A well-trained dog holds a universal appeal like no other. Dog obedience competitions and demonstrations are wildly popular at fairs and festivals across the country and many of us have fond memories of the spectacular stunts of Lassie, the Littlest Hobo, Winn-Dixie and Beethoven.
Throughout the history of humankind’s interaction with the dog, across the globe and for a multitude of functions, some degree of training has been part of this relationship. In the early days, it was to complement their ‘job,’ accompanying the hunter to retrieve game or tending to a shepherd’s flock.
Training became more standardized in early 20th century in Germany, when dogs were utilized for police work and to further the war effort. Working dogs of several breeds—German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Airedale Terriers, and others—were enlisted to search for wounded soldiers, deliver messages and to hunt rats in the trenches. To assess a dog’s suitability for these jobs, they were tested on their ability to heel, retrieve, jump and follow basic commands such as sit, lay down, stay and come. These tests would become the foundation of obedience competition.
Today, the sport of obedience encourages and fosters advanced training and demonstrate a dog’s ability and willingness to work with their handler: a celebration of the human-dog bond.
It All Started with a Poodle and a Dream
On this side of the Atlantic, it was a Standard Poodle breeder by the name of Helen Whitehouse Walker who was the driving force behind the establishment of obedience trials. In the United States during the early 1930s, Walker set out to prove that her breed was not only beautiful, but also highly trainable. Walker enlisted dog trainer Blanche Saunders to train her Poodles, and encouraged dog clubs to consider adding obedience tests at their dog shows. In 1933, the first trial was held, offering just one class. In 1937, in an effort to promote the sport and the benefits of dog training, Walker and Saunders travelled with their poodles from state to state putting on obedience demonstrations. Performing Poodles started popping up at public events all over the country—setting the stage for what has become the exciting and inclusive sport of today.
A Closer Look at Obedience
The Canadian Kennel Club introduced obedience trials in 1944. Obedience is a sport for all dogs – purebred and mixed breeds alike. Even at the most advanced levels, the exercises can be mastered by dogs of all shapes and sizes, from the long and low Dachshund to the tall and majestic Great Dane. Each dog-and-handler team is judged on its own performance and not against other competitors.
There is a specific set of exercises for each level of obedience, and at all levels your dog needs to earn a qualifying ‘leg’ (a score of at least 170 out of 200 points) at three different trials in order to earn a title.
The three levels of competition are:
Novice: The dog is expected to heel, sit, come when called, and stay in both a sit and a laying down position. A good Novice dog has been trained to cover all the basics that makes it an enjoyable, well-behaved pet.
Open: In addition to the Novice exercises, retrieving and jumping are added, and stays are done with the owner out of sight for a few minutes; alternatively, the owner can remain in the ring and direct their dog through a series of position changes.
Utility Dog: This level adds scent discrimination (finding an article with the owner’s scent on it), obeying hand signals and directed jumping.
One of the most exciting recognitions in Obedience is the coveted High in Trial (HIT). To earn a HIT, a dog must score higher than all other dogs competing that day from all Utility, Open and Novice A and B classes.
Honouring Canada’s Top Obedience Dogs is a Big HIT
In 1974, obedience dogs were welcomed into the Top Dog fold with a point system created by obedience competitor, judge and author, Betty McHugh. Points are based on a dog’s score each time it qualifies in Open and Utility. Top Dogs are ranked according to the Top 5 in each breed, the Top 10 in each group, and the Top 10 all breeds. The Canadian Kennel Club is proud of the countless dog-and-trainer teams across the country, who worked tirelessly to develop their skills to the level required to achieve a CKC Top Dog title.
Training and competing with an obedience dog is a personal journey. Keltie Lang is a new addition to the Top 10 ranks. According to Lang, “The bond between dog and handler is what initially drew me to the sport and is what keeps me involved. I also like the competitive aspect of it. There is a thrill to working towards your personal best and achieving it.”
Find out who will take home the title of CKC Top Obedience Dog
and more on Monday, February 19. A special thank you to our CKC Top Dogs
presenting sponsor, Purina® Pro Plan®
May the best team