An obedience trial
is a dog sport
in which a dog
must perfectly execute a predefined set of tasks when directed to do so by his handler. Obedience competition provides an opportunity for a person and a dog to work as a highly tuned team.
In competition, merely sitting, lying down, or walking on a leash are insufficient. The dog and handler must perform the activities off leash and in a highly stylized and carefully defined manner. For example, on a recall, the dog must come directly to the handler, without sniffing or veering to one side, and sit straight in front of the handler, not at an angle or off to one side or the other.
Contrary to what one might expect, an obedience dog might not have excellent companion obedience skills; the actions are so highly formalized for performance in the obedience ring that they do not automatically translate to a dog who walks pleasantly on a leash, comes when called in the back yard, or keeps his nose off the dinner table.
Competition obedience exercises
A handler can choose her own commands, but the actions that the dog must perform are well defined. As a dog progresses from novice to advanced competition, the requirements become more challenging and the list of actions that he must perform becomes longer.
Exercises in American Kennel Club
(AKC) obedience competitions are offered at three levels: Novice, Open (intermediate), and Utility (advanced); a dog must complete the requirements at each level before moving on the next. AKC exercises are: Recall (Come)
- The handler leaves the dog in a sitting position at one side of the ring, walks to the opposite side, and turns to face the dog. On the judge's command, the handler calls or signals the dog to come. The dog must come directly to the handler at a brisk trot or gallop, and sit squarely in front, close enough that the handler can touch the dog's head without bending or stretching, but not between the handler's feet. On the judge's order, the handler commands or signals the dog to "finish". The dog must go briskly to heel position and sit squarely at heel. Drop on Recall (Open class)
- The handler leaves the dog as in the Recall exercise. On the judge's command, the handler calls or signals the dog to come. The dog must come directly to the handler at a brisk trot or gallop. While the dog is coming in, the judge signals, and the handler commands or signals the dog to drop (lie down). The dog must immediately assume a completely down position. The dog must hold the position until commanded or signaled to come, then complete the exercise as in the Recall. Heel
- Following commands of the judge, the dog and handler team walks a predetermined pattern that must include at least one left, one right, and one about turn, as well as a fast and a slow section, and at least one halt. During this entire exercise, the dog must maintain heel position, and sit quickly at heel whenever the handler stops. This exercise is performed twice in Novice class (once on lead and once off-lead), once in Open class, and once in the Utility class, as part of the Signal exercise.Stand For Exam (Novice and Utility )
- Following the command of the judge, the handler will stand their dog and leave from heel position. The handler will go a distance of at least 6 feet and the judge will perform a cursory exam, touching the head, shoulders and hips, and when completed the judge will instruct the handler to return. The handler will return to the dog, going around behind them and return to heel position. A modified SFE is performed in Utility, known as the moving stand - the dog is heeled and straight from heeling the dog is told to stand without sitting first. The handler will then leave the dog and the judge will perform a more thorough exam of the dog (similar to that of the conformation ring), and at the completion of the exam the dog is instructed to return directly to heel position WITHOUT coming to front. Sit
- Sit is not an obedience exercise, but is a part of almost all of the other exercises. The dog must sit without any command (called an automatic sit) whenever the handler stops, and at the end of most of the exercises. Long Sit and Long Down (Novice and Open Classes)
- These exercises are performed by groups of dogs in the ring at the same time. For the Novice Long Sit, the handlers command and/or signal their dogs to sit, then to stay. The handlers walk across the ring and stand facing their dogs. The dog must maintain the sit position without moving from its position, barking, or whining. After one minute, the judge orders the handlers to return, and they return to heel position by walking around their dogs. For the Novice Long Down, the handlers command and/or signal their dogs to down, and the dogs must assume the down position without assistance. The handlers command and/or signal their dogs to stay, and proceed as in the Long Sit, except that the judge waits three minutes before ordering them to return.
- The Open Long Sit and Long Down are done in the same manner, except that the handlers leave the ring in a single file and go completely out of the dogs' sight. They remain out of sight for three minutes for the Sit and five minutes for the Down. Retrieve on the Flat (Open class)
- The handler stands with the dog sitting in heel position facing the open ring. On order from the judge, the handler commands and/or signals the dog to stay, then throws an approved dumbbell at least 20 feet. On the judge's order, the handler commands the dog to fetch. The dog must go straight to the dumbbell at a brisk trot or gallop, retrieve it, return directly to the handler, and sit in front as in the Novice Recall. The dog must not mouth or play with the dumbbell. Upon order from the judge, the handler gives the release command and takes the dumbbell. The judge then orders the handler to have the dog finish as in the Novice Recall. Retrieve Over High Jump (Open class)
- This exercise is the same as the Retrieve on the flat, except that the handler starts by standing in front of a solid jump that is as high as the dog's shoulder height. The handler throws the dumbbell over the jump. The dog must jump over the jump, retrieve the dumbbell, and return by jumping over the jump again. The remainder of the exercise is the same as the Retrieve on the Flat.Directed Retrieve (Utility class)
- Three gloves are placed across one side of the ring while the dog and handler face the other direction. Upon the judge's order, the dog and handler pivot together to face the correct glove. The dog is sent to retrieve it with a verbal command and hand signal and must retrieve ONLY the correct glove as in the retrieve on flat. Scent discrimination (Utility class)
- The handler presents the judge with an approved set of 5 numbered metal and 5 numbered leather articles. The judge selects one of each, placing them where the handler can reach them, and arranges the rest on the floor or ground approximately 20 feet from the handler, being certain to touch each article. At this point, the dog and handler turn so they are facing away from the articles, and the handler uses his hands to scent one of the selected articles. The judge takes the scented article without touching it, and places it with the other articles. On the judge's command the handler turns and sends the dog. The dog must go directly to the articles at a brisk trot or gallop, select the article that was scented by the handler, and retrieve it as in the Open Retrieve on the Flat. The exercise is then repeated using the other selected article.
