A Quick Guide to Obedience Sports
Obedience sports for dogs are the fastest growing sector of the dog world for one good reason - they are fun. Most dog breeds can be taught to perform at least some basic obedience behaviors, and it is with these that handlers compete in various classes against other dogs on a course that has been laid out by the judge.
Popular obedience sports include:
- Heelwork to music
- Musical canine freestyle
- Obedience trial
- Rally obedience
What is Heelwork to Music?
It is a team sport, where the dog and handler perform as a team to the music of their choice. The dog must heel at all times but may be happy and bouncy. There are many different elements that must be performed including position changes, front crosses, rear crosses, jumping through your legs, sit-stays, the figure-eight leg weave, etc., but the dog always remains very close to a proper heel position next to the handler.
The main criteria for heelwork to music are the dog's precision with the moves and the content. The dog must perform them accurately, dynamically, with energy and bounce. The judges evaluate the team's performance based on 3 elements:
- Technical Merit - This element comprises how well the team presents the choreography, discrete signals to the dog, and how well the dog outshines the handler.
- Content - Here, the judges pay attention to how the tricks are executed, their degree of difficulty, and how the team uses the dancing ring space.
- Entertainment Value - Lastly, the judges gauge how well the music and choreography flow and fits with the routine, the dog, and the audience.
What is Musical Canine Freestyle?
Freestyle has many similarities to Heelwork to Music, with added complexities of tricks or moves that are not found in everyday life or at other performance venues (such as stairs, jumps, tunnels, etc.). The team does not always need to stay on their feet for this piece; it can be done with the handler on the floor or on their knees. The judges at freestyle are looking more for precision with tricks, style, and flair.
What is an Obedience Trial?
Obedience trials are where the dog and handler demonstrate their training through a series of exercises (heelwork, long sits, retrieves), which are performed on the judge's command. The team must perform 6 to 15 individual exercises with each one being judged on the correctness of performance. Common exercises include:
- Broad Jump
- Directed Jumping
- Directed Retrieve
- Drop on Recall
- Figure 8
- Retrieve on the Flat
- Retrieve Over High Jump (Open class)
- Scent discrimination
- Sit for Exam
- Stand For Exam
What is Rally Obedience?
Rally has several different formats, but the basic idea behind the rally is to have a class of dogs and handlers competing against each other with freestyle exercises. On the course, handlers are instructed on how to command the dog by signs placed along the course. These signs are the equivalent of "obedience ring gates" in standard obedience, with each sign indicating what trick or exercise must be performed when reached. Rally is fast-paced and gives both handlers and their dogs a lot of exposure time on the competition circuit.
What Sport is Right for You & Your Dog?
The easiest way to find out is to first see what's available in your area! The next step would be to talk to the trainers, instructors, or competitors at those venues. They will give you insight into what you and your dog will enjoy as well as some good places to start training if needed.