What is obedience?
Most new pet parents will take their puppy or older dog to some kind of obedience training, whether that's puppy preschool, a professional trainer or an obedience club. Competition obedience takes the skills learned in those lessons to a whole new level and puts dogs to the test to find out how good a companion they are, in exercises based on real life scenarios, without rewards.
Dogs are tested on how well they respond to commands and how precise they are while they do them. Each exercise tests a different skill which get harder as they move up through the levels. They go from being relatively simple tasks - some heelwork, changes of position (sits, drops and stands), and recalls - all the way up to dogs having to do super complex exercises like a seekback (finding an article that the handler has dropped), scent discrimination, retrieves over jumps and very long stays without their owner in sight.
Obedience is something that all dogs should train in whether they are much loved pets, high-end performance dogs or anything in between.
What equipment do I need?
Obedience is one of the few sports where there is very little equipment needed to train the exercises at home. There are training aids that can help you teach certain behaviours but to enter the ring in the first level, Community Companion Dog (CCD) you will only need a flat collar, lead and an exhibitor number holder to put on your arm.
The majority of the training aids and equipment you might want to purchase as you move up through the levels can be easily bought and are relatively inexpensive. There are lots of DIY equipment tutorials to be found online and often, equipment can be bought second hand through clubs and dedicated Facebook groups.
How much training is needed?
Obedience is one of the harder dog sports to compete in. It requires a seriously high level of training for the dog to have the reward history it needs to go into the ring without any physical rewards (food or a tug toy) and perform perfectly. Handlers are restricted in what they are allowed to say to the dog and do with their body during the exercises. If a handler has to repeat a cue, encourage the dog along, or tries to give the dog some help with their body (moving themselves into the correct position if the dog is out of place for example), they will lose points. If they lose enough points, or have to give the cue several times, they can be disqualified.
That being said, obedience judges make allowances for new dogs and handlers during the first few levels, and only expect a completely polished performance from the dogs in the highest levels. For information about the exercises, see the breakdown below.
At Pawformance, we believe that obedience is the foundation for all dog sports. Because of it’s low impact on growing joints and it’s benefits for other sports, basic obedience is the first thing we teach our dogs, starting our puppies from the day they come home with simple attention exercises and cues like “sit” and “down”. Obedience promotes a working relationship between you and your dog and many of the basic obedience exercises provide a solid base for trainers to build on, once puppies are old enough to begin more high impact sports like agility and flyball.
Dogs NSW and other ANKC State Body affiliated clubs hold obedience competitions, or “trials” throughout the year, open to all dogs over the age of 6 months who are registered with the ANKC (Main, Limited, Working, Sporting and Associate registered dogs are all eligible to compete). The exercises in these trials are all designed to “demonstrate the usefullness of the dog as the companion and guardian of man” so involve things that would make the companion dog more useful and easier to live with in every day life. The number and difficulty of the exercises increases as the dog progresses through the levels, with dogs earning titles which are permantly recorded on their registered name once they have completed the different classes, culminating in Obedience Championship and Obedience Grand Championship titles. The different Formal Obedience classes are:
CCD – Community Companion Dog.
This class is relatively new in the obedience world, and is not compulsary, with some dogs skipping this level to move straight into CD (novice). CCD includes:
- A heeling pattern performed with the dog on a lead with turns, changes of speeds, a figure 8 around two people and sits, drops and stands,
- A stand for exam on lead, where the handler walks away and the dog must stay standing and not move while the judge runs their hands over it’s back,
- A formal recall where the handler leaves the dog and walks to the other end of the ring. On the judge’s command, the handler calls the dog to them - the dog must run in and sit in front of the handler,
- A one minute sit stay, where the handlers leave their dogs off lead and walk to the other side of the ring,
- A two minute down (drop) stay, same as the sit stay but with the dog in a drop.
To earn the CCD title you and your dog must recieve 3 qualifying scores of at least 85 points (marked out of 100) at CCD level under at least 2 different judges.
CD – Companion Dog.
Originally the lowest level of obedience trialling, CD or “Novice” as it’s usually known differs from CCD largely because all exercises are completed off lead. CD exercises include:
- A longer heeling pattern,
- A stand for exam,
- A formal recall,
- Either a change of position where the handler leaves the dog in stand and once they’re roughly 3m away, commands the dog to drop
- OR a formal retrieve, where the handler throws a dumbell and once it has landed and settled, instructs the dog to fetch the dumbell and bring it back, sitting in front of the handler before the judge instructs the handler to take the dumbbell from the dog.
- A one minute sit stay
- A three minute down stay
The CD title requires 3 qualifying scores of at least 170 points (marked out of 200) at CD level under at least 2 different judges. Also known as “novice” as prior to the introduction of CCD, this was the lowest level of competition. Dogs must gain this title to continue on to CDX level.
CDX – Companion Dog Excellent.
