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Competitive Obedience

By Leilah's Mom

[Editor's note 1/7/08: AMBOR is undergoing a reorganization and website change. Their new site is at http://www.ambor.us. I will change the links below if/when those parts of their site become available. ]

By training your dog with obedience, agility, or even stupid pet tricks, you and your dog can become a team, and develop a wonderful relationship with each other. Your dog may be big or small, young or old, purebred or mixed breed. If you want to do Competitive Obedience, you probably have the most important thing already, the dog.  What you will also need is the desire for a closer relationship with that dog, and the will to put in the effort to work with him. A touch of competitive spirit won't hurt either. It's fabulous to have a dog that is well behaved and happy about it. Here is information on Competitive Obedience, and how to find out more about it. 

How much work is this?

It depends on what you want, and where you're starting from. You'll get no real training advice here in this essay. But, your dog does need to know who's in charge (it should be you, not him), have basic manners and some socialization. If you have a dog who's lunging at the end of a leash at the dog across the street, you have to get his basic manners in order first. You need this foundation to build on. If you don't have it, go to a class in basic obedience or work with a trainer. This will give you a taste of how to train your dog, and start you in the habit of working with your dog.  It can sometimes only take a few minutes of real work a day if you structure your training well and keep at it. You can probably train an average of about 15 minutes a day, in little 2-4 minute pieces while you're out walking or playing, or even sitting around at home. You can do less of course, but your progress will be slower. If you have an older dog with bad habits, it may take longer, and maybe more than one class, but if you are persistent, you will probably succeed. Don't buy into the "can't teach an old dog" stuff, it isn't true!  Older dogs have one big advantage over puppies - an attention span. And it will be worth it just to have a civilized canine member of the family.

You must also consider what's in it for you and the dog. If you make it worth his while, he'll be much more likely to enjoy advanced training. This may be using food, toys, games, or simply praise (and plenty of it) when he does a good job. You will also have to be willing to enforce that what you are asking is not optional once you're sure he understands completely what you are asking him. But, the real reward for both of you is the closeness you'll develop with your dog as you become a working team, and your dog practically becomes an extension of you. Your friends will be impressed by good manners and quick response to commands.  It really is nice to have a dog that's well mannered and obedient anywhere you go, such as in stores, at people's houses, even to dinner parties where the dog might behave better than the kids!! When I lost my husband, Leilah even went to the mortuary with me several times to make the arrangements. The employees loved her, turns out the place was full of dog lovers!  She was an incredible comfort to me, and her training truly helped! 

What else can you do with all this training?

You can trial your dog in recognized obedience competitions, called Obedience trials.. At a UKC (United Kennel Club) Novice competition, you will be expected to heel your dog in a "pattern" as told to you by the judge. Your dog is expected to be in the heel position (at your left side, with precision) throughout the maneuvers. You will be asked to do right turns, left turns, about turns, slow, normal, and fast paces, and halts, in any order. The dog should automatically sit when you stop. You will do this both on and off leash. You will also heel your dog , on leash, in a figure 8 pattern around 2 people standing quietly 8 feet apart. You will have 3 stay exercises , the sit, down, and stand for examination. You will also call your dog from a sit stay , and he will jump a jump on his way across the ring to sit in front of you, and at your signal, he will go directly to the heel position and sit down. AKC (American Kennel Club) novice exercises are a bit different with their stay and recall exercises. 

After you get a Novice title (the CD or U-CD) you can then advance to the Open (CDX or U-CDX titles) then Utility (UD or U-UD titles). The "U" in front of a title means it's been granted by the United Kennel Club. You can even get a championship on your dog, and compete at regional and national levels if you're good enough, whether he is a mixed breed or not. For all titles except Champion,  it takes 3 qualifying scores (called legs). Depending on the kennel club or registry, you may need to do that under 2 or 3 different judges. A qualifying score is at least 170 points out of a perfect 200, and you must at least half the points allowed for any individual exercises. It's really quite possible for the average dog and owner to do all this, and to do it well.  You can read about my experience in Our First Year in Obedience

Go to a trial as an observer

Try to find a trial in your area. 

