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Home 9 Breeder Education Home 9 Obedience Trials: How They Work

Obedience Trials: How They Work

by Ms. Dany Canino, Copyright 2000

The American Kennel currently approves three levels of obedience. Those levels are Novice – Open – and Utility. (Tracking is also approved but not in conjunction with an all breed show).

At all levels, the dog and handler should act as a team, performing the exercises together in a smooth and happy manner. Any breed of dog that is recognized by the AKC is eligible to compete in obedience. This includes breeds from the Miscellaneous Group plus, any dog that is identifiable as a recognized AKC breed, has no official AKC registration papers; but has obtained an Indefinite Listing Permit (ILP) number. Altered dogs may compete in obedience.

NOVICE A: This class is for dogs that are just starting up the ladder of obedience. The exhibitors in this class may not have titled a dog in obedience and may not co-own a dog with someone that has titled a dog in obedience. No professional handlers or trainers are allowed to exhibit in this class.

This class offers the same exercises as in Novice A, but is for exhibitors that have either titled a dog before or exhibitors that co-own a dog with someone that has titled a dog before. This is the class that is also used by professional handlers and/or trainers.

The first exercise is the “HEELING ON LEASH AND THE FIGURE EIGHT.” The dog and handler walk along together (adhering to the judge´s orders) including making turns, halts, changes of pace (normal-slow-fast). This is followed by the Figure 8 where dog and handler must heel around two people simulating an “8”.

These two exercises demonstrate dog and handler´s ability to work together as a team. Perfect Score: 40 points

: Handler will leave dog standing on a Stay command. The judge will approach the dog and briefly touch the dog. The handler is then told to return to the dog. The dog should not move nor sit until the handler releases the dog from this exercise.

The exercise demonstrates the dog´s willingness to be approached and briefly handled by a stranger without the handler at the dog´s side. The dog may not show any aggression or timidity. Perfect Score: 30 points

The exercises for this are the same as they were on leash (except there is no figure 8).

This exercise demonstrates how the dog will perform as a team with the handler even though there is no leash attached. Perfect Score: 40 points

RECALL: This is the last of the individual exercises. The handler leaves the dog on a sit/stay and goes to the other end of the ring to face the dog. Upon the judge´s order the handler calls the dog. The dog must come “promptly” to sit in front of the handler and when commanded, the dog must return to the “heel” position.

This exercise demonstrates that the dog trusts the handler to hold position until called upon to go to the handler. Perfect Score: 30 points

The perfect sub-total score for these exercises is: 140 points

GROUP EXERCISES: After approximately 10-12 dogs have gone through their individual exercises, they will re-enter the ring for the final test in Novice.

The handlers will leave their dogs on a Sit/Stay and go to the other side of the ring where they will remain for 1 minute before returning to their dogs. A Perfect Score: 30 points

They then command their dogs to a Down/Stay and proceed across the ring for a period 3 minutes before returning to their dogs. Perfect Score: 30 points

Total Perfect Score is 200 points. In order to pass the dog must receive a score of 170 or better and, the dog must have completed at least half of the available points in each exercise. A dog will receive a C.D. (Companion Dog) title by passing the Novice exercises in three shows, under three different judges. Each time a dog gets a qualifying score he has earned “a leg” toward his title. Once he obtains this title he is no longer eligible to compete in Novice. He may now train and compete in Open Obedience.

(Reference: AKC OBEDIENCE REGULATIONS – Chapter 3, pages 26-32)

OPEN A: This class is for dogs that have received their C.D. title, but not their CDX. Obedience judges or persons who have owned, trained, and/or exhibited a dog that has won an O.T.C.H. (Obedience Trial Championship) may not compete in this class. They will compete in Open B.

OPEN B: This class is for dogs that have a C.D. or CDX., and dogs that have a UD. title. They are allowed to continue to compete in this class.

Every exercise is performed “off leash.”

HEEL FREE & FIGURE 8: This exercise is the same as it was in Novice, but off leash.

This demonstrates the total control of dog. Perfect Score: 40 points

DROP ON RECALL: This exercise starts out the same way as it did in the Novice Recall, but when dog is halfway into handler, dog will be commanded to “down”. Dog must drop right away and remain down until handler commands dog to come the rest of the way and sit in front of handler. Handler will then command dog to return to “heel” position

This demonstrates the dog´s ability to pay attention to the handler and to work at a distance. Perfect Score: 30 points

RETRIEVE ON THE FLAT: This exercise requires the dog to retrieve a dumbbell that has been thrown at least 20´ away, and then return it to the handler.

