Getting Started in Obedience

Why Train Your Dog?

Dogs, by nature, are pack animals with a well-defined social order. As you and your family become your dog's pack, your new dog will look to you – the leader of the pack – for guidance. Leadership can be established in a firm but friendly manner. Keep in mind that it is unrealistic to expect the dog to abide by the rules of the household without the leader teaching appropriate behavior!

Much like people, every dog is different. Some are hyperactive. Some are laid-back. Some are serious. Others are silly. Some are shy, and yet others have too much confidence. Regardless of these differences, training is necessary for all dogs and beneficial to your entire family.

Training will:

  • Help correct nuisance behaviors such as jumping on people, digging, barking, and chewing, while providing mental and physical activities for your dog.
  • Deepen the bond between you and your dog, and to increase the enjoyment, companionship and satisfaction of your relationship with your dog.
  • Ensure your dog's safety and happiness.
  • Nurture good canine companionship for the benefit of your family, neighborhood and community.
  • Allow you to enjoy the fun and excitement of competing in AKC events. You and your dog can earn certificates and titles while you continue to strengthen your communication and teamwork.

Types of Training Classes

  • Puppy Class – A developmental training course for the 3-to-5-month-old puppy. A puppy class emphasizes socialization with people and other puppies. Instructors usually offer information on growth, nutrition, grooming, housebreaking and problem-solving and teach basic household commands.
  • Basic Class – A basic training course for dogs 5-to-6 months and older, aimed at training you to train your dog. The basic class emphasizes the essential training commands needed to make a dog a good companion: heel on a loose leash, sit, stand, down, stay in position, and come when called. Instructors also usually provide information on nutrition, grooming and problem-solving. This basic training is important in keeping your dog safe.
  • Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) Class – May be a separate class or a part of a beginner class at AKC clubs and other organizations. CGC is a certification program that is designed to reward dogs that have good manners at home and in the community. Your dog will need to know the commands and exercises taught in a basic training class to qualify for a passing score on the CGC test. Dogs that pass the CGC test receive a certificate from the AKC and are recorded in the AKC's Canine Good Citizen Archive.
  • Training Classes for Companion Events – A variety of classes that prepare students and their dogs for competition in obedience, agility, tracking and other AKC events. You will be instructed in the levels of competition and titles available, how to teach your dog the required exercises, and the regulations that apply when you are competing.

Purpose of AKC Obedience Trials

Consider taking obedience training with your dog to a whole new level. Enter the world of AKC obedience and help your dog realize its full potential by competing in obedience trials and earning obedience competition titles. AKC Obedience Trials demonstrate the usefulness of the dog as a companion to man. Obedience trials showcase dogs that have been trained and conditioned to behave well in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs. AKC trials and tests allow exhibitors and their dogs to enjoy companionship and competition as they proudly earn AKC titles.

Types of Obedience Trials

  • All-breed Obedience Trials, the most common types of trials, offer competitions for more than 180 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC.
  • Specialty Trials are restricted to dogs of a specific breed or to varieties of one breed. For example, the Flat-Coated Retriever Club of America Specialty is for Flat-Coated Retrievers only. But the Poodle Club of America's Specialty Obedience Trial could include the three varieties of the Poodle: Standard, Miniature and Toy.  *Note: Specialty Clubs under certain circumstances can be allowed to hold trials with All-breeds and mixed breeds alike.

Am I Eligible?

To be eligible to compete in obedience trials, a dog must be:

  • Registered with the AKC
  • Listed with the AKC Purebred Alternative Listing/Indefinite Listing Privilege (PAL/ILP) program
  • Listed with the AKC Canine Partners program
  • Be a Foundation Stock Service (FSS) recorded breed.
  • 6 months of age or older.

Purebred Alternative Listing/Indefinite Listing Privilege

Dogs of any breed recognized by the AKC that does not have registration papers or known parents may qualify for a Purebred Alternative Listing/Indefinite Listing Privilege (PAL/ILP). PAL/ILP dogs may participate in certain AKC Events, such as Obedience, Agility, Tracking and many performance events. Photos are required to prove the dog is a registrable breed. The dog must be spayed or neutered. For information about the PAL/ILP program, visit the PAL/ILP section on the AKC web site, or e-mail questions to PAL@akc.org.

AKC Canine Partners Program

The AKC Canine Partners program is for anyone who has a dog they want to enter AKC events with. This program allows mixed-breed dogs or dogs ineligible for AKC registration to compete in AKC events such as Obedience, Rally, and Agility. The dogs must be spayed or neutered in order to compete. For more information about the AKC Canine Partners program you can visit the AKC Canine Partners homepage or if you have any questions, you can email akccaninepartners@akc.org

How an Obedience Trial Works

A club wishing to hold an obedience trial must first meet all AKC requirements before applying for permission from the AKC. The next step is for the club to appoint an obedience trial committee that will have sole jurisdiction over the dogs, handlers and owners entered in the trial.

