Aggressive or Reactive Dogs at Agility Competitions

golden retriever taking jump at agility trial

There are some who tout that aggressive or reactive dogs have no place at an agility trial. Many of these individuals never had to deal with a dog that was aggressive or reactive. They blame the dog’s owner, poor breeding, and poor selection of a breeder. While breeding may be the top reason for aggressive dog traits, the owner often has no way of ever knowing that their dog might be one, even if they did due diligence in their pre-buying research.

Consequences of Dog Aggression at Trials

Dog agility trial circuits such as AKC, CPE, and others clearly state that aggressive and reactive dog behavior is not allowed at their competitions.

If a dog is reported or written up at a trial – meaning someone at the trial reported to the trial chair that they wanted to make a formal report of an incident – the consequences usually result in the dog being banned from all future trials. Sometimes that ban is permanent, sometimes it can be imposed for several years and lifted if the owner proves that they had undergone training to prevent future occurrences. Those making the decision on whether to re-admit the dog base it on the likelihood of a bad incident happening again. There’s also a fee to have the case re-reviewed, whether the dog is readmitted or not.

Numerous Reactive Dogs Compete in Trials

There are far more reactive dogs at agility trials than most people realize. Look for covered crates and owners that are adamant that no one touches their dog. Look for dogs that are always crated in their cars. Look for handlers that you either don’t see very often, or that rarely interact with their dogs unless they are running or pottying them. While these things don’t necessarily apply to owners with reactive or aggressive dogs, they are signs.

Despite the consequences, many dog agility competitors still compete at trials with an aggressive or reactive dog. Agility dogs can cost thousands of dollars and owners often cannot afford to go buy another one. Other aggression traits run in the lines they love – great agility dogs but not so friendly to either dogs, people, or both. Still other aggressive dogs are quite small, and despite the fact that the same rules apply, it just never seems as serious when they are smaller. Not fair, but it is true.

Tips to Avoid Dog Reactivity at Agility Trials

Anyone with an aggressive or reactive dog should either already know how to avoid issues at trials or attend training to learn how to avoid those issues. Here are just a few tips or ideas:

  1. Open doors slowly and back up if someone with a dog is coming out at the same time you are going in.
  2. Don’t stop and chat to someone if you have your dog with you on leash. Your attention will no longer be on the dog but instead be on the person and something could happen.
  3. Stop and wait for other dogs to pass by, or before going down a dog-crowded aisle.
  4. If another dog is on a long leash and coming too close, tell its handler “My dog needs space.”
  5. Keep your distance from other dogs when waiting your turn to go into the ring. COVID was a Godsend in helping make this happen.
  6. Put a blanket or partition around your crate if your dog tends to react aggressively when other dogs walk by.
  7. Crate your dog in the car and only let them inside when its time to run.
  8. When taking your dog in or out of their crate, look both ways down the aisle to make sure the coast is clear and other dogs are far enough away.
  9. If there is a chance your dog might show aggression toward the the dog running right after you, let her handler know and ask her to wait until you have your dog on leash before she enters the ring. Some judges will disagree with this one while others appreciate it, so it may get complicated. Listen to the briefing for clues and make a decision on whether you wish to risk an issue if the judge is not amenable.
  10. The true solution to #9 and one of the top things you can do to help keep everyone safe is to teach the strongest recall possible to your reactive dog.

Always be on the lookout for anything that could set your dog off. Often you won’t see it coming. A dog could stare at your dog and suddenly there’s loud barking and lunging that makes everyone’s head turn.

Training For You and Your Dog is Critical

My reactive dog is now 9 years old. We drove almost 2 hours each way to see Brenda Aloff, renowned dog trainer and behavioralist. She helped me deal with my dog’s behavior and helped him mind me better too. She was extremely helpful.

Brenda told me “I really like him, but if it were my dog, I wouldn’t take him to trials. It just isn’t worth it.” At the time I felt bad, but also was hooked on agility and planned to trial him. She had more dogs than I could dream of with caretakers for them when she was gone. She had the choice of leaving a reactive dog at home while she took other dogs (or more often horses) to compete. I wasn’t in the same situation.