UKC Calendar 

AKC Events Search:

ASCA Calendar:

AMBOR Calendar (includes UKC, ASCA, and  matches too)

You can also find listings for AKC and UKC trials in Dog World Magazine.

It doesn't matter much which type of trial (AKC, UKC or ASCA) you go to at this point, what you need to see is how an obedience dog works. You will see some strange looking things too. You will see dogs who heel while trying to stare their handler in the face, you will see dogs who don't and just cruise alongside their owners, and maybe some dogs who don't really heel at all. You'll see dogs who fly over a jump, and some who barely hop over it, and some who may go around it all together. You may even see handlers who take out their own frustrations on the dog, and you will vow that you will never to do this to your dog. And, you will also see handlers who are overjoyed with their dogs, no matter what. You may also see the teams who are having the time of their lives, each has the full co-operation of the other, and loving it. There will be dogs and handlers of all shapes and sizes, and even the occasional handicapped handler (the dog cannot be lame or completely blind - but the handler can be in a wheelchair).

When observing, do not touch or feed any dog without permission. Do not bring your own dog since non entered dogs are prohibited at most trials, and can distract dogs in the ring. Distracting a dog in the ring will earn you the MOST evil glares from the handler.  Some trials require that you stand back from the ring at least 10 feet. Just make sure you do not to attract the attention of any dog in the ring, keep yourself and any kids you bring with you quiet while watching.. You can ask a lot of questions, and you'll get a lot of answers. Try to ask only people who look relaxed, who don't look busy, and who aren't trying to warm up their dogs. Pre ring jitters can get to some people, and they may not have the patience for you at that moment. Obedience people are generally a pretty friendly group, and will answer many of your questions, they usually love to talk about their dogs. At some big shows, they may charge admittance, and there might be interesting vendors, so bring your wallet and do some shopping.

Train your dog?

Although I suppose it's possible to just use a book if you are very diligent and careful, I don't recommend it for the beginner. You will probably want to get a trainer or go to classes.

You might get trainer referrals from the local pet supply store, or your veterinarian. If you are referred to a "pet trainer" (one who trains basic manners and might work with problem dogs, but not a competitive sport like obedience or agility), that person may be able to refer you to a more appropriate trainer. Tell the trainer what you want to do and make sure the trainer has done competitive obedience before. You will want someone who can help you prepare for competition.  Here's a link with info on finding a trainer:

Trainers and Behaviorists

It will be very helpful to find a competitive obedience training club. Through them you can get information on trials through their newsletters, and many offer training classes geared towards showing in obedience. You can get trainer referrals too. Most clubs are affiliated with one of the Kennel Clubs, usually AKC or UKC. Some are unaffiliated, and this only means that they will not hold their own sanctioned trials, trials that count towards titles. It's possible that an AKC club may not accept a mixed breed dog in their classes, but unlikely. You would need to call them to check. They often do allow mixed breeds all but official AKC events.  Call any local dog club for references for a good trainers and classes.  Even if they aren't an obedience club, they'll probably know of one. 

AKC clubs lists:

UKC clubs list: 

Most clubs usually hold practice "fun " matches (also known as a show-and-go), where you can try out your dog in the ring style conditions and have a chance to evaluate his training progress, but the rules aren't as strict as in a real trial. They are relatively informal, and don't count towards any titles. You are not allowed to give your dog any correction in the trial ring, but you can at most fun matches. The rings are set up as in a trial, and you can get lots of helpful advice from the "judges" who are usually more experienced club members, but sometime they are real judges. Many clubs also hold regular "workouts" where you can practice with others, but it's not really a class or match.  There are exceptions for AMBOR dogs to get legs in matches where there are awards. 


