Running a Trial


Here's a list of all personnel associated with an agility trial, and what they can do to keep the show running smoothly.

Gate Steward

  • Make sure there are at least three dogs ready at the line at all times.
  • If the course feature separate start and finish lines obstacles, find out from the judge at what point you can send in the next dog.
  • Inform your ring stewards when it's time to change the jump heights.
  • Notify the course builders at the end of a class to get out and change the course.
  • Make sure all dogs run in catalog order. If they don't, ensure that the scribe knows of any change.
  • Instruct the leash runner to meet the handler coming off the field and hand him/her the leash and usher him/her out of the ring.

Equipment Manager

  • Ensure that all of your equipment is in spec and in good condition prior to the trial.
  • Make sure that all of the equipment is at the site on time.
  • Get the ring barrier up early.
  • Organize your equipment at ring-side so that it can be efficiently moved on and off the field.
  • Have repair tools nearby for equipment malfunctions.

Time Keeper

  • You are responsible for starting all dogs. Use a phrase like "Please go now!" rather than "Go when you are ready!" This makes a huge psychological difference in keeping the show moving. (You can also use a bell to start the dogs running.)
  • Quickly get the time from the scribe and hand the scribe sheet off to a runner so that you can turn your attention back to the line.
  • Try using dual watches. When a dog finishes a run you will turn around and lay the watch down in a predetermined place, picking up an alternate watch that has been cleared. Someone else (say, the runner) will record the dog's time on the scribe sheet which has just been picked up from the scribe.
  • In case of a watch malfunction, quickly stop the dog that is running. Don't wait until the dog is mostly done with the course before letting the judge know that the watch didn't start properly.


  • Quickly get the digital time from the time keeper at the end of each dog's run. You should not be stationed so far from the timekeeper that the exchange of time delays the class by even a second.


  • See to it that the master course builder has a copy of your first course prior to you arriving at the site.
  • The root word of briefing is brief. This means you don't have to make a long speech to the exhibitors. You don't need to entertain them with your wit. You do not have to recite all the rules you know.
  • Brief the exhibitors on time saving conventions. Tell them when a dog should go to the start line while the dog in front is running, how they will be started (by bell or by the time keeper), where their leash and collar will be deposited by the leash runner, and how to make a hasty departure from the ring.
  • Give each class only seven minutes to walk the course.
  • Brief all of your ring help while the exhibitors are walking the course. Your briefings should be brief, but thorough. Make sure everyone knows his job.
  • Do not hand out placement ribbons. This is the club's job.
  • Don't be a tweak grinch. Some judges will tweak a course for an hour, moving this jump six inches, and rotating this one two degrees. What you should be looking for when you tweak a course is that the challenges that you envisioned when you design the course are preserved. Six inches rarely will make much of a difference. If the course builders did such a bad job laying out your course to the extent that it takes you more than five minutes to make it right, then you should begin supervising the course building process to teach them how it's done.
  • In the final analysis, you are responsible for the timely conduct of an agility trial.
  • Give your gate steward your permission to resolve conflicts handlers might have between rings.
  • Design your courses with separate start and finish lines; design for simple transition between classes. (If you don't know how to do that, you should take the Mah & Mecklenburg course design correspondence course!)

Chief Ring Steward

  • Make sure that you have adequate staffing throughout the event. If you don't have enough help you should be proactive about recruiting people to help. Many people will help if you just ask.
  • Your staff should be instructed to run out onto the course between jump heights and quickly make the jump height changes. It is usually best to have teams that will attend to the obstacles most difficult to change first, like the table, tire, long jump and some spread hurdles. When these are attended to the crew can fan out and take care of the rest of the jumps.
  • Ask the gate steward to inform everyone on the field when the last dog in a jump height is prepared to start running, then after the dog runs to announce loudly the change in the jump height.
  • Make sure your crew knows how to set the obstacles. It would be useful to prepare reference cards so that they know how to set the long jump and any spread hurdles for a given jump height.
  • Your staff must be given assignments for resetting jump bars and straightening the collapsed tunnel chute between performances, and even while dogs are running. Make sure that they understand that these tasks must be done very quickly. If one of your crew is taking an inordinately long time to do a task, to the extent that it is holding up a dog from running (straightening the chute, for instance), you need to re-educate that person to work quicker, or get someone else to do the job. These are jobs for young nimble helpers.
  • Have a clean-up kit at ring-side. Have someone assigned to run out when a dog fouls the course and get it cleaned up.

Master Course Builder

  • Make sure that you have all of the judge's courses for the day. While classes are running you can make a strategy for efficient and fast equipment changes. Brief your crew in advance as to who will move what. Then have them ready to roll when a new course must be built.
  • It would be best if you would shoo the judge away so that you can build the course. This will allow the judge to get a quick break and attend to other business that will help the trial keep moving.
  • The master course builder's essential job is to direct the work of the course building staff. Don't waste time moving equipment yourself. Tell your people to come to you (don't allow them to stand around in idle knots and clusters). You should quickly instruct them what you want and where you want it. You should drop bars for the position of jumps.
  • Assign someone to pick up the numbers and lay them back down between classes. If you're really good this is a measure of how long it should take you to do a course transition.
  • When a course has initially been laid out keep your crew with you and go back over the field and tweak the obstacles.
    Finally, chase all of your helpers off the field and call for the judge to come tweak. You, and maybe one other, stay with the judge as he or she walks the course and does his own tweaking. If the judge is a tweak grinch he will likely waste a lot of time for you. Just be patient and move anything that he directs, where he directs.