Whatever you do, seek the best training you can afford to learn from and manage your dog. It will make you both a lot happier and keep others safer.

Lessons Learned, Friends & Enemies, Going Forward

I learned how to deal with my reactive dog—sometimes the hard way. I competed with him and still compete to this day. He’s done well, but certainly not nearly as well as he would have done had he not had the reactive issue. Trialing is still a lot more stressful for me than it was when I trialed my other dog. There are still places I won’t trial him because of the ring set up or proximity to other dogs. This includes AKC nationals most years.

I’ve made many friends in agility, but also some enemies as a result of this. I now understand Brenda’s reasoning much more than I did. But I am also glad I know so much about aggressive and reactive dogs. The relationship between my dog and I is much better. And I have a true understanding of other handlers in the same situation. Getting another reactive dog is something I will do my utmost due diligence to prevent again though.

To compete in agility with a reactive dog was something I’m glad I did. But for me, to do it again just isn’t worth it.

How to Find Agility Trials

Golden Retriever Finn finishing the weave poles at TNT Dog Center, Midland MI
The website lists the locations of where the trials are held, but not when they are held. That’s because so many other websites list that information, and it is extremely difficult to try to keep up with it all! Here is some information to help you find agility trials near you.

Finding AKC trials

  • Navigate to the link above
  • On the left, click on Companion Events, then click Agility
  • Click on the state(s) where you are looking for an agility trial
  • Add any other search options you like, then click Retrieve Events
Most trials run Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There will be a separate listing for each day.
If you have questions about a particular trial, you can email either the trial chair or the trial secretary. Just click on the trial’s “View Complete Event Details” to find their name and email address.

Golden Retriever Cosmo jumping through the tire at TNT Dog Center, Midland, MIFinding CPE trials

  • Navigate to the link above
  • Find a city and state near you
  • Click on the diskette icon on the right side of the trial you’re interested in attending. This opens the “premium list” (what competitors fill out to enter a trial). It will have all the information you need to find the agility trial.

Finding Agility Trial in other Circuits

There are other agility venues too, such as USDAA, NADAC, UKI International, UKC, and more. Unfortunately, some of these require you to sign up to find out where the trials are held!

Additional Information About Visiting Agility Trials

Most Agility Trial Visits are Free

Most agility trials are free to the public, but there are some exceptions. When an agility trial is held at a large convention center and is in conjunction with a conformation show, there is often an entry fee per person, as well as a parking fee. Check with the trial chair to be certain.

A Solution to Dog Water Spills in Soft Crates

dog water bucket attached to strap on soft crate

We all love the portability of bringing soft crates to agility trials. However, one of the issues has always been keeping our dogs hydrated without having them spill water everywhere. Even “spill-proof” water bowls tend to get knocked over and then the bedding and everything under it gets wet.

close up view of nylon strap with clip sewed onto the side of a soft crate, holding the handle of a metal water bucketWhile at a trial this week at TNT in Midland, Michigan I noticed a handler attaching a stainless steel watering bucket with a handle in her soft crate. “How do you keep that from spilling?” I asked.

“I just bought a clip that had a nylon strap attached to it. Then I sewed it to the crate. It’s one of the simplest, best things I ever did to keep the water upright,” she said. “And I don’t even sew very well.”

I have to admit, this is a great idea! So in the spirit of sharing, I’m sharing it with everyone with a soft crate. There could be a run on those clips with nylon straps attached and several people trying to thread needles that are not the best at it, but it will pay off! The strap and clip are on my shopping list.


Turf, Agility Club are Highlights at Sports Domain Academy, Clifton NJ

agility ring set up with a standard course at Sports Domain Academy, Cliifton NJ

>> For more pictures and details about dog agility trials at Bella Vista Training Center, hotels where you can leave reviews, and more, see the Sports Domain Academy section of this website.