To enter an obedience trial, the owner of the dog must submit an official AKC entry form, which can be found on the AKC web site, to the trial secretary or superintendent of the trial. Be sure to ask the trial secretary about the premium list, the official announcement of a club's event. The premium list contains all relevant information regarding the trial, including date, location, classes offered, and judges – as well as the entry form.
After the entries have closed, a program showing the schedule for the judging of each class will be mailed to the owner of each entered dog.

An area, designated as a "ring," will be provided. The club holding the trial is responsible for providing equipment that meets the requirements of the AKC Obedience Regulations.

Role of the Judge

The judge must arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the class. Judges are not permitted to inject personal variations into the exercises, but must see that each handler and dog execute the various exercises exactly as described in the AKC Obedience Regulations. The judge must carry a mental picture of the theoretically perfect performance in each exercise and score each dog and handler against this standard.

A qualifying score in the judge's book is his or her certification that the dog has satisfactorily performed all the required exercises. The judge will not disclose the scores until the conclusion of the judging, but will immediately inform a handler after the group exercises (or immediately following the last exercise in Utility) if his or her dog received a qualifying score.

At the end of the judging and after all scores have been recorded, the judge will call qualifying dogs back into the ring and will announce the scores of each of the four placements.

Levels of Competition

There are three levels of competition in Standard Obedience:

NOVICE – For the dog just getting started in obedience. Exercises include:

    • Heel on Leash and Figure Eight – show whether the dog has learned to watch its handler and adjust its pace to stay with the handler.
    • Heel Free – done off leash.
    • Stand for Examination – is of great benefit when the dog needs hands-on care by a veterinarian.
    • Recall – provides the handler with the ability to call the dog and get an immediate response at all times.
    • Long Sit (1 minute) – allows the handler to have control of the dog when visitors come to the home.
    • Long Down (3 minutes) – dog must remain in a down position.

OPEN – The second level includes more complicated exercises, which teach the dog to do a variety of tasks and to follow commands either by voice or signal. Exercises include:

    • Heel Free and Figure Eight – Same as Novice, but off leash.
    • Drop on Recall – can be a lifesaving command for a dog, since it gives the handler control in potentially dangerous situations.
    • Retrieve on Flat
    • Retrieve Over High Jump
    • Broad Jump
    • Long Sit (3 minutes) – similar to the long sit in Novice, but the position must be held for a longer period of time with the handler out of the dog's sight.
    • Long Down (5 minutes) – dog must remain in a down position.

UTILITY – The third and highest level of obedience competition. Exercises include:

    • Signal Exercise – shows the dog's ability to understand and correctly respond to the handler's signal to stand, stay, down, sit and come. No voice commands are given; only hand signals are allowed.
    • Scent Discrimination – shows the dog's ability to find the handler's scent among a pile of articles.
    • Directed Retrieve – proves the dog's ability to follow a directional signal to retrieve a glove and promptly return it to the handler.
    • Moving Stand and Examination – the dog must heel, stand and stay as the handler moves away. The dog must stay and accept an examination by the judge and return to the handler on command.
    • Directed Jumping – the dog must go away from the handler, turn and sit. Then, the dog must clear whichever jump its handler indicates and promptly return to the handler.

Optional Titling Classes

If a club allows transfers, transfers may be approved between the Regular and Optional Titling classes provided the class and judge are available, and the class has not reached its limit. Optional Titling classes have no restrictions on them, any dog can enter in any order; these classes are not prerequisites to get to "the next level class (i.e. Novice to Open)." Please refer to the current Obedience Regulations for more information on requirements and restrictions.

BEGINNER NOVICE – This class shall be for dogs

    • Heel on Leash – show whether the dog has learned to watch its handler and adjust its pace to stay with the handler.
    • Figure Eight. – same as Heel on Leash but done in a Figure Eight pattern
    • Sit for Exam – is of great benefit when the dog needs hands-on care by a veterinarian.
    • Sit Stay – allows the handler to have control of the dog when visitors come to the home
    • Recall – provides the handler with the ability to call the dog and get an immediate response at all times.

Beginner Novice video

GRADUATE NOVICE – This class shall be for dogs.

    • Heel on Leash and Figure Eight (off leash) – show whether the dog has learned to watch its handler and adjust its pace to stay with the handler.
    • Drop on Recall – can be a lifesaving command for a dog, since it gives the handler control in potentially dangerous situations.
    • Dumbbell Recall – this exercise is performed like Novice Recall but with the dog holding a dumbbell.
    • Recall Over High Jump.
    • Recall Over Broad Jump.
    • Long Down (3 minutes) – dog must remain in a down position.

