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Competitive Obedience appears to have evolved from Working Trials, the obedience only shows appeared in the UK around 1950 and has had some addicted ever since. German Shepherd Dogs dominated the first competitions but it wasn't too long before the versatile Border Collie came on the scene and almost stole the show.

Black German Shepherd at an obedience show
A black German Shepherd at an obedience show
Full size picture (37KB JPG)

It's a sport

All of us like to think we have an obedient pet but the sport of obedience is something more than that. It has been likened to dressage in horses. It becomes an addiction for those of us who adore nothing more than showing off just how good our dogs can work at the sport. Make no mistake though it is hard work and takes a lot of time, patience and dedication to compete and the competition is fierce but good-humoured. We all strive for the top spot but not everyone will make it, the important thing to remember is that you and your dog do everything together and doing well in competition is a bonus not a necessity. All our dogs are much loved family pets first and last.

A lot of people who start competing have caught the bug after attending a dog training class with their new dog to teach it to be a well-behaved family dog. We see those who compete with their already trained dogs and wonder: "Could we do that?"
After deciding that "yes we can", it is down to work and trying to learn everything really fast in order to get to that first show. It doesn't take long to realise that this is not the way to go, after all you wouldn't expect a child to pass a University degree after 3 weeks, would you?

Border Collie during heelwork
Enthusiasm and motivation are key elements in obedience training.
Full size picture (59KB JPG)
No matter how much you think you and your dog know there is always more to learn. It is at this point you begin to wonder if this sport is for you, if the answer is yes you are hooked. Come rain, hail and shine you are out there with your dog training. Sometimes on your own and sometimes in a group. It is no good only training your dog at your once a week class and expecting it to work. It is up to you to practice and praise in between classes to progress. It is a wonderful sport though and can be enjoyed by all. Many new friends are made when you do get to shows.
Once you think you and your dog are ready for a show you also have to get to grips with the rules of competition, which can be quite daunting, but find there is always someone around who can help and guide you your first time.

If you do decide that you do want to have a go then it is a good idea to check out the training clubs in your area. Go along without your dog and see what you think. Look at the type of training offered and decide if this suits you and your dog. Talk to the people running the club and the people attending if at all possible. The majority of clubs these days thankfully use pleasant play and reward training for dogs. This in my opinion is the best way to train yourself and your dog. Please do not try and force anything, as this will not do you or your dog any good in the long run.


In the UK there are four types of show.
Exemption Shows - these are run as fund raisers for Charity and generally have breed classes, novelty classes and sometimes a couple of Obedience Classes. They are great fun and ideal for your first outing. For these shows you enter on the day so don't have to worry too much beforehand. Anyone can have a go and your dog does not need to be registered with the Kennel Club.
For Limit, Open and Championship Shows the dogs must be registered with the UK Kennel Club. The entries are made normally over 6 weeks before the show.


Pre Beginners
For handlers and dogs who have not won a First Prize in Pre Beg nor been placed third or above in any other obedience class.
The exercises are Heel On Lead, Heel Free, Recall, Sit stay (1 minute in sight) and Down Stay (2 minutes in sight)
A handler or dog must not have won two or more First prizes in Beginners or one First prize in any other obedience class (except Pre Beginners)
The exercises are as Pre Beginners with the addition of a Retrieve (handlers own article).
Once you have won out of these classes you may not ever enter them again. If you get a new dog you must start them in Novice.
Two dumb-bells as they are used in obedience.
For Dogs who have not won 2 First prizes in Obedience classes (Pre Beginners & Beginners excepted)
The exercises are as Beginners other than the retrieve is with a dumb-bell.

In the above 3 classes the handler may encourage the dog with voice and extra commands will not be penalised, other than in stays where last command means just that. However, handling the dog, toys and treats are not acceptable for competition and will be penalised.

