Competitive obedience is exactly what you would imagine - obedient and well-trained dogs having their abilities tested.
The first step to having an obedient dog is to take it to training, and there is no better place to start than at a Kennel Club registered dog training club or listed status club.
What is obedience?
Competitive obedience publicly showcases the training you and your dog have achieved through a set of obedience tests. General training classes will teach you the basics and then if you decide you want to progress in this discipline your dog could even end up doing such advanced exercises as scent discrimination.
There are seven levels of obedience classes at shows and dogs start in the basic introductory class. By gaining a series of 1st prizes, dogs qualify through to class C, the highest and most difficult. Exercises range from heelwork (on and off the lead), control exercises such as one-minute sit and two-minute down stays, to a scent discrimination exercise. There are numerous obedience shows held in the UK.
What do I need to know to take part?
- Your dog must be registered on The Kennel Club's Breed Register or Activity Register
- Competitors taking part in any Kennel Club licensed event must familiarise themselves with The Kennel Club's rules and regulations beforehand
- You can purchase the Obedience Regulations booklet from our online shop, or you can download the pdf version
- Dogs can start competing at 6 months of age
- No previous experience is necessary - get started with Find a Club
When can I start training my dog?
Preparing your dog to compete successfully will take a little longer than the formal requirements. It is essential that your dog is fully socialised and that you have effective control at all times, especially as your dog will be competing off lead. Taking guidance from a specialist at a training club is the best way to identify when your dog is ready to start training.
How can I find a training club?
Plenty of regular practice is essential preparation for obedience competitions. There are a number of training clubs across the country, many of which can be located via Find a Club.
My dog is docked. Can I still compete?
The term 'docked' includes dogs which have their tails shortened for medical reasons after the relevant dates - these count as having been docked and therefore such dogs are not allowed to be shown/compete at events where the public are admitted on payment of a fee. Please see the Defra website for further information.
What types of obedience shows are there?
Obedience clubs can hold a range of different shows depending on what licence they hold. The options are championship, premier, open, limited and matches. You will need to check with each show as to what status they are.
What obedience classes are there?
This class is to introduce and support newcomers to obedience competition. In this class, only incentives in the form of a toy or rewards are allowed to be carried by the handler in the competition ring and may be given to the dog at the end of an exercise or in between exercises. Rewards including food must be carried in a small, closed container during the exercises. The judge will designate an area in the competitive ring where food may be given to the dog by the handler. To compete in the introductory class a handler or dog must not have won one introductory class or have achieved a 4th place or above in pre-beginners or in any other class.
To compete in pre-beginners, a handler or dog must not have won a 1st place in either pre-beginners or beginners nor gained a 3rd place or above in any other obedience class (introductory class excepted).
To compete in beginners, a handler or dog must not have won a total of two or more 1st places in beginners class or one 1st place in any other obedience class (introductory class and pre-beginners excepted).
This is the class where more experienced handlers will start with a young dog. The dog must not have won two 1st places in obedience classes (introductory class, pre-beginners and beginners excepted).
Class A is for dogs which have not won three 1st prizes in classes A, B and open class C in total.
Class B is for dogs that have not won three 1st prizes in class B and open class C in total.
- Championship class C at championship shows - dogs must have won out of novice, class A and class B and have won open class C on one occasion and have been placed not lower than 3rd on three further occasions; all open class C places and wins must have been won under different judges at Kennel Club licensed shows
- Class C for open shows, premier shows and open C classes held at championship shows - open to all dogs
- Limited shows - open to all dogs except Obedience Certificate winners and dogs which have obtained any award that counts towards the title of Obedience Champion, or the equivalent thereof, under the rules of any governing body recognised by The Kennel Club
Open to all dogs and handlers. Awards to be given to dogs competing in three award categories:
- Pre-beginners and beginners
- Novice and class A
- Class B and class C
What types of obedience tests are there?
Obedience competitors work at different levels/classes depending on their own and their dog's experience and previous success. Although each class increases in difficulty, the types of the exercises remain similar for the different levels.
The different exercises which each dog and handler team are expected to do are listed below:
Each judge will design a pattern of heelwork (it looks rather like a rail map) that each dog and handler in the class will complete. The complexity and content is dependent upon the class being judged. It is quite simple and straightforward for the beginner and novice classes, straight lines with right left and right about turns. Class B introduces changes of pace, slow and fast. Class C heelwork can involve circles, weaves and multiple turning manoeuvres.
In beginner and novice, this is a recall to sit in front of the handler. The dog must wait while the handler walks away, turns and calls the dog to sit neatly in front and then go to heel. In class A it is a recall to heel. The handler walks away and then calls the dog while continuing to walk forwards. The dog must catch up and walk to heel with the handler as in heelwork until told to stop.
In all classes the dog sits at the handler's side while an article is thrown. It is then sent to retrieve it, return smartly to sit in front, give up the article and then go to heel. Beginner dogs can retrieve whatever their handler provides, in novice and class A it is a dumbbell, in class B and C the judge will provide a similar article for each dog. The stipulations are that no item can be food; it must be clearly visible and capable of being picked up by each dog.
The dog is sent to a designated place within the ring, it must drop to the down, smartly, on command from the handler. The dog must then wait until called to heel. The sendaway area is usually set out by markers and the judge will stipulate where the dog must land within this section. During its career a dog will be expected to cope with a variety of sendaway areas. This test is quite difficult to teach well as it requires the dog to understand but not anticipate the various needs of the test.
All classes have a 'sit stay' and 'down stay' and all the dogs in the class do these two exercises together as a group. The dog is expected to remain in the designated position while the handler walks away, out of sight in the higher classes, for a designated time. It may only move when allowed to do so, when the handler returns to the dog's side. For the pre-beginners class and beginners classes, the 'sit stay' lasts for one minute and the handler remains in sight. The 'sit stay' increases in difficulty to two minutes in class A and then in class B and C, the handler is out of sight. For the beginner class, the 'down stay' lasts two minutes with the handler in sight and builds up to five minutes with the handler out of sight for class C.
Dogs naturally have a far superior sense of smell to humans. The scent discrimination test is first introduced in class A where the dog must find a cloth with the handler's scent on it from a line of five other blank (non-scented) cloths. In class B up to 10 cloths can be set out in any pattern but this time one has a decoy scent on it. In class C the dog must locate the cloth with the judge's scent on it. Multiple decoy cloths may be used at this level.
Distant control is only found in class C. The dog is left in a sit, stand or down position while the handler walks away to a distance of between 10 and 20 paces. The dog is then given a combination of six positions including sit, stand and down. The dog must not move more than its body length, in any direction, during this exercise.
Next steps - attending your first obedience show
Once you have decided that you would like to give obedience a go, the first step will be to enter an obedience show.