Monday, March 24, 2008

Competition Obedience

(photo: Long Down in the Novice ring)
I wanted to take a few moments and talk about our other work, competitive obedience.

(To many, obedience training, conjures up images of choke chains, coercion and the bending of wills. There is some truth to that idea; obedience as a sport was developed out of the military training dogs underwent to work overseas in WWII. And in my younger days, the majority of trainers worked under that banner: The Dog MUST Obey. There was a lot of jerking and force involved.But since that time---and in large part I believe because of feminism, ecology, and a generation who grew up watching Flipper and Lassie—he sport has undergone vast changes. Instead of coercion, we use positive reinforcement, instead of blind obedience, we enter a dance, and I haven’t used a choke chain in over 10 years.)

Mostly I want to share what it is exactly we DO in class and what it is we are preparing for.

There are 3 categories of obedience: Novice, Open and Utility. (Rally Obedience is another category) To gain a title, which will appear after the dog’s name like a PhD, or MSW…a dog must pass in three trials under three different judges.

In Novice, a dog and handler strive for a CD (Companion Dog). Novice is kind of like grades k-12 for children. The building blocks on which all other learning take place are forged here, including a love and eagerness for learning and working together.

The exercises include: Heel on Leash, Heel off Leash, Stand for Examination, Recall, and the Long Sit and Long Down.

Heel is a very specific position: the dog’s shoulder should be aligned with the handler’s left hip and dog and handler should be able to move into and out of any position without deviating from that alignment. Left and right turns, Figure eights, close pivots, and about turns make up the movement.
The leash, when on, is NEVER to be tight. Points are lost for tight leads and corrections are forbidden in the ring.

Stand for examination requires the dog be asked to stand and stay (no moving of feet) while a stranger (the judge) runs his/her hand over the dog’s body.

The recall requires the dog be left on a sit stay at one end of the ring while the handler walks to the other side and turns and faces the dog. Until the judge signals the handler to call the dog and the handler calls the dog, she must not “break her sit”. No standing, lying down or moving until she is called. When she is called she must come –the faster the better—on the FIRST command and sit closely and squarely in front of her handler. The judge will then ask for a finish and the handler will tell the dog to move from in front into heel position.

Each dog and handler performs the above exercises alone in the ring except for the judge and the stewards who serve as “posts” for the figure 8 heeling.

After each dog completes the above:

Everyone competing for a “leg” (passing score) in Novice lines up along side one side of the ring with about 4 feet between each dog and handler. The dogs are placed on a “Sit Stay”, the handlers cross the ring where they must stand with no further signals to the dogs for one minute. The dogs cannot move from their sit to go to the handler, play with the dog next to her, check out what that kid at ringside is eating until the handlers are asked to return to their dogs, take up heel position and the judge announces the exercise finished.

The long down is the same, only lasts 3 minutes. If the dog moves from position at any point after the handler has said stay, until he handler releases the dog, in wither the long sit or long down, the dog will not pass.

In Open, we are competing for a CDX (Companion Dog Excellent) and I’d liken Open to undergraduate school, or college. The dog is required to do all a Novice dog does, only all heeling is done off leash, the long sit is 3 minutes, the long Down, 5 AND the handlers MUST leave the room for the duration. In addition the recall has grown to include being sent from the handler’s side to retrieve a dumbbell over a jump (out and back), to drop into a down in the middle of coming back to the handler when asked, and then to continue to front when asked. Open requires the dog to do more at a distance from the handler.

The third level is Utility, and the coveted title is a UD (Utility Dog). The average number of trials a dog and handler enter in their quest for the 3 passing scores (or legs) that will confer the UD is 26. That means on average, 23 times the team will not qualify. It’s hard work!
More on Utility later.

All the papillons in our house have their CD title and are training for Open and Utility. Maudie and I are getting ready to get her CD.

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