Trial Gear

For anyone new to trialing, it can be difficult to determine just what you need to bring with you. I know I’ve added and subtracted things as I’ve gone along. Some things are vital and others depend greatly on your dog. The following is a brief overview of what I bring to a trial.

A crate is probably the most important item you can bring with you to a dog show.

A Crate

I can’t imagine attending a trial without having a crate for Risa. It gives her a safe sanctuary to retreat to while she’s waiting for her turn in the ring. The crate also allows me some time off where I don’t need to have my 100% undivided attention on her. With her safely kenneled, I can practice our routine in the ring before a freestyle competition. I can do our rally walkthroughs without worrying about finding someone to hold onto her leash (though I can’t imagine doing that with Risa at all). And, when it comes to lure coursing, I don’t have to hold onto the crazy monster as we wait for our run!!

There are various styles of crate that you can use for trialing. Wire crates, airline crates, and soft-sided pop-up kennels are the most common. Which you use is up to you and will depend a lot on your dog.

I rarely see airline crates used at competition sites. They’re bulky and cumbersome. I have seen small dog owners using them but, of course, a small Varikennel is much easier to tote around than Risa’s behemoth box.

Risa in her pop-up kennel. I like to use this for classes and when we stay in hotels but I never use it for trials.

Soft-sided kennels are also very popular. They’re lightweight and fold up easily for carrying. However, you must be certain your dog is properly crate trained to use them. A dog who really wants to get out of these style of crates could (and a dog who wants to get IN could as well!). Some dogs will also roll them around like a hamsterball which is less than ideal at a trial. 😉 They come in various sizes, styles, and prices. From cheap $25 pop-ups to $150 Canine Campers.

I prefer to use a nice folding wire crate. It’s open on all sides which provides great airflow. (Due to Risa’s issues around other dogs, I usually put a blanket around the kennel walls to block her vision. The top is still open, though.) It’s also sturdy and will keep my dog IN and other dogs OUT. The only problem is that a wire crate is heavier than the others and can be a bit unwieldy to carry around.

No matter what type of crate you decide to use, it’s best to check your show premium to make sure your choice is allowed. Depending on the venue, they may not allow you to use a soft-sided crate. (Most agility competitions will allow soft-sided crates. Conformation showing is very strict and only permits solid kennels that can be stacked.) If you’re not sure and can’t find the information in the premium, contact the show chair and ask.

Some people prefer to use an X-pen (exercise pen) instead of a kennel for their dogs. If you’re going to use an X-pen, I would make certain your dog is not the type that may jump out of it during the excitement of a trial. (I’ve seen it happen!) Also, check and make sure that it’s permitted. Not all shows will allow the use of X-pens for canine containment.

The crate should be comfortable since your dog will be in there for the majority of the day.

Crate Accessories

This is an all-encompassing category for stuff you’re going to put in the crate to make your dog’s stay there comfortable. Since laying on plastic is less than ideal, I would recommend putting something soft along the bottom for your dog. A crate pad, rug, or blanket would be fine. If it’s warm, you could consider using a cooling mat. Blankets work well when temperatures are lower or if you have a dog who likes to burrow.

You should also have a way of dispensing water. They make buckets and bowls that clip to the sides of kennels or you can use a folding travel bowl to deliver your dog’s water. Risa tends to dump the travel bowl when she trials either through sheer excitement (when lure coursing) or in the process of adjusting her bedding. So I got her a bowl that clips to the side of her kennel so that she doesn’t end up laying in dampness. You should also bring plenty of water with you especially if you’re trialing outdoors. There may not be anyplace nearby to get water for your dog otherwise!

Along with bedding and water, you may consider bringing something for your dog to do. Some dogs may tolerate being kenneled for long periods better if they have a toy to play with or something to chew on. It could also help ease any anxiety they may feel about being at the trial site.

If you have a dog who guards their kennel or gets anxious having so much traffic walking past them, it would be a good idea to bring a blanket to place over the crate to block their view. You can simply drape it over the top or clothespin it around the perimeter like I do for Risa.

