The Best Agility Trial Gear (aka How to Pack for a Trial Like a Champ)

There’s a lot of choices when it comes to picking your trial gear, and what you need (and what would just be really nice to have) will likely change over time as you trial more, settle into your competition habits, add new dogs, etc. Even after trialling for a few years I still find myself tweaking stuff, replacing stuff, and just plain coveting stuff that I’m too poor to buy or isn’t available where I live. But there are a few staples on everyone’s supply list that you’ll want to look into getting no matter where you trial. I’ve started a Pinterest board which you can see at the end of this post, or follow if you want to see when I update it. I should add that I have not been paid to endorse any of the items that I’ve linked, so if I mention a specific brand or product it’s because I’ve either used it myself and loved it, or heard an overwhelming number of good reviews for it.

Containment

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Mu hanging out in his ex-pen. I pull the sheets down when I’m hanging out nearby to give them some added ventilation, but put them up when I leave. Just make sure if you’re going to leave them down that your dog isn’t in a high traffic area and likes the guy crated next to him!

At some point you will want to put your dog away. You’ll need to have them somewhere when you’re walking your courses, and it’s always a good idea to give them a quite place to relax and de-stress between runs. The easiest, most secure option is to bring a folding wire crate. There are loads of options on the market, and you can always pick one up for cheap off of Kijiji or Craig’s List. Depending on the size of your dog you can set the crate up in your vehicle, or at the very least they fold down flat and set up fast, so you can set them up at the trial site in minutes. You’ll want a cover for it as well so that your dog feels secure and not so exposed, especially when you’re not around. I’ll talk more about covers below.

You can also get a soft-sided crate, but those are only recommended for calmer dogs who aren’t going to try and escape. I’ve seen a lot of dogs get out of them (either from just pushing the zipper open or ripping through the fabric), and the last thing you want is for your dog to get loose while your not around. I actually use an ex-pen for my guys, as I have two medium/large dogs who like hanging out together, and the ex-pen actually folds down smaller then any wire crate I’ve seen.

Make sure you bring something comfortable your dog to lie on, like a dog bed, a Back On Track pad, and/or a cooling pad, depending on the time of year, temperature, and if your dog is crated in and indoor facility or outside. You want their crate or pen to feel as comfortable and as safe as possible, especially since they will be spending many hours over there during a full trial.

 

Covers for Crates, Pens, or Tents

There are many commercial covers for crates and ex-pens (Salty Dog Canvas makes a really nice ex-pen cover that I’ve wanted for a while), but a blanket or sheet will do the job just fine. If you’re outside in sunny weather an Aluminet Shade cloth is really where it’s at. There’s nothing else like it on the market, it blocks 90% of the sun, and still allows the breeze to get through. It’s essential for outside set-ups in the summer. I will say, though, that I have made due with a standard survival blanket, even going so far as to make an ex-pen cover for when we trial in the winter as a way to keep heat in when the dogs were going to be spending the day in a freezing barn in sub-zero temperatures. It quickly became known as the Ghetto Shelter amongst other competitors. I have no regrets.

God I love Duck Tape.

God I love Duck Tape.

 

Shelter

You can see my tent behind me with the survival blanket on top. It does the job, but isn't ideal as it doesn't cover the whole tent. To the left of my tent is a crate with a survival blanket on top, and to the right is a shelter made up of Aluminet sheets, which is really the best (though that's about $170 worth of Aluminet right there, which is a bit out of my price range right now).

You can see my tent behind me with the survival blanket on top (I’ve since added a second, and found out that they actually are just as good at keeping the rain out as the sun). Only downside is they don’t allow as much ventilation as the Aluminet. To the left of my tent is a crate with a survival blanket on top, and to the right is a shelter made up of Aluminet sheets, which is really the best (though that’s about $200+ worth of Aluminet right there, which is a bit out of my price range right now).

When you’re competing outside, you’ll need some sort of shelter. Some just make sure their pen or crates are covered, but most end up putting up a tent or a canopy. Pick something that can do double duty keeping the rain off of you (even in really windy environments!), or providing shade from the sun. Tents are really great if you’re sleeping over (I actually LOVE camping over at trials, makes the second morning extra easy!).

The QUECHUA pop-up tent is really popular in Europe, though still too expensive to get on this side of the pond. It’s on my list though as it’s trial tested, has lots of ventilation, and is a snap to put up (which is nice for those trials where you arrive a bit late!).

Shade canopies are much better throughout the day though when it’s hot, as if you combine them with an Aluminet cloth they create an enclosed, cool space for you and your dog(s) to hang out.

Many handlers simply keep their dogs in their cars, regardless of time of year or whether or not the trial is inside or outside, which makes set-up a snap. If you do so you’ll want an Aluminet cloth to throw over your car for sure, and you should pick up a portable fan. The Ryobi Fan is a popular choice, and I’m intrigued by this “misting fan” that looks like it might be made by the same people. There are cheaper options available (check out Clean Run or Amazon). There is also a product called a Ventlock which will allow you to lock your doors partially open for added ventilation, but since it requires a key to release you don’t have to worry about your dog accidentally getting the door open or someone steeling them when you’re not around.

 

Miscellaneous Dog Supplies

There’s lots of other standard items that you should include. A water bowl, obviously. Also, having a portable supply of water on hand is a really good idea. Aside from being convenient, not all trial sites will have water available. Also, something might happen where the water suddenly runs out (I’ve been at a trial where the well onsite literally ran dry partway through the first day!), and you certainly don’t want to be without water for your little athlete. I bring enough for the dogs, myself, and (in the summer) enough to soak their cooling coats.

Which brings me to the next thing. Cooling coats are an essential item. I have a Hurtta coat that I like, and I kinda want the vest version (Raafi isn’t a fan of coats in general, and doesn’t need as much cooling as Mu does). A cooling pad for their crate or pen is a great idea. I try to arrange it so that the dogs can choose to go on the cooling pad or not, based on their own comfort level. Connect-a-Mat‘s make great bases for your setup, and I even use them at home for the dog’s fitness area to give them grip.

Raafi hanging out in his ex-pen inside my tent. It had gotten a lot chillier overnight than I'd expected so he's got his Back on Track blanket on with a camping blanket on top. Regretted not bringing a warmer coat for him!

Raafi hanging out in his ex-pen inside my tent. It had gotten a lot chillier overnight than I’d expected so he’s got his Back on Track blanket on with a camping blanket on top. Regretted not bringing a warmer coat for him!

I also bring a variety of other coats for various purposes. I always bring their Back On Track Mesh Blanket (I prefer the mesh blanket to the normal coat as you can still use it in the summer in the mornings and evenings at least. The other coat would likely be too warm). I also bring their rain coats if I think it might get wet (a damp, shivering dog is more likely to sustain a muscle or tendon injury!), or their Witneys if it’s cold or when I’m camping overnight and not sure how far the temperature will drop. I love the Witneys as they are 100% wool, so warm and good at wicking away moisture.

The rest is pretty much all the things you normally take to class. Treat pouch and treats if your dog is food motivated (I usually make sure to bring treats of different value, a lower value one that I use while warming the dogs up, and a higher value one for jackpotting when we finish our runs). Bring a variety of toys such as tugs, balls, balls on rope, discs, etc.

My inner crazy horse lady was so happy to find a proper original witney for dogs (wool, not the fleece knockoffs you usually see for dogs).

My inner crazy horse lady was so happy to find a proper original witney for dogs (wool, not the fleece knockoffs you usually see).

