How to Volunteer at Agility Trials: A Primer

Agility Volunteer Ring Crew
Note the ring crew volunteer on the left. Her job is to reset this broad jump if the dog knocks part of it over. (Photo Credit: Jorge Arcas)

I encourage all of my agility students to volunteer when they go watch an agility trial. For one thing, you can’t beat the view of the action! But I also feel that working a class or two at an agility trial really helps to calm many of the nerves they might have about competing in the future. Seeing experienced competitors in the Masters or Excellent ring make mistakes is comforting to them. Watching young dogs start their agility careers in the Novice or Starters ring gives them a realistic idea of what to expect from their own dogs when they enter their first trial in the future.

There are certain jobs at agility trials that are easier than others. My goal is for my students to have a low-stress, fun introduction to agility trials, so expecting them to act as a scribe or a timer at their first or second trial is a bit much.

How to Volunteer: A Primer

To sign up to work a class, go to the exhibitor check-in area. That’s usually where the volunteer information is – if not, someone there will direct you to it. At an outdoor trial, this is usually a BIG tent where exhibitors pick up their armbands and check in for their classes. At an indoor trial, it’s usually not far from the main entrance door.

When you sign up to volunteer at an agility trial, it is typically for one class or height division of a larger class, such as Novice FAST, or Masters Standard 16″. Each class takes anywhere from about 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on how many dogs are entered, and what type of class it is. Jumpers runs are faster than Standard runs, for example.

Newbie-Friendly Volunteer Positions

Ring crew. Bars don’t reset themselves, you know! Each ring needs 3-6 ring crew volunteers who are responsible for resetting bars if a dog knocks one down, and straightening the chute after each dog goes through it. Additionally, the ring crew change the heights of the jumps, table, tire,  and sometimes the A-frame, when the jump height changes.

You sit on a chair inside the ring and watch each dog run. If a dog knocks a bar or otherwise displaces an obstacle, you wait until the dog is no longer running in your area of the course, and fix the obstacle.

Agility Volunteer Leash Runner
Unless the handler gives you the dog’s leash, wait until the dog has started running the course before picking it up. (Photo Credit: Jorge Arcas)

Leash running. I volunteered exclusively as a leash runner for the first year I entered agility trials. It’s simple, it’s good exercise, and you get to see each dog’s run from start to finish. As the leash runner, you are expected to pick up the dog’s leash once they have started the course, and drop it off at a pre-determined spot near the exit so it is waiting for the competitor as they finish their run.

Your goal as a volunteer is to be as unobtrusive as possible. Some handlers will hand you their dog’s leash, others will throw it towards you (stay alert, leash clips can be painful!), and many just drop it behind them.

It is important to wait until after the dog has begun running to pick up their leash, as you want to avoid inadvertently distracting the dog. You should also keep an eye on the dog while it is running in case something happens to end the run, such as the dog eliminating in the ring or the handler asking to be excused. In those cases, you will want to bring the leash directly to the competitor or meet them right by the exit.

Score running. This task is a bit easier on your body than leash running is — you get to sit for much of the time. Each dog’s faults and time (the score) are written down on a piece of paper. This piece of paper needs to make its way from the score table in the ring to the where ever the trial secretary/scoring area is set-up, and that’s where you come in!

You get to sit in a chair behind the scoring table. (That’s where the timer, the scribe, and the assistant scribe sit. They watch the judge and make sure the timing equipment is running properly, and record all of that data.) After each run, the assistant scribe will pass you that dog’s score sheet.

After every three or four runs, you take these score sheets from the ring to the trial secretary so the dogs’ run can be processed. This allows the results to be calculated as they happen, not all together at the end of the class, making final results available to the competitors much sooner.

Don’t Be Afraid to Volunteer!

Volunteering can seem a little daunting, and novice exhibitors often cry, “What if I mess something up!?” Remember, it’s agility, not a life-or-death situation. Let the judge know that you’re new to this, and he or she will be sure to double-check your work. Even very experienced exhibitors make mistakes or get distracted and forget to reset a jump properly.

Volunteers are crucial to our sport — without them, trials cannot run. Clubs reward volunteers in many ways. Typically, you will receive a ticket for a free lunch from the food vendor in return for volunteering. Many clubs also give out raffle tickets, and you can enter to win fun prizes like dog toys, treats, and gift certificates to the vendors. Some clubs even have cash raffles! It is not uncommon for snacks and water to be available to volunteers as well. Each club is different. Typically, you will be told what is available to you when you sign up to work at the club tent.

I want to hear from you — what is your favorite job to work at agility trials? (I’m loud and obnoxious, so I usually gate steward if I’m not vending. The gate steward stands outside the ring and makes sure the dogs enter in the correct order and at the proper time.) If you’re in the area, come volunteer at an upcoming agility trial in Rhode Island!

(Today’s blog post is a repost from Spring Forth Dog Blog. It was part of Dog Agility Blog Action Day. That year’s topic was volunteering. Steve at AgilityNerd organized this event and he compiled a list of all the blogs that participated — go check it out!)