Obedience Training

Function: noun
1. a: an act or instance of obeying b: the quality or state of being obedient
Function: adjective
Willing to obey
Synonyms obedient, docile, tractable, amenable.

Obedient implies compliance with the demands or requests of one in authority [obedient to the trainer]. Docile implies a predisposition to agree readily to control or guidance [a docile dog]. Tractable suggests having a character that permits easy handling or managing [ a tractable dog]. Amenable suggests a willingness to yield or to cooperate either because of a desire to be agreeable or because of a natural open-mindedness [amenable to new ideas].

I love training my dogs for obedience whether it is for AKC or UKC canine obedience competitions or just so I have a well mannered dog. Nothing is more breath-taking to me then seeing a handler and dog happily working together as a team. I want this to be fun for me but more importantly for my dog. I have instructed canine obedience classes for more then 8 years. When it comes to training I like to think my way through my dogs problems. I like to use a combination of positive reinforcement (a lot of verbal and food rewards) with small corrections when needed. My training technique is not correct first ask questions later. I like to start with the lure method, using food to show the dog where and what I want him to do. I find this is a great technique for puppies and even older dogs. I feel it is not fair to correct a dog when he is learning a command. I will only use a voice or slight leash correction when the dog knows the exercise or command and decides not to do it. It was worded perfectly at an obedience seminar I attended years ago as an Effort-Error and a Lack-of-Effort-Error. An Effort-Error is one that a dog makes while trying to do his best to do the obedience exercise or command correctly but makes an honest mistake. I never correct when a dog is trying his hardest but makes a mistake. I will correct for a Lack-of-Effort-Error. This is when I give the dog a command he understands and he decides not to do it. I think it is fair to correct him verbally and/or with a collar correction when this happens.

A week or so after the show I was at the dog club and there was a gal working her Golden in Utility, which is the highest level in canine obedience. I loved her dogs happy attitude in the ring and asked who she was. I was told her name was Julie Simmons and if I was serious about competing I needed to train with her. I asked to be introduced and the rest is history! Julie has her own training school, PrairieWyn Dog Obedience Training and not only did she become my mentor but more importantly my best friend. Jake excelled at obedience work. A beautiful heeling dog with his big suspended gait, fantastic attention, his eyes never leaving me, he was a dog judges noticed. Jake was a great "first" obedience competition dog and is the reason I've continued to compete. He made learning to be a good trainer a lot of fun. Jake is trained through Utility although he never competed at that level due to allergies and the medication he had to take at the time but to this day you can bring put out the Utility articles and he will nail them every time. He has a phenomenal nose and memory. His average score in Open A obedience was 197 and one of our highlights was winning our Novice A obedience class at the 1996 German Shepherd National. He also was ranked (German Shepherd Quarterly) the #11 German Shepherd in the country competing in Novice A & B obedience for 1997. Jake has been retired for many years now but he still enjoys working and with the invention of Rally Obedience I plan on bringing him back out to enjoy himself in that venue.

Cain qualified for his second and third leg in Novice B with the scores 198 and a 199 not only finishing his CD but earning back to back High in Trials. Cain showed nine times in Novice B earning 4 High in Trials and the ranking of #1 Belgian Malinois with High in Trials in obedience for 2000. Cain and I have had a fabulous obedience career. He truly shines in the ring and is happy "showing" off for all those who are watching. He also excelled in the Open and Utility classes. Achieving his CDX (Companion Dog Excellent), UD (Utility Dog), and UDX (Utility Dog Excellent) easily. His last time out competing in "regular" obedience classes was the fall of 2003 where he went High in Trial from the Open B class with a score of 199.5. Cain has just started to compete in Rally obedience. He earned his first qualifying run with a score of 99 out of 100. He really had a good time being back in the ring. Rally should prove to be a lot of fun for both of us.