Dog agility trials at the Sports Domain Academy in Clifton, New Jersey offer what most people want most – a good turf floor and, in the summer, air-conditioning. On my recent visit there, fellow competitors with fast dogs agreed that the turf at Sports Domain fits the bill, with the A/C providing some relief from the heat. The trial was hosted by Staten Island Companion Dog Training Club on July 20-21, 2019 and judged by Carol Mount and Paul Mount from Matawan NJ.

There were several issues I encountered on this visit. Put together, they were somewhat frustrating – but only because it was my first time trialing there. Here’s a recap of my experience, some of which one might be able to avoid to make their visit more enjoyable.


Bella Vista Training Center, “Our ‘favorite-ist’ place”

Agility ring at Bella Vista Training Center, Lewisberry, PA

>> For more pictures and details about dog agility trials at Bella Vista Training Center, hotels where you can leave reviews, and more, see the Bella Vista Training Center section of this website.

The drive to Bella Vista Training Center (BVTC)  in Lewisberry Pennsylvania was absolutely beautiful. I came from Bloomsburg and my GPS took me a route through curvy mountain roads and quaint small towns.  On my stop in Harrisburg, however, the weather changed quickly. According to an alert on my phone and a radar lookup, a tornado was headed straight for us. Thanks to the nice folks at PetSmart, the dogs and I hunkered down in their store along with others in the area seeking some safety.


Calusa Dog Club Creates Fun, Welcoming Trial at Turner Agri-Civic Center

>> For more pictures and details about dog agility trials at the Turner Agri-Civic Center, hotels where you can leave reviews, and local area restaurants, see the Turner Agri-Civic Center section of this website.

Summertime is hot in Florida, there is no doubt about that.  So the Calusa Dog Agility Club definitely does things right by having their June agility trial in the air-conditioned Turner Agri-Civic Center in Arcadia, Florida.  I was warned before I got there to wear layers because it’s really cold. The confirmation sent out by the trial secretary even suggests competitors bring a sweater. But I have to say that the chilly air was the saving grace when coming in from the Florida sunshine.  This AKC trial was held June 21-23 inside the arena with two rings and two judges.


No Boredom at the Eastern Idaho Fairgrounds Spring Classic Dog Shows

outdoor agility ring at east idaho fairgrounds - blackfoot idaho

>> For more pictures and details about Eastern Idaho Fairgrounds, a park in the area, and hotels where you can leave reviews, see the Eastern Idaho Fairgrounds expanded section.

The East Idaho Spring Classic Dog Shows June 13-16, 2019 in Blackfoot, Idaho had a lot to offer every dog competitor and guest. Two clubs, the Pocatello Kennel Club and the Eagle Rock Kennel Club, hosted the event. Along with four days of agility they had conformation, obedience, rally, FAST CAT (Friday/Saturday only), and Scent Work. Other special events included:

  • The National Owner-Handled Series Celebration
  • 4-6 Month Puppy Competition (Friday)
  • An all-breed Puppy Match (Saturday)
  • Aloha Yappy Hour Luau (Friday) just for the fun of it
  • Celebrate the Great Outdoors Bar-B-Que (Saturday)
  • An eye clinic offered by Mountain West Veterinary  Ophthalmology to get your dog’s eye certification

No getting bored at this event!


Keepin’ Cool at Oriole Dog Training Club, Halethorpe MD

Agility ring - Oriole Dog Training Club, Halethorpe MD

>> For more pictures and details about Oriole Dog Training Club, local restaurants in the area, and hotels where you can leave reviews, see the ODTC expanded section.

They were two warm days outside, but inside at the Oriole Dog Training Club AKC agility trial June 8 & 9, 2019, it was downright chilly.  The A/C in the building keeps the dogs nice and cool but some competitors wear sweatshirts and jackets.  However, nobody complains because the dogs love it!  Held at the ODTC training facility in the Benson Business Center on Azar Court, Halethorpe, MD, the trial filled with a waitlist. Other agility venues that have events in this location include CPE, USDAA, and NADAC.


