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Anatomy of Obedience Tests

This article is by Jennifer Baird
When I first became involved in obedience training my Vizsla, Case of Autumns Fire, C.D. (Casey), it seemed to take forever to understand how competitive obedience worked. For those of you who are curious, this article will give you the general outlines of how an American Kennel Club (AKC) obedience trial is conducted.

According to the AKC, the purpose of obedience trials is to demonstrate the usefulness of the pure-bred dog as a [human] companion. While in an AKC obedience trial, a dog and its handler perform a series of exercises that are compared against an ideal standard and scored, the basic objective of obedience trials is to produce dogs that have been trained and conditioned to always behave in the home, in public places, and I the presence of other dogs, in a manner that will reflect well on the dog and the sport of obedience.

There are three levels in AKC obedience: Novice, Open, and Utility. At each successive level, the dog is required to perform a different set of progressively more difficult exercises.

Level: NOVICE Exercises: hell on leash, stand for examination, heel free (off leash), recall, long sit (1 minute, handler visible), long down (3 minutes, handler visible)

Level: OPEN Exercises: heel free (off-leash), drop on recall, retrieve on flat (no jump), retrieve over high jump, broad jump, long sit (3 minute, no handler visible), long down (5 minutes, no handler visible)

Level: UTILITY Exercises: signal exercises, scent discrimination on both leather and metal articles, directed retrieve, directed jumping, group examination.

Utility Signal Exercise Scent Discrimination on both Leather and Metal Articles Directed Retrieve Directed Jumping Group Examination At each level, the dog may be awarded an obedience title if, under three different judges, the dog and handler score more than 170 out of a possible 200 points, while achieving at least half of the possible points in each exercise. The obedience title earned at the Novice level is Companion Dog (C.D.), at the Open level, Companion Dog Excellent (C.D.X.), and at the Utility level, Utility Dog (U.D.). Only approximately 500 dogs earn their U.D. degrees each year in the United States! While dogs may receive first, second, third, and fourth place ribbons in each class in an obedience trial, these awards are really secondary to getting the title which depends only on your performance relative to the standard.

Since everyone who wants to try obedience begins at the Novice level, I will quickly describe the required exercises. The performance starts when the Judge asks you to enter the ring with your dog on a leash, typically with a training or chain collar. Under the judge s directions, you and your dog heel in a pattern around the ring, performing a variety of trns at normal, slow, and fast paces. The judge will also ask for several halts at which the dog must sit straight at the handler s side without a command. The heel-on-leash exercise is concluded with the dog and handler heeling in a figure-eight pattern around two posts (people). After the heel-on-leash exercise, the handler places the dog into a standing position and tells the dog to stay. Then the handler watches from about six feet away as the Judge examines the dog by running his or her hands down the dog s head, neck, and back. The dog must not move its feet or shy away. Following the stand exercise, the dog and handler execute the same heeling pattern around the ring as before, except this time there is no leash! Then the handler leaves the dog at one end of the ring with a stay command, walks to the other end of the ring, and, on the Judge s signal, commands Come . The dog must come directly to the handler and sit facing him or her. On the Judge s command to Finish your dog, the handler must command the dog to complete the exercise by moving directly to sit at the handler s left side.

After approximately twelve dogs have completed the above exercises, the Judge will conduct the group exercises. During the group exercises, twelve dogs will perform simultaneously in the ring. At the Judge s direction, the dogs and handlers will enter the ring and take up positions along one side of the ring in a line. At the Judge s command, the handlers will tell their dogs to sit and stay and will leave their dogs to go and stand on the other side of the ring facing the dogs. After the longest minute of your life, the Judge will tell the handlers to return to their dogs. In the final exercise, the handlers tell their dogs to down and then stand on the other side of the ring facing the dogs. After three minutes, they return. During the Long Sit and Long Down exercises, the dogs must not break position, bark, or sniff other dogs. The biggest challenge of performing at an obedience trial is persuading your dog to concentrate on performing its exercises precisely while in a strange place, surrounded by strange people and strange dogs, and in the presence of a concession stand. In general, the judges and other handlers tend to be helpful and supportive to newcomers, but it didnít take long for me to appreciate just how tough it is to put together a close to flawless performance on six different exercises in sequence under these conditions.

In addition to taking puppy, beginner, and advanced obedience classes, a prospective obedience competitor is well-advised to seek out the various correctional or fun obedience matches that various clubs offer. At these matches, the clubs simulate a obedience trial with the dog and handler in a ring alone with a judge to perform the exercises. Fun matches are called correctionals because the handler is allowed to use food and to correct the dog. At a real trial, food in the ring or a correction to the dog are grounds for disqualification. Without correctionals, dogs figure out trial conditions very quickly, know that they won t be corrected and goof off!

Overall, obedience is fun and challenging for both the dog and the handler. Give it a try - you'll be amazed at the talent your Vizsla has lurking inside!

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