Dog Care 101 Tip #184 – Dog Sports: Obedience Trials

Sit. Stay. Down. If your dog learned these commands easily, then Obedience Trial competitions may be perfect for your pooch. Through trust and training, your dog can be the next great Obedience Champ! outlines the Dog Sport of intelligence and patience today on the Healthy Dog Blog.

What are Obedience Trials?
This dog sport asks dogs to complete a series of predetermined tasks from cues by a handler. However, according to the AKC the purpose behind Obedience Trials is to show dogs are not only purposeful to humans but can behave well in the home, in public and around other dogs.

Dogs and humans both need mental and physical stimulations, and Obedience Trials can give that. Intensive and thorough training is required for these trials and asks a dog to improve on and go beyond the standard “sit, stay, down, come” commands. The training process can be highly rewarding for handler and dog, providing a great hobby and closer bond for the human/dog team.

Obedience Trials have been around since the 1930s and are due to the credit of one woman, Helen Whitehouse Walker. Walker was the breeder of poodles who often had to fight the stereotype that poodles were only a pretty haircut. She wanted to prove the intelligence of these dogs, so she borrowed an idea from the English; competitive test used for Police, Army and Herding dogs.  After months of hard work, Walker held the first “test” in 1933 with 2 Labradors, 3 Poodles, 2 English Springer Spaniels and 1 German Shepherd. After the initial competition, interest in this sport gained momentum. She wrote this in the AKC’s newsletter:

Test classes could become popular-not only to prove the value of developing a dog’s brain, but also in interesting the average visiting public at a show.  The judging of dogs in the breed classes is a mystery to many, but a series of tests displaying the dog’s brain is something they can actually see.

Walker wrote the basic guide to Obedience Trials in 1935 and since the core values have remained the same though many of the regulations have changed. She encouraged dog owners to participate in this sport because of the strong bond it created between dog and owner. It’s still true to this day that most of the dogs entered into Obedience Trials are trained solely by their owner instead of a handler.  

How It Works

Three classes exist in Standard Obedience Trials: Novice (Beginner), Open (Intermediate) and Utility (Advanced). Each of these is subdivided as well, providing an “A” and “B” within each to qualify the abilities of the dog and handler. With each increasing class, the exercises become more complicated or involved, asking the dog and handler to perform more intricate commands. Utility class also asks the dogs for scent-based exercises.

Judging & Scoring
Depending on the classification of the team, a dog and handler has to be expected to perform a series of tasks. A dog has to demonstrate a basic ability to complete these exercises. A passing score is a 170 of 200, with at least 50% of the points given to each task. The teams with the four highest scores are awarded placement ribbons (blue, red, yellow and white). Each passing score is added to a dog’s portion of earning an obedience title.



Here are some of the basic exercises in Obedience Trials. These are listed in order from Novice class to Utility class exercises.

Heel: At the judge’s command, the team walks in a prearranged path with the dog remaining to the handler’s left side. A dog must show attentiveness and remain close to the handler. The dog must also sit immediately when the judge commands a halt. Each club has different requirements for this exercise, but usually this includes a left turn, right turn, about turn, fast and slow walk and a halt. Heeling can happen on of off leash.

Figure 8: This is the Heel exercise with the dog and handler completing a Figure 8 path with two helpers sometimes serving as “posts” to walk around.

Sit: Because this a common command, it can take various forms depending on the club administering the trial. Usually, the handler will command the dog to stay and then the judge will ask the handler to walk away. This can mean a full walk around the ring, walk to one side and return or even out of sign. Sometimes sit exercises can last 1 to 3 minutes. No matter what, the dog must remain sitting.

Stand for Exam: This is an exercise in which the judge commands the handler to let the dog stand and then leave Heel position. The handler will walk 6 feet away and the judge steps in for a short exam, which includes touching the head, shoulders and hips. The judge will signal for the handler to return when finished. The handler then walks back, going around the dog, and back into Heel position.

Sit for Exam: This is very much like Stand for Exam, but the dog is left in a sitting position, instead of a standing position.

Down: Much like the Sit exercise, the judge asks the handler to command their dog down and then walk away. Downs can last 3 to 5 minutes depending on the level of competition.

Recall: This exercise requires the handler to leave the dog at one side of the ring and then walk away to the opposite side and turns to face the dog. At the judges command, the handler calls the dog. The dog must trot or gallop briskly to sit directly in front of the handler’s feet, close enough that the dog’s head is touchable without bending or stretching. At the judge’s prompting, the handler signals “finish” and the dog must go to Heel position.

Drop on Recall: A mix of Down and Recall, the handler begins this exercise, just as the Recall. Midway through the dog’s gallop to the handler, the handler signals Down. The dog must immediately assume a down position and hold until told to come. The rest of the exercise is completed as in Recall.

Retrieve on the Flat: The dog and the handler start facing the open ring at Heel position. On the judge’s signal, the handler commands the dog to sit or stay, then throws the approved dumbbell at least 20 feet. The judge again signals and the handler releases the dog to retrieve the dumbbell at a gallop. The dog must return the dumbbell directly and sit in front of the handler. The judge then releases the handler to take the dumbbell and then the dog must assume Heeling position.

Retrieve Over High Jump: This is the same as Retrieve on a Flat but during the fetch and retrieval, the dog much jump over a solid jump.

Recall over the Broad Jump: This exercise starts the team 8 feet from a broad jump, a broad plank lying on the ground. At the judges prompting, the handler commands the dog to sit, walk to the right side of the jump at a 90-degree angle. The judge then commands to “Call you dog” and the handler commands the dog to gallop then jump over the hurdle. While the dog is in the process of jumping, the handler turns 90 degrees to the right and the dog must turn 180 degrees to sit directly in front of the handler. Then, at the judge’s call, the handler must signal back to Heel position.

Directed Retrieve: Three gloves are placed at one side of the ring and the team is faced away from them. After the judge’s command, the team turns, the handler signals to the dog which glove is to be retrieved as determined by the judge. The dog is sent to retrieve only the indicated glove.

Scent Discrimination: In this exercise, a handler scents 1 of 5 metal and 1 of 5 leather dumbbells with their hands. The dog must find the one metal and one leather article touched by the handler and retrieve it at a brisk pace.

Directed Jumping: Facing two jumps, a high jump and a bar jump, about 20 feet out, the handler sends the dog away, 20 feet to the opposite side of the jump. When the dog reaches this point, the handler calls for the dog to turn and sit facing its handler. The judge determines one of the jumps and the handler signals to the dog that jump to take. While in mid-air, the handler can face the dog. The dog must meet the handler and sit in front of their feet, then assume the Heel position. 

If you want to see a team go through the motions of an Obedience Trial, watch the 2012 Crufts Individual Champs, Tyler and Petra Ford.

To read about more fun and exciting Dog Sports, check out the BBS spotlights on Flyball, Bikejoring and Agility! Next week the Healthy Dog Blog will talk about Obedience Trials? Is your dog up to the task? Tell us your dog’s favorite sport in the comments section below! 

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