Obedience competition tests the handler's training, the partnership between the handler and the dog, and the dog's willingness to work. Obedience trials may be offered as a part of conformation shows or as events on their own. You generally work your way up through classes of increasing difficulty, and titles usually require three qualifying scores, also known as legs.
Traditional Obedience Classes
The traditional titling classes are Novice, Open, and Utility. Novice includes on- and off-leash heeling, a stand for examination (your dog must stand still while the judge touches several places), a stay and recall (you sit your dog at one side of the ring, walk across the ring while your dog stays in place, and then call your dog), and group exercises. In the group exercises, as many as ten dogs are brought into the ring. Handlers and dogs line up on one side of the ring, and dogs must sit for one minute (with handlers across the ring), then lie down for three minutes.
Deb Gatchell's Yorkshire terrier, Rothby's Wrapped In Rainbows (Raney), has earned both the Obedience Championship (OTCH) and the Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) titles, both very difficult to achieve. He is only the third Yorkie to attain the OTCH.
In all levels of competition, you must score at least 170 points (out of a possible 200) and at least half the points available for each individual exercise in order to achieve a qualifying score.
The Open class performs only off-leash heeling, adds a drop (down) in the middle of the recall, and includes two retrieves. The retrieve on the flat means the dog stays at the handler's side while the handler throws the dumbbell, fetches it on cue, and holds it until the handler takes it. In the second retrieve, the dumbbell is thrown over a jump, which the dog has to clear both going and coming back. There is also a broad jump, and the group exercises are done with the handlers leaving the ring and going out of sight of their dogs.
The Utility class includes a completely different set of exercises. In the signals exercise, the handler must use visual signals only to have the dog stay, down, sit, and come. Scent discrimination uses a set of dumbbells, only one of which the handler touches. The dog is sent to find and retrieve the scented dumbbell. The directed retrieve uses three gloves spaced across the ring. The handler must have the dog retrieve whichever glove the judge indicates. For the moving stand, your dog is heeling and you must have him stand-stay while you continue walking. The judge examines the dog with you some distance away, and you then call the dog. The final exercise is directed jumping. You have to send the dog away from you, between two jumps, to the other end of the ring, then have her sit. The judge tells you which jump the dog is to take, and you signal your dog to come over that jump and return to you.
Obedience has long been declining in popularity. The focus on earning points for the obedience championship has resulted in a drive for extreme precision, and both dogs and handlers have found other sports more fun. But you can still earn obedience titles without obsessing over minute details.
These are not full descriptions of the exercises but just enough details to give you some idea of what is expected. Other classes also exist, and dogs that have completed Utility can continue competing to earn points toward an obedience championship.
Rally obedience, or Rally-O, is a new variation on obedience, concocted to try to make obedience competition more fun and to compete with the fast-rising sport of agility. It's much less formal than traditional obedience. You can talk to and praise your dog throughout your time in the ring.
The exercises aren't set as they are in traditional obedience. Instead, fifteen to twenty exercises are chosen from a total of about thirty-five. An actual course is laid out, with a sign indicating each exercise (“270° turn to the right,” for example), and numbers indicating the order in which to do the exercises. Handlers are given time to walk the course without their dogs, to familiarize themselves with the exercises they will be performing. Precision is still prized, and points are deducted for sloppiness, but this is also a timed event, so speed is important.
Arlene King and her Yorkie, Illusion's Jaws With Paws (JP), have already earned a perfect score in Rally-O, and a Rally-O title from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Along with JP, Arlene also performs in tracking with her other Yorkie, Fergie. Fergie is the first Yorkie to earn the Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) title.