Show Chair

  • Make sure that your show is adequately staffed. A staff of seventeen is required at all times (1 gate steward, 5 ring stewards, 5 course builders, 3 scorekeepers, 1 runner, 1 scribe, and 1 timekeeper).
  • Ensure that all of your staff is adequately trained. It's often a good idea to hold a match a week or two before a trial, or have a training night so that everyone can be trained properly.
  • If at all possible use dedicated staff for individual tasks. It would be a good idea to have the same scribe and timekeeper and gate steward throughout a trial for a single ring. This minimizes the amount of time the judge has to brief and rebrief, train and retrain ring crew.
  • When assigning running order be sure that handlers of multiple dogs are well separated in the running order.
  • Have a schedule available that clearly lists who is responsible for what task. Don't make the judge chase down ring crew during the conduct of an agility trial. This is your responsibility.
  • Don't stop the trial for lunch. That's silly.
  • In the show premium or catalog, show a start time for only the first class. Write in the premium that all subsequent classes will commence when the class in front has finished. This will keep you from being bound to a start time when you are doing a terrific and efficient job keeping the show moving.
  • Don't stop the show to do placements and awards. Schedule these activities for periods of time that naturally will not interfere with the show going on: Immediately after the class has finished, and the ring crew is setting up the next course.
  • Have a chair and water available for the judge at ring side. Have some-one fetch the lunches for the judge and all other essential ring crew. It's a waste of time for these people to go standing in some line when their services are required on the field.


  • Be at the ring when it is time for your dog to run.
  • Wear your number so that you are clearly identified by the gate steward and the scribe.
  • Be ready to start your run when the timekeeper says "Go". Don't waste everyone's time by stacking your dog over and over.
  • Be on time for your briefing so you don't hold everyone up with questions that the judge has already answered.
  • Don't be afraid to dismiss yourself from the ring if your dog is not working for you. We all admire a handler who will leave of his own accord, and not wait for the judge to make the call to dismiss.
  • Don't pester the score-keeping table

Score Keeper

  • Employ three people at the score-keeping table. 1 to calculate times and scores; 1 to check the math and scoring and to post the results to ledge; 1 to re-check the math, check the posting, and to mark the catalog.
  • Have your placement ribbons prepared in advance for each class. It's a good idea to have a sticky label with jump height, club's name, date, class to put on the back of rosettes.
  • As quick as a jump height is done running you should post the results.
  • Award rosettes at a time where you'll get a crowd of appreciative exhibitors, but not slow down the show. Immediately (within 2 minutes) of the end of a class is the best time.
  • Put a barrier around the scorekeeping table to keep the exhibitors from pestering you.

(Bud Houston)

Try very hard to recruit people to work who are not running a dog in your trial. The jobs that require the most responsible people (timers, scribes, and scoretable help) should go to people with some experience. These people might receive a certificate for a free class. For gate stewards and ring stewards, recruit people from your beginning agility classes and obedience classes. Kids can help out as runners and leash stewards. For building courses, assign one person as chief course builder for each ring for the entire weekend. Club members, whether running a dog or not, pitch in to actually build the courses.

Two more things that will help your stewards do their jobs: first, have a mock trial a couple weeks before the real thing, so people get to practice their jobs. Write up job descriptions and hand these out at the mock trial. Second, have a meeting on Friday evening with the judges so that they have a chance to explain things to the workers. Also, most judges are very willing to assist the green workers - answering questions, directing them when necessary, etc. (Roseann Vorce)

Hints for the successful gate-steward:

1) Going over the scribe sheets and the board while the next course is being setup. Dogs already marked as "absent" can then be taken off the board. You can also split up multiple dogs being run by the same handler and get the scribe sheets in the correct order.

2) Asking handlers to check in with the gate steward as they finish walking the course. Presumably, this is when you'll get the best idea of which dogs are present and going to run.

3) Marking potential "problem" dogs' numbers. Situations come up where the handler is uncertain whether they'll run the dog or not till the moment arrives, especially for fearful dogs and looming thunderstorms. If you know a handler might pull at the last second, you can have the next person ready if they decide to scratch.

4) Calling out the number to the scribe, after he has written down the previous dog's time and is handing off the scribesheet. The scribe can't always see what the number is, and this helps keep the sheets straight and eliminate confusion at the scorekeeper's table. This is really helpful when there's a long string of the same breed in line.

5) Having a people check in with you personally. That way you get a feel for which faces to have "lined up" as the class is being run. And we've all had those last-minute potty breaks or conversations that distract us from being ready when it's our turn, so if you've spoken to a handler, you have a better chance of finding them if this has happened. No, it's not the gate steward's job to ensure everyone's in line, but it helps keep the trial flowing and makes everyone happier.
(Mary Ellen Berger)


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