Food/Reinforcement

If you’re planning on doing any warmup exercises before you enter the ring and if you want to reward your dog for doing a good job in the ring (which you should!), you’d better have some good stuff with you. I usually bring high-value food rewards for use in warmups and walking around the facility and then one special reward for after we compete. If your dog prefers a specific toy, bring that instead.

Make sure to check and see what types of collars are permitted in the venue you're competing in.

Collar(s)

Before showing up at the competition site, make sure you read the rules to determine what types of collars are permitted in the ring. Some venues restrict what types of collars you can use. I think all venues prohibit corrective collars (e-collars, pinch collars) and training harnesses (head halters and front-clip harnesses). AKC does allow the use of choke chains in the competition ring, however, even though they fall under the category of a corrective collar. Some venues will let dogs compete wearing regular body harnesses. If you’re not sure, your best bet is a flat buckle collar or a properly-fitted martingale collar. It doesn’t hurt to bring an extra collar either, just in case!

There are also some venues where your dog can, or is sometimes required to, compete without a collar at all. Several agility venues and AKC-sanctioned lure coursing events require dogs to run naked. Make sure you have a collar or harness that you can easily slip onto your dog after their event is over if they’ve been running collar-less.

Leashes are important as well. If you’re going to be competing in the ring on-leash, make sure your leash is the proper size. For example, in AKC Rally, dogs performing the Honor Exercise must be on a 6-foot leash!

Warm Weather Gear

If you’re trialing outdoors, especially in the hot summer months, there are several other things you may wish to bring. You could bring a cooling mat, as I mentioned above, to keep your dog cooler. Water is especially important when trialing in the heat. Depending on the trial location, there may not be a shady spot to set up your kennel. And, even if there is shade, it’s likely to be filled up fast!

Risa's Sportbrella provides instant shade wherever we go!

Many people bring their own shelters to create shade for their dogs at trials. Some people use tents. Others use pop-up canopies. Some even hang tarps off of their cars. I like the Sportbrella. My friend, Tena (at Success Just Clicks), introduced me to it when she brought hers lure coursing. I got one later that year for Christmas and it’s been a great addition to my trial gear.

I like it because it’s easy to fold up and carry AND it’s easy for one person to set up. Most of the portable canopies I’ve seen require at least two people to assemble. The Sportbrella is essentially a large umbrella that you simply open and tie down. Like any of these portable shelters, wind is your greatest enemy and can send your shelter flying. It’s best to tie them down and keep an eye on them when the wind is gusting.

Along with shade, you can also bring a portable fan. They come in various types and sizes. Some are smaller and rechargeable while others eat up 6 D batteries to keep your canine competitor cool. On a hot day, it’s nice to have your own portable breeze.

Rubber Bands

This probably seems like the most silly thing to bring but, especially if you’re competing in rally or obedience, you’ll need some way to attach your number to yourself. Most venues do supply rubber bands for you to use but I’ve found it’s not a bad idea to bring your own just in case. They also make fancy armbands and pins that you can purchase to display your competition number. Some venues don’t use the large paper numbers but stickers instead. It still never hurts to have some rubber bands with you anyway.

Seating

If you’re going to be there a while, it might not be a bad idea to bring a chair with you. Those fold-up camping chairs work best as they’re portable and easy to carry.

Probably my favorite thing to bring with me at trials: the portable cart!

Cart

With all that stuff to carry, probably my most favorite thing to bring is my folding cart. It makes it easy for me to lug all my trial gear from the car to the competition site. Instead of making 4 trips to get everything there, including Risa, it may take me as little as one trip! It easily fits all my dog gear (including a cooler of food and drinks for me!) and Risa’s kennel stacks neatly on top. If I’m worried some of my things may slide off as I cart them to our location, I can simply use bungee cords to tie everything down. The large wheels work great when moving everything across grass as well. I don’t think there’s been a show I’ve attended with my cart that I haven’t had someone ask me where I got it. It’s incredibly useful and certainly saves my back and shoulders. It also folds up neatly for easy storage in the back of my car.

So that’s my basic list of things I bring with me to trials. I may add or subtract things as needed. For example, I don’t need my Sportbrella when we’re competing indoors and there are a couple locations where I compete that are too narrow and tight for me to use my awesome cart. 🙂 But this is a good list to get you started when you’re not sure where to begin. Happy trials!

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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