CDX, or open as it is usually known is the first level of obedience dogs can trial at after they have gained the title. While it is a pre-requisite for dogs to continue onto UD, dogs can continue to trial in open for as long as they like. Open trialling requires the dog to be able to retrieve and jump. CDX exercises include:
- A heeling pattern,
- Stand for exam,
- A formal drop on recall where the handler calls the dog and asks it to drop while it’s running towards them before calling them again,
- A formal retrieve over a solid jump so the dog can’t see where the dumbbell has gone and
- Either a broad jump exercise
- OR a distance control exercise. Dogs that get through those exercises then must complete a 3 minute sit stay and a 5 minute down stay while the handlers go out of the sight of the dog.
The CDX title requires 3 qualifying scores of at least 170 (marked out of 200) at CDX level under at least 2 different judges.
UD – Utility Dog.
UD or “Utility” as it’s more commonly known requires dogs to demonstrate a much wider variety of exercises than the classes before it. UD requires:
- A seekback exercise where an article is scented and dropped by the steward during a heeling exercise, before the handler sends the dog back to find it,
- Directed jumping (which is done twice) where the dog has to run to a PVC pipe “box” at the end of the ring and then take one of the two jumps as directed by the handler,
- Scent Discrimination where the dog must find a scented article (metal, leather and wood) from amongst a group of unscented but similar looking articles,
- A signals only heeling exercise where the handler cannot give verbal cues for sit, drop and stand positions,
- Either a speak on command exercise
- OR a food refusal exercise
- OR a directed retrieve exercise,
- A group stand for exam exercise where the dogs must stay in a stand position with their handlers on the other side of the ring, while all the dogs in the class are examined and a seven minute out of sight down stay.
The UD title requires 3 qualifying scores of at least 170 points (marked out of 200) at UD level under at least 2 different judges. Dogs must gain this title to continue onto UDX level. Dogs may continue to compete in UD after they have gained their UD title in order to qualify for the O.Ch title.
UDX – Utility Dog Excellent.
UDX is the quintessential class, testing dogs in all facets of obedience. The class is very, very difficult and slight mistakes can cause a dog to instantly not qualify. UDX Requires:
- A seekback exercise with not only the scented article but also a decoy article
- Positions in motion, where the handler cues the dog to take up a position while continuing to walk. The dog must perform a sit, drop and stand promptly on the first command and stay there while the handler keeps moving. Commands need to be a single command, either a verbal or visual cue.
- A scent discrimination exercise with cloth articles scented by the judge – the dog is then given another article scented by the judge to become familiar with the scent before it is sent to find cloth article with the judge’s scent on it from amongst 8 visually identical articles.
- A directed sendaway where the dog must run to a PVC square on the ground, turn and sit. The judge tells the handler “forward” and as they are on the move, tells the handler to call the dog back to heel. The handler calls the dog back to heel while moving the dog must run back into heel, and continue heeling with the handler.
- A change of position exercise with 6 changes of position.
- A multiple directed retrieve (directed gloves) – 3 articles are placed away from the handler and the judge will tell the handler either 1, 2 or 3. The handler must about turn and direct the dog to retrieve the article indicated by the judge. Once it has retrieved the first article, the judge will tell the handler the next article to send the dog to retrieve.
- Group stand for exam. In a group, the handlers will cue their dogs to stand, and then leave their dogs to a distance of about 10 metres. While the handlers keep their backs to their dogs and without looking over their shoulders, the judge will walk down the line, examining each dog in turn. Once they have examined all of the dogs, they will cue the handlers to return to them.
The UDX title requires 3 qualifying scores of at least 170 points (marked out of 200) at UDX level under at least 2 different judges. Dogs may continue to compete in UDX after they have gained their UDX title in order to qualify for the Gr.O Ch title.
While UDX is the highest class the dogs can compete in, it is not the highest title they can achieve. Both the Obedience Champion (O.Ch on the front of the dog’s registered name) and Grand Obedience Champion (Gr. O. Ch) exist to allow the dogs a chance to continue in their obedience trialling careers.
O.Ch – Obedience Champion. This title can be obtained via one of two different methods. After achieving it’s UD title, the dog must gain a further 5 qualifying scores of 185 points or higher in UD level under at least 3 different judges OR after achieveing it’s UDX title the dog must gain an additional 2 qualifying scores of 185 points or highter in UDX level under 2 different judges. Note: Qualifying scores for O. Ch via the UDX class can only be achieved after the 1st January 2011.
Gr. O Ch – Grand Obedience Champion. Requires the dog to have gained both it’s UDX and O.Ch titles – following that, the dog must gain a further 5 qualifying scores of 185 points or higher in UDX level under at least 3 different judges. Note: Qualifying scores for Gr. O Ch can only be achieved after the 1st January 2011.
Note: Only the highest obedience title awarded to the dog will be used after the name of the dog. For example, if the dog gains both its CCD and CD titles, only CD will appear at the end of their registered name. Except in the case of CDX, UD and UDX levels, no dog who has received qualifying scores in a higher level shall be eligible to compete in a lower class unless their title application has been rejected on a technicality (eg, all qualifying scores were under the same judge etc).