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Competitive Obedience

An Article by Lee Entzeroth

Competitive canine obedience is a sport where a dog can prove his ability to work as part of a dog-handler team by performing a set of defined exercises. The exercises are performed in a ring under the scrutiny of a judge and obedience titles can be earned. The American Kennel Club began offering obedience competition in the 1930’s. While AKC is the most recognized association in this country and will be the focus of this article, there are other organizations (e.g. UKC, ASCA) which also offer obedience titles. Some of these other organizations accept mixed-breed dogs as well as purebred dogs.

Obedience under AKC

Under AKC regulations any purebred dog over 6 months of age and registered with the AKC can be entered in AKC obedience events. Spayed females and neutered males can compete. Purebred dogs without registered parents can also compete once they obtain an Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) number from AKC. (Contact AKC for more information on ILP numbers).

At an obedience trial a dog is scored on his ability to perform a specified set of exercises. The dog must earn more than 50% of the possible points in each exercise and get at least 170 points out of a possible 200 points to get a "qualifying" score (or "leg") on the test. A dog must earn 3 legs at a given test level to earn an obedience title.

AKC obedience tests are given at three levels: Novice, Open and Utility.

Novice: In the Novice test your dog must demonstrate his ability to heel (on and off-lead) at different speeds with turns and he should sit automatically in heel position when the handler stops. He will also have to heel (on-lead) in a figure 8 around 2 people. He must also come when called from a sit-stay, stand for examination by the judge and hold stays (sit and down) with you standing across the ring. The dog must get 3 Novice legs under 3 different judges to earn his Companion Dog (CD) title.

Open: For the Open test your dog must do all the heeling exercises off-lead, he must also perform some jumping and retrieving tasks and the stays become longer and are out of your sight. The dog must get 3 legs in the Open ring to earn a Companion Dog Excellent title (CDX).

Utility: At the highest level of obedience competition the dog must perform exercises in scent discrimination, directed jumping, and use of hand signals instead of verbal commands. The dog must get 3 legs at this level to earn a Utility Dog (UD) title.

After achieving a UD, a dog can continue to compete at the Utility level to earn addition titles. Ten UD legs qualifies the dog for the Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) title. And the dog can continue to earn points in the Open and Utility rings toward the prestigious Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH) title.

Training for Obedience Competition

Novice level obedience requires your dog to have basic obedience skills and the ability to concentrate on the task at hand for several minutes. This requires training beyond a basic obedience class. You and your dog must be much more polished to earn a qualifying score in the obedience ring. If you are new to obedience competition you will probably need both private and group lessons. Group lessons are great for learning to work around other dogs and for practicing those long sits and downs. Private lessons with an experienced obedience instructor will help sharpen your techniques and footwork.

Look for a trainer who has experience in competitive obedience. Competitive obedience training clubs are a good place to start. A personal reference from someone competing in obedience in your area is the best way to find a good trainer. You may also want to talk to LSATC member Marjorie Bradshaw who actively competes in obedience with her Airedales. Marjorie’s e-mail address is bradm@idworld.net.


  • American Kennel Club: www.akc.org/dic/events/obedtrack/
  • United Kennel Club (UKC): www.ukcdogs.com
  • Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA): www.asca.org
  • www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/activities/obedience.html - Very comprehensive site on obedience trials with information on obedience trials under several different organizations. Also a good list of tips and references. Maintained by Cindy Tittle Moore.
  • Dog-Play: www.dog-play.com/obedience.html - Many links to websites on general training as well as obedience trials.