- For example, in the scent article exercise, the dog searches for a dumbbell that has been scented by the handler and placed within a pile of identical metal and leather dumbbells by an assistant. The dog must find the correct article based only on its unique scent and retrieve it.
Obedience Titles are awarded through several organizations. In the United States
, a purebred dog recognized by the AKC can compete under AKC rules; dogs not recognized by the AKC can earn titles in the United Kennel Club
(UKC), Mixed Breed Dog Club of America
(MBDCA), American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry
(AMBOR), or Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA). When a dog earns a title, an abbreviation is permanently affixed as either a prefix or suffix to the dog's registered name.
The titles given by various organizations do vary, but most are similar to "CD" (Companion Dog), "CDX" (Companion Dog Excellent), "UD" (Utility Dog), "UDX" (Utility Dog Excellent), and "OTCh" (Obedience Trial Champion).
The following explanation applies to AKC competition, but also generally applies to other organizations as well.
Companion Dog title from Novice class
The first obedience title is a CD, or "Companion Dog", which is earned through competition in the Novice obedience class. Handlers who have never earned an obedience title or have never owned a dog with a CD title compete in the Novice A division. Handlers who have earned a CD title in the past, or who do not own the dog with whom they are competing participate in the Novice B division.
Novice Class involves 6 exercises: Heeling on leash and a Figure 8, Stand for Exam, Heel Free (off leash), Recall and Group Exercises: a 1 minute sit stay and a 3 minute down stay with handlers across the ring. Competitors must qualify (170 out of 200 points) 3 times under 3 different judges in order to earn the CD title.
Companion Dog Excellent title from Open class
The second obedience title is a CDX, or "Companion Dog Excellent", which is earned through competition in the Open obedience class. Competitors are eligible for the Open class after the dog has earned the CD title from the Novice class. The "Open A" division is for competitors who are not AKC judges and have not earned an OTCh title on any dog, and for dogs who have not yet earned the CDX title.. The "Open B" division is for competitors who have earned an OTCh title on any dog, are an AKC judge, and those dogs who already have earned their CDX title.
Open Class involves 7 exercises: Heel Free and a Figure 8 (off leash), a Drop on Recall, Retrieve on Flat, Retrieve over High Jump, Broad Jump, and Group Exercises: a 3 minute sit stay and a 5 minutes down stay with the handler out of sight of the dog. Competitors must qualify (170 out of 200 points) 3 times under 3 different judges in order to earn the CDX title. Dogs with a CDX title may compete in the Open B division indefinitely.
Utility Dog title from Utility class
The third obedience title is a UD, or "Utility Dog", which is earned through competition in the Utility obedience class. Competitors enter the Utility Classes after completing their CDX in the Open class. Teams may enter the "Utility A" division if the handler is not an obedience or breed judge, has never earned an OTCh title on any dog, and does not already have a UD title on the dog with whom they are competing. The "Utility B" division is for competitors who have earned an OTCh title on any dog, are an AKC judge, and those dogs who already have earned their UD title.
Utility Class involves 6 exercises:
1st Exercise is called the Signal Exercise. The handler must give a signal (non-verbal) to the dog "to heel" as the judge gives a heeling pattern. At the end of the heeling pattern, the handler will be asked to "stand your dog, leave". The handler walks across the ring and at the judge's signal, the handler gives a signal for the dog "to down", "to sit", and "to come"; followed with "finish".
2nd & 3rd Exercises are called Scent Discrimination. A dog must retrieve a scented (handler's) metal and leather article. These are two separate exercises. The dog must be able to distinguish between the handler's scent and that of a person who has placed 8 other articles in a cluster approximately 20 feet away.
4th Exercise is the Directed Retrieve. Three gloves are placed approximately 15-20 feet away from the handler and dog. The handler must turn and face the glove that the judge has indicated and send the dog to retrieve it.
5th Exercise is The Moving Stand. The dog must heel with the handler and then is stopped in standing position. The handler must continue moving (10 feet) and turn around to face the dog. The judge "examines" the dog and instructs the handler "call your dog to heel position".
6th Exercise is Directed Jumping. It is often referred to as "go outs". The dog and handler are centered at one end of the ring. The dog is sent out and required to turn and sit approximately 20 feet beyond the high jump and bar jump. The dog is given a signal and verbal command to jump a high jump and in the second half of the exercise the dog is sent out again and must execute the other jump. It is scored as one exercise.
Competitors must qualify (170 out of 200 points) 3 times under 3 different judges in order to earn the UD title. Dogs with a UD title may compete in the Utility B division indefinitely.
Utility Dog Excellent title
To earn the UDX, or "Utility Dog Excellent" title, a dog-and-handler team must qualify (earn 170 out of 200 points) in both the Open B and the Utility B class at a single trial - and they must do this a total of ten times.
Obedience Trial Champion (OTCh) title
The American Kennel Club
(AKC) awards an "Obedience Trial Championship" (OTCh) to the dog-and-handler team that defeats a large number of other teams in competition. The team must earn a total of 100 points, based on a rating scale distributed by the AKC. In addition, the team must win 3 first place awards - one in Open class, one in Utility class, and an additional first place win in either Open or Utility.