If you are planning to show your dog, you will have to register him with a kennel club. Pedigreed dogs can be registered with the AKC and UKC. They do not have to be neutered, but bitches in heat cannot compete. If your dog looks purebred, but you have no papers, you can get an AKC ILP (Indefinite Listing Privilege) registration. This is great for rescued dogs. Your dog must be neutered and will not be allowed in conformation classes (the breed ring like the Westminster show), but he must at least look purebred. One of the big advantages of AKC is they seem to have a lot more trials, in more places, than the other registries.

Mixed breeds can be registered with the UKC and AMBOR (American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry), and they must be neutered. UKC recognizes AMBOR as the "parent club" for mixed breeds and will register them on a Limited Permit (LP) basis. This means the dog cannot be entered in the conformation ring. All AMBOR and UKC LP dogs must be neutered.

All dogs registered with AKC, UKC, or AMBOR can also be entered in trials and given titles granted by Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) as "other breed". The ASCA rules are virtually identical to AKC. AMBOR recognizes ASCA scores, some AKC matches, and other matches for earning legs towards a title. AMBOR also grants a dual title for UKC legs. Check with AMBOR for more information.

UKC Registration info:

AKC Registration info:

AKC Indefinite Listing Privilege

AMBOR  Membership info:

Ready, Set Go!

Once your dog is trained and registered, you've done your homework on the rules and procedures, and once you've done well in matches, enter a trial and have fun! Good luck! Just remember, the dog doesn't care about titles, but he DOES care about you, and the more fun you have, the more fun your dog will have.


Internet Links and Information

Registry Information Links:

AMBOR Home Page

UKC Home Page 

Unofficial UKC Home page

AKC Home Page:

Rules for the trials:

UKC Obedience Rules: 

AKC Obedience regulations:

Both ASCA and AMBOR sponsored trials use AKC formats in the trial ring.

AMBOR "Lowdown"


ASCA's Obedience Program:

More information

AMBOR Home page:

AKC Obedience page

ASCA Home page:

You can also write or telephone these registries:

AMBOR (American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry)
179 Niblick Rd. #113
Paso Robles, CA 93446

UKC (United Kennel Club)
100 E. Kilgore Rd.
Kalamazoo, MI 49001-5598
(616) 343-9020

AKC (American Kennel Club):
AKC Customer Relations Department.
5580 Centerview Drive, Suite 200 
Raleigh, NC 27606-3390
Fax: 919-233-3627

ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America):
ASCA Business Office
PO Box 3790
Bryan, TX 77805-3790
(409) 778-1082
Fax:(409) 778-1898

Helpful books

I personally like these ones, but there's many good books out there. Links here are mostly  to book description at amazon.com


Superpuppy by Jill and D. Manus Pinkwater (there is another book of the same title by Vollmer, this is not the same)

The Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete

Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence by Carol Lea Benjamin
Carol Lea Benjamin has several books highly recommended by my friends, just I haven't read them myself.

Competitive Obedience books:

Beyond Basic Dog Training, by Diane L. Bauman

Playtraining Your Dog by Gail Burnham

Smart Trainers, Brilliant Dogs by Janet Lewis

Steppin' Up to Success (book series) by Terry Arnold 
(This link doesn't always work, if so, use their search engine)

Best Foot Forward: Successful Obedience Handling by Barbara Handler

Competitive Obedience for the Small Dog by Cecil and Darnell

Other useful books:

The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren

Childproofing Your Dog by Brian Kilcommons

The Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Delbert G. Carlson and James M. Giffin

Many of the above books can be bought from Direct Book Service, either on-line or mail order. You may also want to check Amazon Books on-line and any of the other dog supply catalogs both on-line and mail order. It's also worth checking your local bookstore and library.

 Dogwise  (The Dog and Cat Book Catalog, AKA Direct Book Service)

Amazon On-Line Books:

See also:
Shopping for your Dog

More Links To Look At

Leilah's Bookmarks

AMBOR's Hot Links:

All About Dogs Hot Doggie Links:

International Dog Related Web Sites:

Dog Play:

*notes links not working at last update, hopefully it's just temporary.

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