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Riverside Canine Center encourages new USDAA competitors. Article by Sandi Bixler. Photos courtesy of John Marcus.

There is no denying it, in my area of the country, the number of Starter/PI entries has been steadily decreasing over the last couple of years. Concerned over what this may mean for future USDAA trials in the New England area, Riverside Canine Center of Nashua, NH co-chairs Valori Duff and John and Lisa Marcus started brainstorming ideas to bring in more new people to USDAA agility. The ideas had to be things that could be easily implemented at the local level, not an organizational rule or equipment changes.

The first issue was financial: an incentive to give USDAA a try. Riverside paid the $25 registration fee for any new-to-USDAA handler who entered at least two out of the three days. This brought in four brand new handlers to USDAA. Now that we have them, how do we keep them coming back? This led to a number of ideas to help the Starters/PI handlers with their first trial and to welcome them to the New England USDAA family.

Clean Run donated agility record keeping books that were handed out to all Starter/PI handlers (not just to those new to the sport). A special crating area, in front of their ring, was set aside for Starters/P1 and Advanced/PII competitors. This alleviated the stress of entering the large indoor arena and worry about where to set up, and it ended up much less densely occupied than the other crating areas.

Clean Run donated agility record books. 
Mini-seminars on Gamblers and Snooker were held in the morning before the first briefing. Judges Judy Reilly and Lisa Barrett, who were competing at the trial, explained the rules and answered questions on how these games were played. Between 10 and 15 people attended and according Judy and Lisa, they asked good questions and had positive feedback.

Judy Reilly and Lisa Barrett taught competitors about Gamblers and Snooker.
The motto for veteran handlers was If you have the glow, youre in the know. Acting as mentors, experienced handlers wore glow sticks as bracelets, necklaces and headbands to mark them as in the know and willing to answer any questions. Wondering who to turn to with questions or concerns can be stressful to a new competitor and having a fun and visible way to locate them provided a level of comfort. This also encouraged them to get to know those who have been competing for many years.

Glow bracelets identified agility mentors.

Overall, the program was a success. Feedback was positive and the hope is that more clubs will adopt some of these ideas, or come up with new ones, to help bring in more competitors. The future success of the sport of agility hinges on the ability to bring in new competitors.

[Riverside Canine Center is repeating their Starters program at their next trial. See their test entry form for details.]

Sandi Bixler has been a competitor in dog agility for over 10 years. She runs two Labrador Retrievers, Trudy and Targa, and, on occasion, a feisty American Eskimo Dog named Chilly. She has been involved behind the scenes with Riverside K9 for many years and recently co-founded Playing Agility with Style (PAWS) with fellow competitors Valori Duff and Seth Dunn.
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