GRADUATE OPEN – This class shall be for dogs.

    • Signal Exercise – shows the dog's ability to understand and correctly respond to the handler's signal to stand, stay, down, sit and come. No voice commands are given; only hand signals are allowed.
    • Scent Discrimination – shows the dog's ability to find the handler's scent among a pile of articles.
    • Directed Retrieve – proves the dog's ability to follow a directional signal to retrieve a glove and promptly return it to the handler.
    • Moving Stand and Examination – the dog must heel, stand and stay as the handler moves away. The dog must stay and accept an examination by the judge and return to the handler on command.
    • Go Out – show the ability to send the dog away and stop as directed.
    • Directed Jumping – the dog must go away from the handler, turn and sit. Then, the dog must clear whichever jump its handler indicates and promptly return to the handler.

VERSATILITY – This class shall be for dogs.

Six exercises will be performed:  two from each the Novice, Open and Utility classes. There will be no group exercises.

    • Prior to the start of judging, the judge will decide the combination and order of exercises to be performed in this class and will post it at the ring approximately 45 minutes prior to the start of the class

Beginning July 1, 2013 there will be an addition of 3 more Optional Titling Classes in Obedience. These new classes will not have any group exercises and all dogs will jump at ½ the height of the dog at the withers;

Pre-Novice – This class shall be for dogs (effective July 1, 2013)

    • Heel on Leash – show whether the dog has learned to watch its handler and adjust its pace to stay with the handler.
    • Stand for Examination – is of great benefit when the dog needs hands-on care by a veterinarian.
    • Heel Free – done off leash.
    • Recall – provides the handler with the ability to call the dog and get an immediate response at all times.
    • Stay-Sit or Down – Handler Walk Around the Ring – allows the handler to have control of the dog when visitors come to the home

Pre-Open – This class shall be for dogs (effective July 1, 2013)

    • Heel Free and Figure Eight – Same as Novice, but off leash.
    • Drop on Recall – can be a lifesaving command for a dog, since it gives the handler control in potentially dangerous situations.
    • Retrieve on Flat
    • Retrieve Over High Jump
    • Broad Jump

Pre-Utility – This class shall be for dogs (effective July 1, 2013)

    • Signal Exercise – shows the dog's ability to understand and correctly respond to the handler's signal to stand, stay, down, sit and come. No voice commands are given; only hand signals are allowed.
    • Scent Discrimination – shows the dog's ability to find the handler's scent among a pile of articles.
    • Directed Retrieve – proves the dog's ability to follow a directional signal to retrieve a glove and promptly return it to the handler.
    • Moving Stand and Examination – the dog must heel, stand and stay as the handler moves away. The dog must stay and accept an examination by the judge and return to the handler on command.
    • Directed Jumping – the dog must go away from the handler, turn and sit. Then, the dog must clear whichever jump its handler indicates and promptly return to the handler.

Qualifying Performance

A qualifying score indicates that the dog has performed all the required exercises according to The AKC Obedience Regulations and justifies the awarding of the obedience title associated with the particular class.

Qualifying Score

A dog receives a qualifying score when it earns more than 50 percent of the points for each exercise, with a total of at least 170 points. A perfect score in any class is 200.

Awards

The following colors must be used for prize ribbons or rosettes in all regular classes, and for the Highest Scoring Dog in the Regular Classes, and for the ribbon or rosette for the dog with the Highest Combined Score in

Open B and Utility:

First Prize – Blue
Second Prize – Red
Third Prize – Yellow
Fourth Prize – White
Highest Scoring Dog In the Regular Classes – Blue and Gold
Highest Combined Score in Open B and Utility – Blue and Green

All dogs that have received a qualifying score in their class receive a dark green ribbon to indicate that they have earned a "leg," or qualifying score toward their title.

How Do I Get Started in Obedience?

The best advice is to START TRAINING EARLY! Training a puppy is easier than training an adult dog because a puppy is more open to new ideas and has not yet developed "bad habits."

While it's best to start young, the old saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" is only partially true. It is never too late to train your dog, although it may take longer to retrain it to eliminate undesirable habits.

Most AKC clubs conduct a variety of classes instructed by trainers who have won awards in obedience competition with their own dogs, and they make sure to stay up-to-date on the latest training techniques. They have experience training all breeds of dogs and can help solve behavior problems. Most clubs accept all types of dogs, mixed breeds and purebreds, and prospective students are usually welcome to observe a class before signing up for a training course.

When you attend classes with your dog, instructors will show you how to teach it and will expect you to practice at home. The younger the dog, the shorter the practice sessions should be. For the best results, both you and your dog should enjoy frequent short sessions, combined with some play and rewards.

