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Command Performance Obedience Training for Fun and Titles

by Brian Swinn

Obedience training is not only one of the most popular activities for dog owners and their dogs, it's also one of the most important. The quality of your canine relationship depends greatly on your dog's ability to do what you ask and to behave acceptably and safely. Without at least a minimal level of obedience, life with your beloved companion can become difficult, even harrowing.

Obedience training isn't only for human's sake. Just as wild dogs depend on a secure place in their pack for survival, pets derive security from knowing how they fit into a confusing world. Teaching your dog rules that promote safety and social acceptability enhances the innate social structure dogs seek. Keep your training consistent and fair, and your pet will likely accept you as pack leader and learn what you offer to teach.

Training for Obedience

An obedience class is a good way for beginners to train their dogs. Classes may be conducted by dog-related clubs, community-based organizations or accomplished private trainers. Local affiliates of the American Kennel Club (AKC) are great places to learn about obedience. The AKC was founded in 1884 as the principle registry of purebred dogs in the United States. It is now the leading regulatory body for dog shows and performance events, including obedience trials, which it has sanctioned since 1936.

Although it's never too late to start, early in a dog's life is the optimal time to begin obedience training. Beginning classes are usually keyed to a dog's age. "Puppy" classes start at about three to five months. In these classes, emphasis is placed on socialization with people and other pets. Training is geared to the limited abilities of puppies.

"Basic" classes start at about five to six months of age. They teach your dog to heel on a loose leash, sit, stand, lie down, stay in position and come when called. By the time the handler has gotten to this level, he or she begins to catch on to how training actually works - a valuable lifetime skill for the dog owner.

In the Ring

Obedience trials measure a dog's ability to perform a prescribed, standardized set of exercises. No matter where an AKC-sanctioned trial is held, the exercises at each level are the same. Any purebred dog that is at least six months of age, including spayed females and neutered males, can compete in these events. Information from the AKC indicates that there are about 121,000 entries at obedience trails each year in the United States.

Accredited obedience trial judges look for the ability of dog and handler to work accurately, quickly, smoothly and enthusiastically as a team. Results are based on numerical scores, with each individual exercise worth a set number of points. Each team of dog and handler enters the ring with a perfect score of 200 points. How many points they retain depends on what they do in the ring. To qualify at each level, the team needs to earn a total of 170 points or more and at least one-half of the points allotted to each individual exercise.
lthough perfect scores are exceedingly rare, any qualifying score is a notable accomplishment. Three qualifying scores under three different judges earn a title at each level. Non-qualifying scores do not negate qualifying scores or otherwise affect your progress towards earning a title.

Different Levels, Different Dogs

There are three levels at which your dog can compete for titles: Novice, Open and Utility. Each level includes "A" and "B" classes. Handlers who compete in a level for the first time enter the "A" classes; the "B" classes are for those who have already titled a dog at the "A" level.
At the first level, Novice, handlers must demonstrates their dog is capable of being a good canine companion. Exercises include heeling both on- and off-leash at varying speeds and directions, staying still and quiet in both sitting and lying positions with a group of other dogs, coming to front when called (the Recall) and standing in place for a brief physical exam. Dogs that perform these tasks satisfactorily earn the title of Companion Dog, or CD.

At the next step, the Open level, the challenges increase significantly. Heeling is off-leash only, and the stays are markedly longer. There are also exercises involving a broad jump and retrieving a dumbbell thrown over a jump. At this level, your dog begins to do more work away from the handler for longer periods of time. Successful competitors earn the Companion Dog Excellent, or CDX title.

Dogs competing at the Utility level still perform the basic heeling exercises off-leash but are also required to perform more complex tasks. In separate exercises, they must: tolerate a more complete physical exam by the judge; be sent to the opposite side of the ring and return over one of two specific jumps to which they are directed; and pick out and retrieve one object that carries the handler's scent from a group of similar objects placed some distance away. The dog not only works at a distance from the handler for long periods of time but also performs tasks that have multiple steps and require great concentration. Dogs successfully completing this level earn the Utility Dog, or UD title - a real achievement in anyone's book.

Advanced Titles

For the truly motivated, the AKC offers two advanced obedience degrees. In 1977 the AKC established the designation of Obedience Trial Champion, or OTCH. Dogs must earn points by placing in the top four positions in Open B or Utility B class. The greater the number of qualifying dogs in your class and the higher you finish, the greater the number of points you earn. A total of 100 points, accompanied by at least one first place in both Open B and Utility B and a third first place in either, all under different judges, are required to earn the OTCH title. In 1994, the title of Utility Dog Excellent, or UDX, was established for dogs that receive qualifying scores in both Open B and Utility B at ten separate trials.

Choosing Obedience Dogs

Obedience trials often feature breeds that are usually associated with hunting and herding. Retrievers, poodles, German shepherds, Border collies and similar breeds are usually counted among the most successful obedience competitors. Virtually all breeds, however, have been represented in the top ranks of competition.

The dog you most enjoy being with is likely your best choice for the ring. It can take a year or more of specialized training to prepare for competition at each level. Interest, persistence and patience for both you and your dog often prove to be more critical factors than the breed you select. Having a good sense of humor helps, too.

Choosing a dog for obedience is similar to choosing a good house pet. Dogs or puppies that are markedly shy or aggressive may make training more difficult. That special dog that is confident, self-assured and quickly bonds with you is often the best choice. Obedience, whether for competition or just as a way to enjoy life with your dog, pays great dividends. No matter what level you seek or achieve, you and your pet will become closer for the time you spend.

The AKC Web site (www.akc.org) has a special section: [email protected]; or call (919) 816-3521. To request a copy of the informational booklet "Getting Started in Agility, Obedience, Tracking and Canine Good Citizen," call (919) 233-9767.

BRIAN SWINN is a freelance writer and photographer residing in Rexford, New York.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).