Fun and Laid Back at BARC’s Agility Trial in Bloomsburg PA


>> Check out the expanded section for Bloomsburg Fairgrounds to see more images and details, find pet-friendly local restaurants and an ice cream shops in the area, and pet-friendly hotels where you can leave reviews.

The relaxing atmosphere at the Bloomsburg Agility Runner’s Club (BARC) agility trial at the town’s fairgrounds last weekend felt more like a CPE trial than AKC.  Held for four days over Memorial Day, May 24-27, the trial just felt more low-key than most.

Howard Etzel

Howard Etzel from Hollidaysburg, PA judged this trial. His courses were fun, challenging and flowed well. Before judging agility trials, he taught math and computers for junior high and high school. “Still having to give those ‘F’s’ in this role,” he joked. The trial was held on a dirt floor inside an arena usually used for horse shows at fair time.  This was just one building of many on-site at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds. Lighting was low, but bright enough for all to see well. This helped with the ambiance too.

BARC achieves its purpose for 10+ years

“Putting on a trial that is fun and relaxing is one of the primary goals of our club,” said Jacqui O’Neill, owner of BarQ 4 Agility trial secretarial services and president of BARC. “The club started over 10 years ago with DOCNA trials. They had several games and were quite fun. We changed to AKC a little over 5 years ago. It was nice that the change didn’t affect the fun and relaxing part!”


There was plenty of room for crating and walkways without running into or stepping over other dogs and competitors.  Although this was a smaller trial, there was more to it than that:  it was the simple traffic pattern for the dogs. They either left their crates and stood in line to run, or went outside to potty or warm up.  The trial secretary, refreshments, and worker raffle were down a narrow walkway so dogs didn’t go down there. A few vendors were in the crating area, but they didn’t go along with their owners there either. And restrooms were a hike across the parking lot.  This all helped prevent congestion.

While not air-conditioned, there are large doors in the front, back and one side of the arena that were opened as it heated up outside. A large industrial fan near the top of the arena’s peak on its far side helped move the air.

Awesome dirt floor

The well-packed dirt was nice to run on for the dogs and easier on my back than most mat floors. It was oiled down well enough to keep the dust at bay, but not too much as it never packed down – even after 4 days of trialing. A competitor dropped her cell phone on it during a walk and it just bounced a little. If you like newer equipment you’ll get it here every trial. Max 200 provides all of the equipment and then sells it at a 10% discount at the end of the final day.

The running order grouped the Master/Excellent courses together and put the Open and Novice courses at the end of the day. You know, like most trials used to be like. Novice and Open participants don’t have to arrive so early, and Master/Excellent participants can leave early.  Personally, my dogs run much better if they don’t have to wait in their crates for up to 6 hours between runs.  “Everyone likes it this way. Some people worry about not having enough workers at the end of the day, but there’s always that issue and we make it work,” Jacqui said. “We also run jumpers first thing in the morning. It makes it easier on the small ring crew that’s left to set up the night before. Plus Jumpers is a nice class for dogs to get their zoomies out before doing contacts.”


The walk to the restroom is a slight downside, but only because it is out in the elements. There are many trials where restrooms are much farther away. This one just seems farther because of the parking lot between the restroom and the arena. The restrooms are open 24×7 during show hours, as are the numerous shower stalls in the same building. There’s a fee of 50 cents (quarters) to use them.

Great for RVs

There’s no shortage of RV parking here. Jacqui spaces RV’s nicely around the arena building and assigns spots where there’s decent grass nearby for the dogs. The electric is 30AMP. The connection requires a twist-type plug adapter which most people don’t have. The club rents them for a $20 deposit and returns the full amount when the adapter is returned.