Types of Obedience Trials

  • All-breed Obedience Trials, the most common types of trials, offer competitions for more than 150 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC, AKC Breeds.
  • Specialty Trials are restricted to dogs of a specific breed or to varieties of one breed. For example, the Flat-Coated Retriever Club of America Specialty is for Flat-Coated Retrievers only. But the Poodle Club of America's Specialty Obedience Trial could include the three varieties of the Poodle: Standard, Miniature and Toy

Obedience Trials test a dog's ability to perform a prescribed set of exercises on which it is scored. In each exercise, you must score more than 50 percent of the possible points and get a total score of at least 170 out of a possible 200. Each time your dog gets at least a 170 qualifying score, he's earned a "leg" toward his title. Earn three legs and your dog has just earned an obedience title! There are 3 levels at which your dog can earn a title and each is more difficult than the one before it. The classes are divided into "A" and "B" at an obedience trial; "A" classes are for beginners whose dogs have never received a title and "B" classes are for more experienced handlers.

Obedience trials are a sport, and all participants should be guided by the principles of good sportsmanship both in and out of the ring. Obedience trials demonstrate the dogs ability to follow specified routines in the obedience ring and emphasize the usefulness of the purebred dog as a companion to man. All contestants in a class are required to perform the same exercises in substantially the same way so that the relative quality of the various performances may be compared and scored. The basic objective of obedience trials, however, is to recognize dogs that have been trained to behave in the home, in public places and in the presence of other dogs in a manner that will reflect credit on the sport of obedience at all times and under all conditions. The performance of dog and handler in the ring must be accurate and correct according to the Obedience Regulations. It is also essential that the dog demonstrate willingness and enjoyment while it is working and that a smooth and natural handler be given precedence over a handler moving with military precision and using harsh commands.

How an Obedience Trial Works

An obedience club wishing to hold an obedience trial must first meet all AKC requirements, AKC Rules, before applying for permission from the AKC. The next step is for the obedience club to appoint an obedience trial committee that will have sole jurisdiction over the dogs, handlers and owners entered in the trial.

An obedience club wishing to hold an obedience trial must first meet all AKC requirements before applying for permission from the AKC. The next step is for the obedience club to appoint an obedience trial committee that will have sole jurisdiction over the dogs, handlers and owners entered in the trial.

After the entries have closed, a program showing the schedule for the judging of each class will be mailed to the owner of each entered dog.

An area, designated as a "ring," will be provided for each class offered. The club holding the trial is responsible for providing equipment that meets the requirements of the AKC Obedience Regulations

Levels of Obedience Competition

There are three levels of competition in obedience:

  • NOVICE - For the dog just getting started in obedience. Exercises include:
    • Heel on Leash and Figure Eight - show whether the dog has learned to watch its handler and adjust its pace to stay with the handler.
    • Heel Free - done off leash.
    • Stand for Examination - is of great benefit when the dog needs hands-on care by a veterinarian.
    • Recall - provides the handler with the ability to call the dog and get an immediate response at all times.
    • Long Sit (1 minute) - allows the handler to have control of the dog when visitors come to the home.
    • Long Down (3 minutes) - dog must remain in a down position.
  • OPEN - The second level includes more complicated exercises, which teach the dog to do a variety of tasks and to follow commands either by voice or signal. Exercises include:
    • Heel Free and Figure Eight - Same as Novice, but off leash.
    • Drop on Recall - can be a lifesaving command for a dog, since it gives the handler control in potentially dangerous situations.
    • Retrieve on Flat
    • Retrieve Over High Jump
    • Broad Jump
    • Long Sit (3 minutes) - similar to the long sit in Novice, but the position must be held for a longer period of time with the handler out of the dog's sight.
    • Long Down (5 minutes) - dog must remain in a down position.
  • UTILITY - The third and highest level of obedience competition. Exercises include:
    • Signal Exercise - shows the dog's ability to under-stand and correctly respond to the handler's signal to stand, stay, down, sit and come. No voice commands are given; only hand signals are allowed.
    • Scent Discrimination - shows the dog's ability to find the handler's scent among a pile of articles.
    • Directed Retrieve - proves the dog's ability to follow a directional signal to retrieve a glove and promptly return it to the handler.
    • Moving Stand and Examination - the dog must heel, stand and stay as the handler moves away. The dog must stay and accept an examination by the judge and return to the handler on command.
    • Directed Jumping - the dog must go away from the handler, turn and sit. Then, the dog must clear whichever jump its handler indicates and promptly return to the handler.

