What is competitive obedience?

I’ve been involved in Competitive obedience since the late 1990’s, so for quite some time now. It’s a hobby that non-dog-people can find a little hard to understand (i.e. my husband) but personally, I’ve found it to be one of the best bonding activities me and my dogs have ever been through.

The whole point is to have an obedient and controlled dog, and to test its abilities in very specific ways. Dogs and their handlers work rounds, and they’re scored, rather like gymnasts doing a floor routine. The rounds focus on specific domains of control or ability, so it’s quite far removed from what you might think of with as ‘domestic’ obedience, and pushes the dogs a lot further. The key areas are heelwork, send-away, retrieve, distance control, scent, stay and recall.

I attended basic obedience classes all those years ago, with Jess, my family’s chocolate Labrador. During these classes my relationship with Jess grew immeasurably. Jess became more obedient and controlled I learnt how to teach Jess manners and obedience. As Jess improved, I started competing at shows with her and taking things a little more seriously. Unfortunately, being the kind of dog she was, Jess didn’t really enjoy things once the food went away, so we never had much success together, but by this point I had been totally bitten by the obedience bug. I have continued this love affair with obedience with all my subsequent dogs.

My Labrador Maggie, at our first Crufts


If you’re a dog owner with a grasp of basic control, and looking to grow your connection with your dog while discovering a new sport, I couldn’t recommend anything more highly than competitive obedience.

Obedience not only teaches your dog to be obedient and controlled but it allows you to interact with your dog in a way other than walks. It provides mental stimulation that dogs need for a full and healthy life. I have travelled all over the country with competitive obedience, met some of the most talented dog handlers and some incredibly talented trainers. The pinnacle so far for me has been competing at Crufts, for the Welsh national team – and winning my class there!

I find that the really valuable part of competitive obedience is the beginning, where competitive obedience overlaps basic obedience. Competitive obedience gave me the real understanding of how to take a young puppy that has no previous knowledge, and mould a basic behaviour into an obedience exercise in a way that the puppy understands. I especially love that I compete with my Labradors, a breed that many consider silly, hyper and at times stupid, however mine are driven talented and accurate. This helps my dogs and I to form a team – one that I am proud to be a part of.

Obedience gets under your skin and pushes you to constantly challenge your dog and yourself. There is always room to improve on the exercises you have already taught and to go on forever teaching new ones. It’s my personal goal to compete at the highest levels, in the obedience “Championship”, competing against the very best of the best at Crufts – as well as showing the obedience world that anything a collie can do, a Lab can do better!

If you’d like to know more, feel free to ask me, or here in Norfolk we have 2 obedience clubs, Norfolk Broads Dog Training Club (http://www.nbdtc.com) and Great Yarmouth Dog Training Club. The sport is governed by the Kennel Club, which means that your dog does have to be registered in order to compete.

Information about shows, clubs and how to get involved is all available from www.obedienceuk.net – it’s full of great info.