Largest non-state owned fairground

The location is typical of many fairgrounds with buildings for different types of livestock. An interesting fact about this fairground is that it is not owned by the state, but is owned by the city of Bloomsburg.  Although I’ve definitely seen larger fairgrounds, “this is the largest non-state owned fairground in the U.S.,” according to Jacqui. There’s a track for horses which often is used during trials. The area is open to the public during show hours too. Since the culture in this area is that well-behaved dogs can walk off leash, that may occur at times during the show.

jacqui o'neill, trial secretary
Jacqui O’Neill

BARC is currently the only club that hosts agility trials at the fairgrounds. In addition to their spring trial, they hold a 5-day trial in October. They’ve got a multi-talented, multi-tasking leader too. Jacqui is not only a licensed AKC trial secretary but she also judges for both AKC and UKI. “I primarily judge in the summer,” she said. “There are some smaller clubs that consistently hire me as their secretary. I spend winters in Florida so there are judging and trial secretary opportunities there too.” At this trial Jacqui held her own during the open and novice classes: in addition to her secretary job, she also timed and scribed at the same time. Since her table and computer is right at ringside, she also eliminated the need for a sheet runner for those classes. All this and she maintained a relaxed and fun attitude! Just like our feelings go down the leash, the leader’s feelings tend to shape the culture of trials. If you like fun and relaxed trials this one’s a real gem.

Dogs Make a Splash at Prairie Oaks MetroPark

If you thought Young’s Jersey Dairy was a cool place for you to visit while trialing at Champions Center, your fur pets will thank you for taking them to Prairie Oaks MetroPark. Here they can swim and play along a dog beach … unleashed! Located at 2755 Amity Road in Hilliard, OH, it’s about a 30 minute drive from Champions Center. But oh so worth it!

Confusing to find the dog beach section; bit of  a hike too

Darby Bend Lakes (note plural) consists of 3 smaller lakes that sprawl along the Darby Lakes entrance road to the MetroPark. There are no signs as to where the dog beach might be at the entrance or at any of the three parking areas. And the truth is, it is roughly the same distance from each of the parking areas to get to the dog beach!

After entering the park, the beach is technically along the first lake on the right side of the road . However, it is at the end of the lake, and to get there, you have to walk across some grass and go over a bridge. That bridge is over a stream connecting two lakes.  Once across the bridge, keep walking and not too far down you’ll finally see a sign for the dog beach on your right. It is not fenced in, so if you have a dog that won’t stay around, the leash will have to stay on.

The beach is course gravel and sand, with some grass attempting to grow. The lake also seems to get deep pretty quickly and the water is murky as a result. It still seemed quite clean though. There’s a floating dock that goes out a short ways into the lake, and a small shelter with a bench underneath for a little shade.

Overall my dogs absolutely loved this place. We’d been travelling and they hadn’t had a chance to full out run for several days. So they not only enjoyed the water on such a hot day, but also tore up and down the beach several times. Since it was a weekday when we went and a storm was fast approaching, there weren’t many other dogs there. But they really enjoyed the dogs and handlers that chanced it along with us!

Trails, trails and more trails

The weather didn’t permit us to explore the park, but I picked up a brochure and found no less than eight trails in the park. They range in distance from .7 miles to over 5 miles long, and in challenge levels from easy to difficult.

Trail map of Prairie Oaks Metro Parks, Hilliard OH

If hiking isn’t your thing, the park also offers picnic areas, fishing and non-motorized boating. There’s also a restroom with flush toilets and an outdoor faucet for cleaning off the lake water!

Nature abounds at Prairie Oaks MetroPark

The Darby Watershed is nationally recognized for is ecological diversity, and is home to nearly 100 species of fish and 44 species of mussels. Wildlife includes numerous types of birds, white-tailed deer, turkey, and more.

There are three other entrances to the 2,203 acre Prairie Oaks MetroPark, in addition to the Darby Bend Lakes entrance noted above:

  • Sycamore Planes entrance – has a nice trail that loops over the plains and then winds into the woodlands along Big Darby Creek
  • Main park entrance – includes two picnic areas, trailhead to the bridle trail, a picnic shelter, and restrooms
  • Beaver Lake – a small lake for boating and fishing, and a designated “natural” play area where one can wander off trail, climb a tree, dig in the dirt, or just have fun playing outdoors

So if you or anyone in your party is interested in fishing or wildlife-watching during the time you attend the CPE nationals or take your champion agility dog to the beach, you now know the place to go.