The Wonderful World of Competitive Dog Obedience

This article will introduce the sport of competitive dog obedience and help owners decide if this is the right sport for their furry friends.

Mar 31, 2023By Amanda Henry
competitive dog obedience

Although you're probably familiar with dog obedience, you might not know that it can also be a competitive sport. Competition obedience is one of the best ways to teach your dog obedience skills, and this sport can be impressive, entertaining, and a ton of fun.

What is Competition Obedience?


With three primary levels ranging from basic to advanced in difficulty, competitive obedience is a sport that tests a dog’s ability to work with its handler to perform various trained tasks in front of a judge.

The first level of competitive obedience is novice. The exercises at this level tend to be what people generally think of when they think about dog obedience—heeling, recall, and staying on command. Some activities at the novice level are on-leash, and others are off-leash. After your dog has completed novice obedience, you move on to the open level. For the most part, the exercises at this level build off the activities done at the novice level. Instead of a traditional recall, this level introduces the drop on recall, which is a recall exercise where your dog has to lay down on command while they are moving toward you. Instead of the sit-and-down stays, this level uses those behaviors for a position change exercise known as command discrimination. Open obedience also introduces some entirely new tasks, including retrieves and a broad jump exercise. Everything at this level is done off-leash.


The final and most challenging level of competition is the utility level. Utility obedience combines and builds off all of the exercises done in the previous levels while adding in an extra difficulty. Instead of the heeling and command discrimination exercises, the utility level has a hand signal exercise that combines both and must be done without verbal cues.

Instead of the straightforward retrieve exercises done in the open, the utility activity has two more complicated retrieving tasks. The first is the directed retrieve exercise, where the handler leads the dog to retrieve one of three identical items. The second is an exercise known as scent discrimination, where the dog has to retrieve a scented item hidden among eight similar but unscented items. Utility obedience also has a unique exercise known as directed jumping, where the handler sends the dog to the other side of the ring and then asks them to go over whichever jump the judge chooses.

Is Competition Obedience Right for You?


Competition obedience can be an excellent sport for anyone, and it is fantastic for people who are new to dog sports. In fact, it was what initially brought me into the world of dog sports many years ago with my very first dog, Wally.

Although the higher levels have some jumping exercises, the physical requirements of obedience are relatively low, so just about any dog can participate in this sport regardless of age or physical ability. But even though it is not physically demanding, competitive obedience gives your dog loads of mental stimulation, so it is an excellent outlet for their energy. By working their brain and teaching them obedience behaviors, choosing to train and compete in this sport will give you a happy, fulfilled, well-behaved dog.

How to Get Started


Being one of the oldest dog sports, obedience trainers and clubs are easy to find, which is the best option if you want to get started in this sport. This sport can also be fairly easy to train at home, especially at the novice level. However, one of the drawbacks to this is that special equipment is used in the open and utility levels, in addition to the training being more complex. But if you're okay with the challenge, you can also train these levels at home.

Rally Obedience


If you like the concept of competitive obedience but are looking for a more casual sport, then rally obedience might be the dog sport for you. Based on traditional obedience competitions, this newer sport has you do exercises similar to competitive obedience exercises but in a different format. During a rally obedience competition, you enter a ring with 10-20 signs with instructions for various tasks. You and your dog will then walk around to each sign, completing the exercises described. As opposed to traditional obedience, where you work at the judge's pace and everything is formalized, rally obedience is much more casual and allows you and your dog to work at your own pace. Because it teaches similar skills, this sport can be a lot of fun to compete in either in addition to or instead of competition obedience.

Amanda Henry
By Amanda Henry

Amanda is an animal lover with over 10 years of experience in dog training and animal care. She has two dogs, an Australian cattle dog named Murphy and a Labrador retriever named Zappa. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, and riding horses.