FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) About AKC Obedience
What is AKC Obedience?
AKC Obedience is a type of competition which demonstrates a dog’s training to perform specific tasks. From the AKC Obedience regulations, the document which describes these competitions:
Obedience trials demonstrate the dog’s ability to follow specified routines in the obedience ring and emphasize the usefulness of the purebred dog as a companion to man. All contestants in a class are required to perform the same exercises in substantially the same way so that the relative quality of the various performances may be compared and scored. The basic objective of obedience trials, however, is to recognize dogs that have been trained to behave in the home, in public places and in the presence of other dogs in a manner that will reflect credit on the sport of obedience at all times and under all conditions.
What does a dog have to do in an obedience trial?
There are three levels of competition in obedience trials, named Novice, Open, and Utility. Mastery of each level is demonstrated by achieving a passing score (a minimum of 170 points out of 200 available) at three different licensed AKC obedience trials. The exercises included in each level are described below.
For the dog just getting started in obedience. Exercises include:
- Heel on Leash and Figure Eight: The dog must remain at a specified location at the handler’s left side while the handler follows the judge’s directions on where to walk. The dog must adjust speed with the handler, and sit at heel when the handler stops.
- Heel Free: Same as the Heel on Leash but without the leash.
- Stand for Examination: The dog must stand and stay while being briefly examined by the judge.
- Recall: The dog must respond to the handler’s command to come from 40 feet away.
- Long Sit (1 minute) and Long Down (3 minutes): Done in groups of up to 12 dogs at a time, the dog must remain in the required position while positioned in a line 4 feet apart from each other.
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: Similar to the Novice recall exercise, with the addition of the dog going into a down position on command when part way to the owner.
- Retrieve on Flat: The dog must retrieve a wooden dumbbell thrown by the handler.
- Retrieve Over High Jump: The must jump over an obstacle in order to retrieve the dumbbell.
- Broad Jump: The dog must clear a low, long jump.
- Long Sit (3 minutes) and Long Down (5 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.
The third and highest level of obedience competition. Exercises include:
- Signal Exercise: The dog must 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: The dog must find the article with the handler’s scent among a pile of similar looking articles.
- Directed Retrieve: The dog must 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 one of two jumps its handler indicates.
Which dogs can participate in AKC Obedience trials?
To be eligible to compete in obedience trials, a dog must be:
- Registered with the AKC or listed with the AKC Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP**) program, or a Foundation Stock Service recorded breed that meets the eligibility requirements for competition.
- 6 months of age or older.
**Dogs of any breed recognized by the AKC that do not have registration papers or known parents may qualify for an Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP). 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 registered breed. The dog must be spayed or neutered. For information about the ILP program, visit the ILP section on the AKC web site, or e-mail questions to ILP@akc.org.
For those who have a mixed breed dog and wish to participate in obedience trials, the United Kennel Club (UKC) allows all spayed/neutered mixed breed dogs to participate. The UKC offers events which are similar to the AKC events, with slight variations. The UKC was originated and is headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and UKC events are quite plentiful in this state. Most of the answers to the other questions in this FAQ apply to the United Kennel Club as well.
Who is eligible to enter an AKC obedience trial?
Anybody who owns and/or trains an eligible dog and believes it to be prepared to attempt to pass the requirements may enter an AKC obedience trial. The sport of obedience is extremely accessible to a wide variety of participants. At any given trial you will find people of many differing ages, experience levels, athletic abilities, and vocations. Almost everyone who competes in obedience trials does so as a hobby with their own pets.
Furthermore, the AKC encourages and accommodates participation by individuals with disabilities. Those who use wheelchairs, crutches, hearing devices, etc have all successfully exhibited in obedience trials.
My dog is not a puppy. Isn’t that too old to learn so many new things?
No. Contrary to the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, dogs can be taught new skills at any age. Just like with humans, the mental stimulation is good for them, and they greatly enjoy the increased attention that they receive during the training process.
My dog is a breed that is known to be stupid, stubborn, and/or hard to train. I can’t be successful with him, can I?
Yes, you can. All dogs can be trained, and there is no skill in obedience competition that requires a canine Einstein to learn. Furthermore, there are varying levels of recognition awarded, and only the highest title requires direct competition between individuals. For all the rest, it is simply necessary to receive a passing score a certain number of times. The nice thing about obedience competition is that on any given day, every dog can “win”, and there is room to set and achieve a great variety of personal goals.
I’m interested. How would I get started?
Most people start by attending a beginning class that is geared towards teaching you to prepare your dog for obedience competitions. No special previous training is required, however, most dogs benefit from attending puppy classes, group classes, and/or undergoing evaluation and coaching to deal with any existing behavior problems.
There are competition obedience classes available at Currey’s Family Pet Care, taught by one of the most successful obedience exhibitors in the area, Laura Romanik. There are also obedience training clubs and private training schools. You can locate obedience and other types of dog clubs at the following AKC website;
How long does it take to train a dog for obedience trials? How often would I need to train?
Every dog is an individual and there is no set timetable that will be appropriate for every one. As with most activities, more time spent will produce faster results. However, most people are successful by attending a weekly class and practicing for a few minutes at a time 3-5 times per week. It is also necessary to practice in places other than at home so that your dog gets used to working even when there are unfamiliar people, dogs, and other distractions present. As you get closer to being ready to show, it is highly recommended to attend some practice trials to ensure that you and your canine teammate are completely prepared.
With dedicated training, some dogs are ready for the Novice level of obedience in as little as 6 months. However most will require a year or more of training in order to be adequately prepared.
How far would I have to travel to attend or see an obedience trial?
There are dozens of obedience trials offered in Michigan each year, and many are in the Detroit Metropolitan area. Upcoming AKC events can be found at the American Kennel Club website at the following link:
Upcoming UKC events are listed at the United Kennel Club Website at this link: