These are the guidelines I keep in mind for myself which may be helpful for other people who are training their first or second dog and are wondering when to enter him/her in an ASCA trial for the first time.
1. You will lose about 3 months of regular training when you go from a familiar place to a trial setting with new stock and trial nerves on your part. Even if you trial at the same place you train, the stock will be rattled by all the extra commotion going on and may not be as cooperative. So if you like what your dog was doing three months ago you may be set to go.
2. I want to be able to go out with a fresh dog, send him around the stock and stop him immediately on the far side without an argument or any extra circling.
3. The dog can control stock while taking them toward a strong draw without letting them escape. This is part of the course in ASCA started. It's not always that easy.
4. The dog can do a take pen without making a mess, and will stop at the gate. Most of us have had the experience of taking a dog who can do a fine take pen at home to a trial and causing a bit of a wreck there, but that happens with young dogs and strange stock sometimes. If he can't do a decent take pen at home though, I don't have a prayer at a trial.
5. I like to have at least a short drive on my dog just in case it's needed, such as to get sheep through the panels without walking through them yourself. Even more driving is better, but not really needed.
6. If I'm going to enter open my dog should have flank commands and be driving at an advanced distance at home.
7. Being able to stop him if he is getting into a wreck. This is a biggie, since if you can't catch your dog at a trial they can bar you from trials in the future.
8. He has experience with the type of stock you'll be running on. If it's cattle, he has experience with cattle, and the same goes for ducks or sheep. They don't work the same and you can end up with a confused and unhappy dog and person by trying to trial before you're ready.