Course Details


Starting April 2017 this course is being officially expanded to include agility as well as obedience and rally!  

Most handlers spend months or even years teaching their dogs the specific exercises and obstacle performance found in the obedience and agility ring. We heel for months, and then we spend several more months making sure our dogs can perform their heeling with a wide variety of distractions. We teach retrieves, exams, recalls, and stays. We make sure our weave pole entrances and our contact performances are independent and fast.  Yet we often fail to teach our dog what to actually expect at a trial.  They are thrown into this new, chaotic environment with a stressed handler.  It is the first time they see a stranger approaching to take their leash, another person who seems to be in charge other than mom is giving orders, and there is so much novel stuff to look at!  Most dogs experience a great deal of stress as they are plunked in this new world and many of them do not just get better with repeated exposure.

The solution is simple but rarely practiced: you must teach your dog to understand the positive value of the competition ring. A dog who is well prepared to enter a competition ring with emotional comfort and sharp focus has a significant advantage over dogs who do not receive this systematic ring preparation experience. This class will help prepare you and your dog to enter an obedience, rally, and agility ring with confidence.  We will do this by training the dog to understand her job at the ring entrance, reducing ring stress, and systematically preparing for the distractions which could crop up along the way!

What type of teams should take this class?:

- Young dogs who have not yet started trialing. Give these dogs a great foundation for the future!

- Dogs who are fine in the general show environment but stress and worry once in the ring itself.  

- Dogs who disconnect and lose focus once in the ring.


*If your dog shuts down at the entire dog show scene, check out Dr. Amy Cook's Class "Dealing with the Bogeyman" first. 

Gold students can choose to focus on either obedience or agility (or a bit of both!).  

Check out this short informational video: 

and here's a compilation video make by one of Denise's Ring Confidence students:


Before actually beginning your run the leash needs to be removed and handed off to a steward.  We've already discussed the importance of training the leash removal as a focus game so now we will train the 2nd part of the exercise.  


In obedience and rally your options are pretty limited.  As soon as you enter the ring past the novice level the judge will usually instruct you to remove your leash right at the entrance.  You will then remove your leash as you have been practicing.  Breathe.  Even in a trial if your dog looks away you can remove your hand, which should remind your dog of her training, and restart once.

Once your leash is off  you will then need to hand off the leash to your steward.  They may be already wating  in front of you or may be off to one of your sides.  Often the most difficult handoff is the steward coming up behind you as your dog will feel the pressure of their walkup.  You will need to practice all variations.  While my goal is for my dog to ignore my hand moving, a brief glance is ok as long as the dog is already looking back at me as my hand returns.  

Here is Shock just starting to work this concept.  Her helper is far away but you can tell Shock still is a bit unsure.  Her mom does a great job of maintaining eye contact during the handoff (no need to look at the steward!!!) and just takes a little bit too long to reward:

Here is Zumi working on this at a fun match:

If you know that your dog will really struggle with this exercise please do it outside of a ring for now!  Or if you have not yet mastered ring entrances plus setting up in heel position, again do this exercise outside of a ring!  We only only want to add formality to our ring entrances once each piece is mastered.


In agility you have a lot more options.  In most organizations (not NADAC) you can remove the leash as soon as you enter the ring or you can choose to remove it after you are already at your startline and set up to go.  We will discuss HOW to move to the startline in a later lecture, but for now it's still worth thinking about what will work best for your dog.

If your dog tends to stress about the leash removal you might want to take off the leash as early as possible.  This will allow you more time to play with your dog as you continue moving to your startline together.  

If your dog is worried about the leash runner you will want to either A)be as far from the leash as possible or B) keep the leash as close to you as possible.  While most leash runners will avoid picking up the leash until you are past the first few obstacles, sometimes an over eager leash runner may approach your dog too early.  By gently tossing the leash directly to your leash runners feet by the entrance and then moving with your dog to the startline you are ensuring that your dog will not feel any pressure of a person approaching you on the setup.  This is my preferred route for sensitive dogs.  But if you feel you need the leash to keep connection with your dog all the way to the startline or if your organization does not allow an early leash removal, then I recommend keeping the leash directly by your dog.  If the leash is close enough this should deter your leash runner from approaching until you have safely started your run!  

In practice make sure your dog is used to you setting the leash on the ground.  This can be distracting for dogs, especially if their leash is sometimes used as a tug toy!