Obedience - what it is all about:
Dog obedience, as a sport, has been around for decades. It is a sport in which the dog and handler work as a team, with the dog working in tandem with the handler, and executing sets of predetermined exercises. My experience has been with AKC obedience (American Kennel Club), so my emphasis will be on that, but I will introduce other registries, too.
There are three basic levels in obedience competition. In each level, the team is required to perform to a particular level three times. Each team enters the ring with 200 points, and for each error made, by either the dog or the handler, points are deducted. The number of points taken off each time is determined by the severity of the mistake - a crooked sit would probably only get 1/2 point deducted, where not doing the finish (returning to the handler's left side following a recall) would probably get around a 3 point deduction, and not coming at all when the handler called would result in a zero for that exercise, since coming is the primary portion of the recall exercise. A "qualifying score" is at least 170 points (out of the possible 200), with more than half of the points earned in every exercise. Three qualifying scores, earned under three different judges, are required to earn an obedience title.
The novice level is the beginning level. Upon earning the required qualifying scores, the dog earns the CD title - Companion Dog. At this level, the team is required to do a heeling pattern (dog walking with the handler, changing speed and direction with the handler) on lead, a figure 8 heeling pattern on lead, a stand for examination, an off-lead heeling pattern, and a recall. Then as a group, between 6 and 12 dogs will return into the ring together to do the "group exercises" - a long sit of 1 minute, and a long down of 3 minutes, with the handlers standing at the opposite end of the ring.
The second level is the open level. Upon earning 3 more qualifying scores at this level, the dog earns the CDX title - Companion Dog Excellent. At this level the team is required to do an off-lead heeling pattern, the figure 8 off-lead, a drop on recall (recall where the dog must lay down halfway through the recall when the handler commands the dog to go down), a retrieve on the flat (where the dog, on command, must retrieve a wooden or plastic dumbbell, and return it to the handler), a retrieve over a high jump (like the retrieve on the flat, only the dog must jump a solid wall-like jump going to, and returning with, the dumbbell), and a broad jump (low, wide jump). Currently, in AKC, most breeds must jump the high jump set at 1 1/4 times the dog's shoulder height, and the broad jump is twice as wide as the high jump is high. The group exercises here are similar to those in novice, except that the sit is for 3 minutes and the down is for 5 minutes, and the handlers leave the ring and go out of sight of the dogs.
The third level is the utility level. After earning an additional three qualifying scores at this level, the dog earns the UD title - Utility Dog. This is the most difficult level. The heeling at this level is done completely with hand signals - no voice commands are permitted at all. At the end of the heeling pattern, the dog must do a stand, and a stay, while the handler walks away, and faces the dog. Then, again using only signals, the dog must lie down, then sit up, then come in, then finish. Next is the scent discrimination exercise, eight articles are laid out a distance away from the team. Four of these are made of leather, four made of metal. The handler has one more of each material, that s/he touches, and with their backs to the group of articles, the judge places the one the handler touched in with the rest. The dog is turned and sent to the group, and by smelling each one, must pick up and bring back the one that his/her handler touched, leaving the rest alone. Both the leather and the metal article are done. Next is the directed retrieve, three white cotton gloves are placed along one side of the ring, behind the dog/handler team. The judge then tells the handler which of the three s/he wants the dog to retrieve, the team turns toward it, and the dog is directed to go and get that particular one, and the other two must be left alone. Then, a moving stand is done - where the team is heeling, and at the judge's direction, the handler stands and leaves the dog without stopping him/herself. The judge will then do an extensive examination of the dog, and then the dog is called to return to the left side of the handler. The final exercise is the directed jumping. The dog is commanded to run away from the handler to the opposite side of the ring, turn and sit. The judge will then tell the handler whether s/he wants the dog to jump the bar jump or the high jump. They are positioned one on either side of the ring, on the edges of the ring, midway between where the dog is and where the handler is. The handler will then instruct the dog to go to the left or the right and take the jump that is on that side. After the dog comes in and finishes, s/he is sent back out, and takes the other jump.
After these three titles are earned, two additional titles may be earned, requiring the team to continue competing in the open and the utility levels. The UDX title (Utility Dog Excellent) is earned by "qualifying" in both open and utility at the same trial on the same day ten times. The OTCH title (Obedience Trial Champion) is earned by winning first place three times in open and utility, and earning 100 points. The points are earned by placing first or second in open or utility, and the number of points won are determined by the number of dogs competing that day.
Purpose of Obedience
The individual exercises are based on real-life situations, where the dog would be required to behave in certain ways. For example, the heeling was designed to show the dog can walk with his/her owner nicely, and be under control at all times. The stand for examination shows that the dog is able to stand, and remain still while a vet examines the dog. The recall shows the dog will come when the handler calls. The retrieves show that the dog will to out and get something that the handler wants (example would be a bird the hunter has shot that the dog is to bring back). The broad jump mimics a stream that the dog is to jump over instead of wade through.
There are other registries that offer obedience competition. UKC (United Kennel Club), CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) and ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America) are three of the largest ones. Each one has three levels of competition, but the actual exercises may vary from one to the other. For example, in novice in CKC, the stand for exam is on-lead, in UKC the recall is over a jump.
Obedience can be fun
Training and competing in obedience can be fun and rewarding. Seeing a dog learn, and finally understand what you want is wonderful. Working with your dog is a great way to bond to him/her. You also make some great friends while doing obedience - other people with similar interests. Supporting and helping each other is also very rewarding.
Obedience is for everyone
Even if you never plan on showing in obedience, training your dog is a good idea. You can teach your dog to behave in normal, everyday situations. It's also a great way to become better friends with your dog. And taking your new puppy to a Puppy Kindergarten class will get them off to a good start. Check with vets and kennels in your area for references to local dog training clubs or schools.
My history in Obedience
I started in obedience in the summer of 1988. My first Sheltie, Lady, was three years old at that time. She was not the typical Sheltie - she was snappy, bordering on aggressive; very dominant, not responsive to people at all. As I learned more, I found that her early months, when she was kennelled and not socialized, had a permanent impact on her temperament. She was purchased from a pet store at 5 months of age, and had little or no human or canine contact during the very critical formative months. It took years of work, and even then, she never did overcome some of those problems. She finally earned her CD in December of 1990. I had been assisting classes for 1 1/2 years, and started teaching in January of 1991. Since then I have been teaching and assisting classes from the Puppy Kindergarten level through the Utility competition level. In November 2000, I started teaching Rally Obedience classes. I have put a CD title on six dogs, a CDX title on one, a UD title on one, and a UDX on one. I currently have 3 more in training, at various levels. All will start in Rally before venturing into the obedience rings. I have put the CGC (Canine Good Citizen) title on the six obedience titled dogs, plus four others.
by Sandra Walroth c 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006