This is the final blog in the series on Trial Readiness.  We’ve covered a lot of territory, including the possibility of failure and your options when it occurs during the individual exercises.  Today we’ll consider what you should do if your dog has not qualified on the individual exercises, yet the judge has invited you to return for groups.

Should you finish the class and return for the group exercises?

The rules say that you do not have to finish the class; you may simply let the judge know that you will not be returning for sits and downs. Yes, you can do that, and no, it’s not poor sportsmanship.  Indeed, most of the experienced exhibitors in my area have been doing it for several years.

But…should you?

Recently I attended a show where almost all of the non-qualifying Novice exhibitors returned to the ring for sits and downs, which suggests that either they were unaware that they did not need to return, or they had a desire to be there.

On that day, three dogs out of approximately fifteen left their spot and were asked to leave before the long down, and a a couple of other dogs changed their position.  In every case, these dogs had already  Non-qualified (NQ’d) on the individual exercises.  I decided to ask a few of the exhibitors afterwards why they made the choice to return for groups.  I got four answers:

1) For the ring experience

2) To see how it would go

3) I paid for the class

4) I  have to finish the whole class


Here are my thoughts:

1.  Return for the ring experience:

Yes, all of those dogs got ring experience, and each learned a valuable lesson.  Those dogs learned that in a ring, you can pretty much do what you want on sits and downs and nothing will happen.  You can wander, sniff and explore until someone catches you.  You can check out that dog you’ve been eying but couldn’t get to earlier.  You can change positions and make yourself more comfortable while your handler glares at you from 40 feet away but does nothing.  Or you can perform correctly with no response for that either. While learning has taken place, it is not the the kind of learning that most trainers want to see.  Unless you’re still qualifying, your additional ring experience can run from neutral to negative – that’s about it.

2. Return to “see how it would go”

You cannot train at a show, you can only observe.   If you are at a dog show, you should KNOW what your dog is going to do, and be surprised if it goes a different way.  A dog show isn’t a very good place to “see” what is going to happen for the reasons mentioned above – there is nothing you can do if your dog fails to perform.

The purpose of matches, run throughs and training classes is to see how your dog is going to do and then address issues immediately if you don’t like the result.  Then your dog can have a positive learning experience.

3. I paid for the class

You paid for the entire experience and a chance to qualify, which didn’t go so well.  I have yet to meet any person or dog who actively enjoys sits and downs; you just stare at your dog for minutes or stand behind a screen, wondering what is happening out there.  That’s not much fun for most of us but if you truly enjoy that, then I guess it makes sense to return for the groups (and hope for the best).

4.  I have to finish the whole class

Once upon a time you did have to return and those days have passed.  At this point you do not have to return to the ring, and you will in no way negatively affect anyone else or the points, rankings, etc.

Note that all of the above reasons are really about you and your dog.  And while I cannot think of one good training reason why you would want to return, I would be remiss not to turn my attention away from you for a moment and consider your fellow competitors, because there is one overwhelming reason why you should not return to the ring, and it is not about you.

Because you are going back into the group ring with dogs who are still qualifying.  That means that until this point, they have demonstrated enough skill and training to be there, which you and your dog have not done.  Like you, they have also paid their entry fee, and they would like to maximize their chances of getting through this part too. Unfortunately, there appears to be a correlation between dogs that are insufficiently trained on the individual exercises and dogs that are insufficiently trained for the group stays.

If I haven’t been clear enough, I will try one last time.  Your choice to return creates risk for others if your dog fails or makes mischief.  That mischief might be as mild as changing position or staring at another dog, or as great as an all out attack but regardless, you do not need to be there, possibly creating a negative outcome for your fellow competitor.

Over the years I have been loud and vocal about sits and downs – I think they suck.  I have no interest in leaving my dogs on a stay with groups of unknown dogs with variable degrees of training – not because I do not trust my dogs and their training but because I have no reason to trust your dogs and your training, especially in the Novice class where I probably do not know you.  In the group exercises, my training and my dog’s welfare is very much affected by your training.

For whatever reason it appears that AKC is wedded to the group stays, so the next best option is obvious – only dogs who have qualified on the individual exercises should return to the ring.

Judges have the option of doing that right now by making  LIBERAL use of the new rules regarding which dogs are invited back to complete the class.  If you are a judge, it’s worth considering how you might feel if there is a bad event in your ring and the dogs involved did not need to be there.    You’ll also find that exhibitors like me will seek you out once we learn that you are committed to maximizing safety in your ring.

I hope I’ve given someone food for thought.  If you decide you are going to return to the ring for the stay exercise, take a moment to check your reasoning; hopefully it’s more substantial than “because you’ve always done it that way” or a stubborn refusal to even consider the issue carefully because “no one is going to tell you what to do.”  And if you are an instructor, take a moment to talk with your students about these issues too.