Performance Showing and Training during COVID-19

By Judy Harding

Showing and training during COVID-19 has been trying to say the least. Training places had to shut down for state or county mandated COVID reasons or even in some cases due to COVID exposure.

Things have been coming back alive with many changes in place. Face masks are a must across the board with hand sanitizer everywhere. COVID waivers must be signed, some sent with the entries, some the day of the trial.

Obedience/ Rally trials have been opening up and seem to be running safely but have pared down their numbers so they can add additional COVID safety procedures. Shows that were two rings are now one ring. Some clubs do not allow crating inside while some do allow indoor crating but with everyone six feet apart. Some allow crating indoors but do not allow people to sit inside near their crates. A lot of competitors elect to crate in their cars even if there is indoor crating. There are many COVID changes to how the shows are run. Most clubs limit people and dogs entering the buildings. Some will allow only the dog in the ring and the next two dogs in the building. All others must wait outside. Some shows have a designated door to go in and another door to go out. Believe me some of these are not environments a lot of dogs are used to showing in. Some buildings are silent with an occasional dog shifting in a crate that was brought by a club worker, or a worker clearing their throat or speaking breaking the silence. Some AKC temporary rule changes allow clubs to pinpoint times for classes to start so clubs can limit the number of people that congregate too early for their classes.

There are also procedural changes in the ring that must be trained for. When training in Open and Utility in Obedience some of the COVID changes have a big impact on what your dog experiences. Some clubs use gloves or plastic bags to handle the scent articles. In the past the articles that don’t have your scent had the scent of the ring steward. Some stewards are using hand sanitizer between every dog, so everything smells like Purell. Not to mention we as handlers are using hand sanitizer and washing our hands frequently. This makes a scent exercise more daunting for our dogs. These scenarios must be practiced. Try to recreate these conditions in practice, so it is not new to your dog in the ring at a show.

Agility trials have been opening up and been running safely with, again, lots of new COVID protocols in place. One new tool in agility is Agility Gate. Agility Gate is an App that allows you to see, in real time, which dogs are running in what class. In essence you can see the gate sheet without everyone having to crowd around the board to see when you have to have your dog ready. Agility Gate allows you to check yourself in, claim a conflict, or even scratch your dog even if you never leave your home. Agility Gate also has the course maps to again keep people from crowding around a posted map. Many clubs also send course maps out via email the evening before the trial. Someone needs to come up with a similar app for Obedience/ Rally and even breed trials. Not only does it help to keep exhibitors from having to check the board to see how things are running, but if you are in a later class you can see how things are running to plan your arrival to just before your class. It just means less people, less exposure. Agility Gate is free for the competitor but does cost the club money. The club could add a dollar to each entry and more than make up for the apps cost. I think most people would accept that. Another app that many agility clubs are using is Remind me. This app was created for school weather alerts but the club can create a group and send group messages, such as walk through starts and course building. All of these things keep traffic down around and in the building and keeps the competitors safer!!!

Tracking Trials have been following suit and coming back to life. (I know this is not something many Shih Tzu people do, but I do.) Additional protocols are still affecting even these events held strictly outdoors. Tracking clubs would usually provide a light breakfast, some snacks, coffee and drinks and often some kind of meal after with socializing but now everyone is on their own.

All and all I believe dog sports people in general are a tough group and will adjust to whatever is necessary to be able to do what they and their dogs love to do.

CREDIT: This article first appeared in the March 2021 issue of the AKC Gazette, and is reprinted with permission to the Gazette in digital format, go to