Perfect Score: 20 points

RETRIEVE OVER HIGH JUMP: This exercise requires the dog to jump over a hurdle, (that has been measured according to the height of the dog at the withers), retrieve the dumbbell the handler has thrown, return back over the jump and return the dumbbell to the handler. Perfect Score: 30 points

BROAD JUMP: This exercise requires the handler to stand to one side of the jump after having left the dog on a sit/stay at the end of the jump. Upon command from the handler the dog must jump two to four hurdles (depending on the height of the dog), when the dog lands he must go to a sit in front of the handler and on command, do a Finish. Perfect Score: 20 points


THE GROUP EXERCISE (Long sit/stay, Long down/stay) is done with the handler “out of sight” of the dog. The respective timing of these exercises is 3 minutes & 5 minutes. Perfect Scores: 30 minutes each

The requirements for a Companion Dog Excellent (CDX.) title is the same as in Novice.

(Reference: AKC OBEDIENCE REGULATIONS – Chapter 4 pages 36-37)

UTILITY: This is the ultimate of the three obedience levels. At this level the dog is required to respond mainly to hand signals from the handler, and to use his sense of smell to distinguish his owner´s scent from a strangers.

THE SIGNAL EXERCISE: This requires the dog to do a Heeling exercise by following hand signals from the handler. This shall include the dog to Stand/Stay, a signalled Down, a signalled Sit, and a signalled Recall. Perfect Score 40 points

In this exercise two types of articles are used; leather and metal, with a total of 10 in all. One article of each type is selected by the judge to be handled “ONLY” by the handler. The judge shall place the remaining 8 articles on the ground; handling each article. The handler gives one of the remaining (handler scented) articles to the judge (who must use tongs to handle it) to place among the other articles.

Handler and dog shall turn away from the articles and upon the judge´s command, expose his hand to the dog for scent, and immediately send the dog to retrieve the scented article. The dog must return the scented article to the handler. Perfect Score
30 points

The same procedure is used for the remaining article. Perfect Score 30 points

DIRECTED RETRIEVE: This exercise requires the dog to retrieve one out of three gloves that have been placed in three locations at the end of the ring. The handler shall signal the dog into the direction of the correct glove (the judge chooses which one). Dog is required to retrieve the glove and return it to the handler. Perfect Score 30 points

This exercise requires the dog and handler to “heel” forward, and while in motion, handler shall signal the dog to Stand/Stay as the handler proceeds forward about 10´ and then turns and faces the dog. The judge will approach and examine the dog as in the breed ring (except there will be no exam of teeth and testicles). Handler then commands dog to “heel”. Dog must return to the handler at heel position. Perfect Score 30 points

This exercise requires the dog to go away from the handler at the handler´s command of; “go away”. When the dog is at least 10´ beyond the two jumps, the handler shall command the dog to “sit”. The dog shall turn to face the handler and sit.

The jumps shall consist of a “high jump” and a “bar jump”. After the dog has sat the judge will tell the handler which jump the dog should go over; HIGH OR BAR. When the dog goes over he shall return to the handler as he did in he Novice Recall exercise. This exercise is repeated for the remaining jump. Perfect Score 40 points

Utility competition is often times divided into “A and B”.

(Reference: AKC OBEDIENCE REGULATIONS – Chapter 5, pages 40-47)

Handlers that are competing for an Obedience Trial Championship (OTCH) Title will compete in both Open B and Utility. To find out the requirements for this title see chapter 6, pages 48-50 of the AKC Obedience Regulation Book.

Oftentimes, kennel clubs offer Non-Regular Obedience Classes. You cannot earn an obedience degree in these classes, but you can have fun and practice at the same time. These classes are: GRADUATE NOVICE – BRACE CLASS – VETERAN CLASS – VERSATILITY CLASS – AND TEAM CLASS. Chapter 8 – pages 52-54.

There is another Obedience title not covered in this data. That is the TRACKING DOG (M.D.) TITLE. This competition is usually held at Specialties and not frequently offered otherwise.


RALEIGH, NC 27606-3390 (Single copies Free. Additional copies $1.00)

To me obedience is the ultimate goal to be achieved, as it is an event that is judged, “not on how pretty your dog looks or moves”, but “how well you and your dog relate to each other as a team.” Obviously each degree, or level of obedience requires a good deal of training time, but you will find that it is time well spent when you see the end results.