Class A
Now the exercises start to vary. Heel on Lead, Heel Free and Retrieve are as Novice. The recall is to the heel position while the handler is walking away from the dog. This is the first class you will encounter scent. Handlers scent on a cloth placed among 5 other cloths in a straight line, there are no decoys.
Sit Stay (2 minutes in sight) Down Stay (5 minutes out of sight).
In this class you are allowed simultaneous command and signal along with the dogs name. Extra commands and signals will be penalised.
Class B
For Dogs which have not won 3 First Prizes in Class B and Open Class C in total.
Exercises are Heel Free, which includes normal, slow and fast pace. All changes of pace will be from the halt position. Sendaway, Drop and Recall, Retrieve an article provided by the judge. Scent is again handlers scent but this time there will be one decoy cloth. Total number of cloths must be a minimum of 6 up a maximum of 10 and they can be in any pattern.
Stand Stay (1 minute in sight) Sit Stay (2 minutes out of sight) Down Stay (5 minutes out of sight)
In this class you are allowed either word or signal as a command along with the dog's name, except on Sendaway when simultaneous command and signal is permitted when you send your dog. All extra commands and signals will be penalised.
It is worth remembering that it is in B that you would come across left about turns at normal and slow pace for the first time.
Chippy during the Down Stay
Down position during heelwork.
Full size picture of Chippy(79KB JPG)
Class C
Open to all dogs at Open and Championship shows. At Limited shows dogs who have won an Obedience Certificate may not compete.
The exercises are Heel Free at normal, slow and fast pace. While doing normal pace the dog will also be required to do positions i.e. Stand, Sit and Down in any order while the handler continues alone until directed to collect the dog back to heelwork. Sendaway, Drop and Recall and Retrieve as in Class B. Distance Control. Scent is judges scent with either one or two decoys in any pattern, again minimum of 6 maximum of 10 cloths in total.
Sit Stay (2 minutes out of sight) Down Stay (10 minutes out of sight)
Again extra commands and signals will be penalised as in Class B.
Championship Class C
Ch. C classes are only held at Championship shows. The exercises are as Class C.
To qualify to work in this class dogs must have won out of Novice, A and B. Have won one Open Class C and been placed not lower than third in class C on three occasions. All places and wins in Class C must be under different judges.
It is the winners of each Ch. C who can compete at Crufts. Unlike Breed dogs however Obedience Dogs must qualify each year by winning a ticket in that year. As you can see it is a long and hard road to the top. No matter what a dog does at Crufts, which is a very different place to work a dog, all the dogs working there are top dogs in their own right. Few make it and even fewer stay at the top.

Can Obedience be done with any breed of dog?

Yes of course. Some breeds as with some people will take longer to train. Although most people only see Border Collies working at Crufts they are not the only breed that can do it. Do not be fooled by these lovely creatures you see working so well and think they must be easy to train and win with, so I must have one. They are not as easy as they look and are not a breed to suit everybody. Unfortunately one aspect of their success is the increasing number ending up in dog rescue homes because owners didn't expect the very active dog they got and therefore had lots of problems with them.

Judge and steward keeping their eye on the handler and dog during heelwork.
Full size picture (47KB JPG)
Your dog and you should be a team and first of all this dog is your pet, not a robot that you can switch on and off. Carefully decide on a breed that will suit you and your family circumstances and then think about whether or not you want to do obedience with it. You may decide later on once the bug has bitten you that you want another breed but by then you will have learned much more about your own abilities. No dog can do it without the owners love and dedication, at then end of the day win or lose your dog friend still comes home happy with you.
You need to think even more than your dog if you are to get it right. Are you confusing your dog? Does he know what you want or just saying No? The list is very long of things you can get wrong as we all find out. The main thing to remember when things do not go to plan is to ask yourself what have I done wrong? Problems usually stem from the trainer not the dog, he is following the instructions you have taught so don't automatically blame him when he doesn't get it right.


Please consider your breeds build in your training. Do not expect every dog to sit in express time, especially if you have a large breed. Some are physically unable to do this. Not all dogs can walk with their heads facing upwards all the time without having neck and circulation problems. Even within a breed the build of dogs can be very different and this must be considered.
Remember that when your puppy is growing his muscles and bones are not stable yet and do not get annoyed when he can't hold any position for long. Beware of over training young dogs, not only will this lead to a miserable dog but could also cause medical problems with bones etc. Even with older dogs the level of training must suit the dog so you do not overdo it and the enthusiasm is lost, this will only depress you and you start on the downward slippery slope.
What you are looking for in the long term is a consistent happy dog.

As you can see with Obedience as with any other sport time, patience, thought and most important fun is required to get the best you can. We never stop learning and never think you know everything. The perfect dog or person is yet to be born.
We still enjoy the sport and there is not much nicer than to see a wonderful partnership enjoying their work together and getting it right on the day.

Author: Anne Westover, obedience judge

Copyright © 1998-2013 Jigal van Hemert & Danielle Boshouwers
This page last modified: Wednesday, 30-Jul-2008 16:40:23 CEST
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