To find AKC clubs in your area that offer training, please visit our Training Resources section.

Tips for the First-time Exhibitor

  • Register your dog with the AKC.
  • Be sure your dog is current on all inoculations and health check-ups.
  • Visit the AKC website to find a local obedience club.
  • Attend obedience classes with your dog.
  • Become familiar with the AKC Obedience Regulations.
  • Attend obedience trials, and become familiar with the ring procedures.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions of experienced exhibitors.

Tips for the First-time Spectator

  • However tempting, do not pet a dog without first asking for and receiving permission.
  • Many obedience trials have vendors and an information booth with helpful information for the general public. Browse, gather information and ask questions.
  • Arrive early, and bring a chair! Obedience often starts very early in the morning.
  • If you have not as yet purchased your dog, speak to exhibitors about their breeds to gain knowledge of the best dog for your family. Also visit the "Buying a Puppy" section of the AKC website.
  • If you bring a baby stroller to an obedience trial, be careful not to run over any dog's tail. Be sure your child respects the dogs and does not grab or poke at them. Due to space requirements some trials do not allow baby strollers.

Obedience Titles

AKC titles can only be earned at an AKC-licensed or member club trial. The Novice (CD) title must be completed before an exhibitor can enter the Open class. The Open title (CDX) must be earned before an exhibitor can enter the Utility class.

  • Companion Dog (CD) – The letters CD may be added after a dog's registered name when it has been certified by 2 different judges as receiving qualifying scores in Novice classes at three licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) – The letters CDX may be added after a dog's registered name after it has been certified by 2 different judges as receiving qualifying scores in Open classes at three licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Utility Dog (UD) – The letters UD may be added after a dog's registered name after it has been certified by 2 different judges as receiving qualifying scores in Utility classes at three licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) – Dogs with UD titles must earn qualifying scores in both Open B and Utility B at 10 trials in order to add the UDX title after their registered names.
  • Obedience Master (OM) – The letters OM may be added after a dog's name when it has earned a total of 200 OM points awarded to dogs earning a 190 or better from the Open B and Utility B classes based on the schedule of points established by the AKC Board of Directors. The OM will be followed by a numeric designation indicating the number of times a dog has met the requirements of the OM title up to 10.
  • Grand Master (OGM) – The letters OGM may be added after a dog's name when it has earned the 10th level of the Obedience Master title. Only one OGM title will be awarded.
  • Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH) – Dogs with UD titles must win 100 points and a first-place in Utility B and Open B, plus a third first-place win in either class, under three different judges.
  • National Obedience Champion (NOC) – The AKC awards this prestigious title annually to the dog that wins the AKC National Obedience Invitational. The letters NOC are placed before the dog's AKC-registered name and become part of the dog's permanent title.
  • Beginner Novice (BN) – The letters BN may be added after a dog's name when it has been certified by 2 different judges to have received qualifying scores in Beginner Novice classes at 3 licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Graduate Novice (GN) – The letters GN may be added after a dog's name when it has been certified by 2 different judges to have received qualifying scores in Graduate Novice classes at 3 licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Graduate Open (GO) – The letters GO may be added after a dog's name when it has been certified by 2 different judges to have received qualifying scores in Graduate Open classes at 3 licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Versatility (VER) – The letters VER may be added after a dog's name when it has been certified by 2 different judges to have received qualifying scores in Versatility classes at 3 licensed or member obedience trials
  • Pre–Novice (PCD) eff 7/1/13 – The letters PCD may be added after a dog's name when it has been certified by 2 different judges to have received qualifying scores in Pre-Novice at 3 licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Pre–Open (PCDX) eff 7/1/13 – The letters PCDX may be added after a dog's name when it has been certified by 2 different judges to have received qualifying scores in Pre-Open at 3 licensed or member obedience trials.
  • Pre–Utility (PUTD) eff 7/1/13 – The letters PCD may be added after a dog's name when it has been certified by 2 different judges to have received qualifying scores in Pre-Utility at 3 licensed or member obedience trials.

Information about Obedience Trials

The AKC offers a wide variety of resources to assist anyone interested in obedience, whether you are new to the sport or want to know how to hold an obedience trial. Contact AKC Customer Service at 919-233-9767 or Orderdesk@akc.org to inquire about the following resources:

  • "Getting Started in Companion Events" – Informative brochure which outlines the basics of getting started in AKC Companion Events.
  • AKC Show Trial Manual – Manual designed to assist clubs in understanding the requirements, the paperwork, the personnel, and the many details that must be handled correctly to hold a successful obedience trial.

Obedience Regulations, Obedience Judges Guidelines, The Steward in Obedience – a comprehensive booklet giving the regulations and guidelines for AKC Obedience Trials at which titles are earned.