Obedience Titles

AKC titles can only be earned at an AKC-licensed or member club trial. The Novice (CD) title must be completed before an exhibitor can enter the Open class. The Open title (CDX) must be earned before an exhibitor can enter the Utility class.

  • Companion Dog (CD) - The letters CD may be added after a dog's registered name when it has been certified by three different judges as receiving qualifying scores in Novice classes at three licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) - The letters CDX may be added after a dog's registered name after it has been certified by three different judges as receiving qualifying scores in Open classes at three licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Utility Dog (UD) - The letters UD may be added after a dog's registered name after it has been certified by three different judges as receiving qualifying scores in Utility classes at three licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) - Dogs with UD titles must earn qualifying scores in both Open B and Utility B at 10 trials in order to add the UDX title after their registered names.
  • Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH) - Dogs with UD titles must win 100 points and a first-place in Utility B and Open B, plus a third first-place win in either class, under three different judges.
  • National Obedience Champion (NOC) - The AKC awards this prestigious title annually to the dog that wins the AKC National Obedience Invitational. The letters NOC are placed before the dog's AKC-registered name and become part of the dog's permanent title.

Rally Obedience

Rally is a sport in which the dog and handler complete a course that has been designed by the rally judge. The judge tells the handler to begin, and the dog and handler proceed at their own pace through a course of designated stations (10 - 20, depending on the level). Each of these stations has a sign providing instructions regarding the next skill that is to be performed. Scoring is not as rigorous as traditional obedience.  AKC rally has 45 potential exercises, each marked by a sign. Level I classes are done with the dog on leash and include 12-15 exercises. Level II classes are done off-leash and involve 12-18 exercises, including at least one jump. The judge says nothing during the performance, which lasts from the time the dog and handler cross the starting line until they cross the finish line.

The team of dog and handler moves continuously at a brisk, but normal, pace with the dog under control within a 2-foot area at the handler's left side. There should be a sense of teamwork between the dog and handler both during the numbered exercises and between the exercise signs; however, perfect "heel position" is not required. After the judge's "Forward" order, the team is on its own to complete the entire sequence of numbered signs correctly.  Rally exercises include left and right turns, U-turns, circles, about turns, figure eights, finishes, recalls, and a stand for exam.

Unlimited communication from the handler to the dog is to be encouraged and not penalized. Unless otherwise specified in these Regulations, handlers are permitted to talk, praise, encourage, clap their hands, pat their legs, or use any verbal means of encouragement. Multiple commands and/or signals using one or both arms and hands are allowed; the handler's arms need not be maintained in any particular position at any time. The handler may not touch the dog or make physical corrections. At any time during the performance, loud or harsh commands or intimidating signals will be penalized.

A few exercises:

  • 270-degree right turn: While heeling, the team makes a 270-degree turn (three-quarters of a circle) that starts to the handler's right and finishes with the team headed to the left of the original direction. Another version of this exercise has the team starting the circle to the left and finishing by heading right of the original direction.
  • Call Dog Front - Finish Right - Forward: While heeling, call the dog to the front position, taking several steps backward as the dog turns and fronts. Then the handler moves forward while the dog goes around behind the handler and into heel position (around finish - no sit).
  • Halt - About Turn Right & Forward: Halt, pivot 180º to the right in place and heel forward (no sit after turn).
  • Halt - 180º Pivot Left - Halt: Halt, pivot 180º to the left, then halt (U turn in place).
  • Slow, fast, and normal paces: three separate exercises as performed in novice obedience classes.
  • Moving Side Step Right: While heeling, take one step to the right and continue heeling forward.
  • Stand for exam: a two-part exercise that requires the dog to stand-stay by one sign while the handler proceeds to a second sign. The handler then returns to the dog and the team heels forward.
  • Send over jumps: With the dog at the side, the handler runs along a line six feet to the right of the jump and sends the dog over the jump. When the dog completes the jump, the handler calls it back to heel position and the team continues to the next exercise.

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