A tugging leash is a great option if your dog likes to tug, as it can make waiting on deck a bit easier, and you’ll be able to play with your dog right away as soon as you re-leash and finish your run (be careful, though, as some organizations are very strict about tugging in the ring!). I also bring a supply of Power Boost, which is a supplement meant to help in physical recovery after exertion, especially on hot days. There is a noticeable difference in my dogs’ energy levels throughout the day when I use this verses when I don’t. There are other similar products out there, but that one is my fav so far. If you’re over-nighting it you’ll want to bring their food along. If you feed raw then a cooler is essential (and you can store their cooling coats in it too, for added effectiveness!), and if you use kibble and are too good for a plastic bag, these Kibble Carriers from Kurgo are pretty sweet.

Last thing you’ll want to have on hand is a puppy first aid kit. One of those things you hope you’ll never need but you’ll sure miss it if you don’t have it on hand! I also supplement my kit with a roll of the ever versatile vet-wrap, in case I need to bandage. I add in some human supplies as well (bandaids, Polysporin, etc).

 

Miscellaneous People Supplies

Now, after all that, there is some stuff that you’ll want to bring along for yourself. If it’s cold, dress in layers so you can strip off as much as you need to when you’re running, and bundle up for the rest of the day. You might even want to bring along a blanket for when your hanging out between runs, or if your volunteering to scribe or time a class and will be sitting for an extended period of time. Conversely, in the summer make sure you can run comfortably but stay cool. You can get cooling bandanas and towels for humans as well.

And for goodness sake don’t forget to bring weather protection! A full rain-suit can really make the difference between having an enjoyable or miserable trial experience. A wide-brimmed hat or cap for sun or rain will also make your life a lot more fun. And sunscreen. For the love of god, do not forget sunscreen! I’ve gotten burned so many times while volunteering for a class because I forgot to put mine on, or didn’t wear a cap (thanks, mom, for making me a redhead :/ ). You might be standing around without shade for hours if you’re setting jumps, so make sure you’re protected. I also keep bug spray in my bag, as a lot of the outdoor venues seem to be located in super buggy areas.

You’ll want a comfortable pair of running shoes (I love my Inov8 trail runners as they give good grip on just able every surface and are water resistant), rain boots, or water proof winter boots (I’ve actually run courses in my LL Bean boots. So friggin’ comfortable and warm!) depending on the conditions. You also might want to bring an extra pair of socks!

I adore my innov8 trail runners. They grip on just about every surface. They are also barefoot runners. You've probably at least heard about barefoot running, and I will say, it has really changed the way I run. In fact, when my shoes get wet I tend to just run without shoes at all, and have had some of my best rounds that way.

I adore my innov8 trail runners. They grip on just about every surface. They are also barefoot runners. You’ve probably at least heard about barefoot running, and I will say, it has really changed the way I run. In fact, when my shoes get wet I tend to just run without shoes at all, and have had some of my best rounds that way. And a word of advice: unless you have mad distance skills, don’t try running in rain boots. Just don’t.

Make sure to find out if there will be food available on site, or just bring your own. I usually show up with a coffee, some water, and at least a snack, though most trials will try to offer some food options. Still, make sure you check if you’ve never been before.

Bring a pen or pencil, and even a clip board, if you’re the type who likes to draw on your course maps. Next trial I’m thinking I’ll try to use my Surface Pro 2 to take a photo of the maps and draw on them, to see if that makes it a little easier as I won’t have to worry about drawing the wrong path. You could do the same with an iPad and most smart phones too. I also bring something to record my runs with. These days I use my phone, a Galaxy s5, which has a fantastic camera, though I’ve used a GoPro (don’t recommend as it can’t zoom), and my Canon T3 (which did a pretty good job, though I didn’t have an ideal lens). Videoing your runs can be invaluable later, and almost every professional trainer recommends it these days. The nice thing about using my phone is that it’s coming with me anyway, and is nice and small so doesn’t add weight to my gear bag like my T3 did.


So there you have it. I will expand and contract this list as I go, and if you think there’s anything I should add please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll check it out!

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