Ian's High in Trial

Having grown up practically next to an obedience ring, I think I might be disowned if I didn’t earn at least a CD on each of my dogs.  Ian did so quickly — only four trials, and his NQ in one of them was completely my fault, not his.  It’s not often you get to claim a High in Trial out of the Novice A class!


In AKC Novice Obedience, a dogs must complete each of the following exercises:

  • Heel on Leash
  • Figure 8 (on leash)
  • Stand for Examination
  • Heel off Leash
  • Recall
  • 1 Minute Sit-Stay
  • 3 Minute Down-Stay

To qualify, the dog and handler must complete each exercise with at least half the available points for that exercise, AND with a total score of 170 or higher out of 200.  To earn a CD (“Companion Dog”) title, the team must qualify at three different obedience trials under at least two different judges.



Known as “the Heartbreaker,” Open obedience is not quite so easy to breeze through.  Those exercises are:

  • Heel off Leash
  • Figure 8 (off leash)
  • Retrieve on the Flat
  • Retrieve over the High Jump
  • Drop on Recall
  • Broad Jump
  • 3 Minute Sit-Stay (handler out of sight)
  • 5 Minute Down-Stay (handler out of sight)

As with Novice obedience, the dog/handler must have a score of 170 or higher and complete each exercise with at least half of the available points.  Ian has earned one CDX (“Companion Dog Excellent”) leg in six attempts.  Here’s hoping we can add a couple more this summer!



The third and final class level in AKC obedience is Utility.  Exercises in that class are:

  • Moving Stand and Exam
  • Signal Exercise
  • Directed Jumping
  • Scene Discrimination
  • Directed Retrieve

The same 170/half of each exercise rules apply to qualify, and three qualifying scores earn you a UD (“Utility Dog”) title.    It also earns you a lot of respect from Yours Truly, because this is HARD.  Not every dog is a Utility prospect.  I don’t anticipate working Ian through Utility, but I DO hope to get Elli there one day.  She has the drive and work ethic he lacks to be successful.



The UDX (“Utility Dog Excellent”) and OTCH (“Obedience Trial Champion”) titles are awarded not for completing ever-harder exercises, but for completing those already laid out consistently.  To earn a UDX leg, a dog must qualify in both Open B and Utility B at the same trial.  Once a dog earns TEN legs, he receives a UDX.

The OTCH is based on a point system and requires that the dog not only qualify, but also earn first place in its class on several occasions.  Unlike the UDX, the dog does not need to qualify in both Open B and Utility B at the same trial;  points are awarded separately for each class, and dogs do not have to earn an equal number of points from each to satisfy their OTCH requirements.

From my own personal perspective, I am honestly more impressed by a UDX than by an OTCH.  It demonstrates a higher degree of consistency, if not precision.  It also just “feels” better.  Attaining a UDX doesn’t compare your dog to someone else’s, just to a set of rules.  I care more about my dog obeying consistently than I do about he or she having perfectly straight sits to grab first place on a given day.

And Obedience trials feel a lot different today than they did 30 years ago.  There used to be a feeling of camaraderie outside the obedience ring.  People pulled for one another, congratulated one another, and helped out where they could.  Class placement took second billing to qualifying or not qualifying, because beyond the color of the ribbon awarded, it didn’t matter.  Your certificate of title doesn’t list your scores or your class placements.

With the advent of the OTCH title, though, a point here and there suddenly meant something, and as with any other sport, Obedience draws its share of uber-competitive people.  Some of these folks are not always pleasant.  I’ve been an obedience steward more times than I can count, and the number of complaints I’ve heard from some of these OTCH people boggles the mind, things like “that ring gate looks funny;”  “there’s a lollipop stick about five feet outside the ring;”  “the dogs are going to be in the sun over there;” and so on.

The bottom line — and the phrase I NEED to put on a t-shirt the next time I steward — TRAIN, DON’T COMPLAIN!!

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