by Helen Smith
"Kyrie" and owner
We all want a well behaved dog, and obedience classes should be taken to learn how to train your dog to be a pleasant companion. But you can also do more! If you enjoy training your Samoyed, and you make the experience enjoyable to your Samoyed, you might want to consider training for obedience competition. Do not believe anyone who tells you that Samoyeds can not do obedience. Many Samoyeds earn obedience titles each year. The only limitations in training Samoyeds are the desires of the owners.
Traditional obedience competition was developed to show that dogs are intelligent, and are useful as companions. At the lower levels the exercises in competition demonstrate refined versions of the basic obedience that many companion dogs know (i.e. heeling, recalls, stays). Many of the exercises in the advanced levels, such as retrieving and jumping, were originally based on functions a hunting dog had to perform.
In competition, the dogs (and handlers!) are judged on how well they execute the exercises prescribed for that class. In traditional obedience competition precision is an important component of that judgment, but the enjoyment and willingness of the dog are also important. In Rally obedience precision is not as important, but speed and smoothness are emphasized.
Many organizations including the AKC, UKC, ASCA and CKC provide titles. Rules vary a bit between the organizations, but many of the essentials are the same. Dogs must be registered with the granting organization, but do not need to be "show quality" in order to enter trials and earn titles, and ILP dogs are eligible to participate.
Traditional Classes and Titles
"Cyber" owned by Helen Smith
Most organizations have three levels of traditional obedience classes, and a variety of titles the dog can earn. For example, in the AKC, qualifying three times in the Novice class earns the Companion Dog (CD) title. Three qualifying scores in the Open class earns the Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) title. And three qualifying scores in the Utility class results in the Utility Dog (UD) title. After the UD title is earned, you can keep competing in both the Open and Utility class. If your dog qualifies ten times in both classes at the same trial, the Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) title has been earned. This title is one that requires consistency in the working of the dog. At this point in time, only one Samoyed has earned the UDX title. The final title is the Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH) which requires 100 championship points to be earned by placing and winning in both the Utility and Open classes. This title requires excellence in order to beat the many competitive dogs in those classes. To date two Samoyeds have earned the coveted OTCH title.
In general, the difficulty of the exercises increases as you move up the classes. In each exercise, you and your dog must score more than 50% of the possible points (ranging from 20 to 40) and get a total score of at least 170 out of a possible 200 in order to "qualify". Each time your Samoyed gets that magic 170 qualifying score, a "leg" is earned towards his title.
The AKC Novice class includes heeling (both on and off lead), a recall, and three stay exercises. The Open class includes off lead heeling; a "drop on recall" which requires that the dog, on your command, stop and lie down in the middle of the recall; retrieving (both by itself, and with a jump included); a broad jump; and two stay exercises where you are out of sight of your dog. The Utility class includes a hand signal exercise where the dog must heel, stay, lie down, sit and come on hand signals only; scent discrimination exercises where the dog pick out the articles with your scent on them; a directed retrieve, where the dog gets the one glove, of three, that it is sent to get; a moving stand where the dog must stay for a full body exam by the judge and must on your command, return directly to heel (instead of to the traditional "sit it front" position); and finally the directed jumping exercises, where the dog leaves the handler, goes out in a straight line until told to sit, and then jumps whichever jump the handler directs him to.
a typical rally sign
The latest twist on the obedience scene is the introduction of the sport of Rally. The emphasis in Rally obedience is less on precision, and more on speed and flow. The only instruction from the judge is to tell you to begin and then the dog and handler proceed at their own pace through a course of designated stations (10-20 depending on the level). Each station has a sign that tells you what exercise you must perform at that station. A perfect score in Rally is 100, and points are deducted for missing exercises, tight leads, poor sits, and dog out of position among other faults. Scoring is not as rigorous as formal obedience, but courses are timed and the times are used to break ties.
One big difference in Rally competition is that the handler is allowed, and encouraged, to talk to their dog. Multiple commands and praise are the norm. However, handlers may not touch their dog or make physical corrections. There should be a sense of teamwork between the dog and handler both during the numbered exercises and between the exercise signs. Rally exercises are primarily permutations on heeling and include 90, 180, 270 and 360° turns, pivots, halts, sits, downs, stands, spirals, figure eights, fronts and finishes. The team of dog and handler move continuously with the dog under control at the handler's left side, however perfect heel position is not required.
AKC Rally has three levels, Novice, Advanced and Excellent and is a regular titling activity. The traditional three qualifying legs are required for the Rally Novice, Rally Advanced and Rally Excellent titles. More difficult exercises are required in the higher level classes. Titles can also be earned at APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) Rally trials.
No matter what style of obedience you like, it is always a team sport and one of your jobs to make the training process rewarding to your Samoyed. With puppies make your training a game, do not expect perfection from them, and they will come to love to play with you. The same is true of adult dogs! It is not true that an old dog can not learn new tricks. Many older dogs that have been rescued from neglect have gone on to earn obedience titles. Be positive and happy and your Samoyed will respond with enthusiasm!
Obviously, heeling is an important behavior in all styles of obedience, so take the time to learn this exercise well. Simply walking around in a circle is very boring to Samoyeds, who do not do well with continuous repetition of exercises that they perceive as useless, so you need to make the training fun, and limit your repetitions. Leave them wanting more! Heel position should always be a pleasant place for you Samoyed to be. Another position important in all obedience competition is the Sit in Front, otherwise known simply as "Front" position. Here you want the dog sitting directly in front of you, but not touching you, and looking up at your face. It is also helpful to begin teaching your Samoyed to retrieve as soon as possible. Samoyeds are not as likely to be natural retrievers as any of the sporting (i.e. retrieving) breeds are, but they can be taught to bring things to you. Start with toys and balls to make it fun, and then get a properly fitted obedience dumbbell for your more formal work. Other exercises that can be learned from the start include the recall, sit, down and stand, and the stay. Train not only in the quiet of your home or backyard, but also in distracting environments like public parks, training classes, or parking lots (keep safety in mind first of course!).
One of the most important contributing factors in obedience success is to find an instructor who fits your style and is supportive of your personal goals. You should enjoy going to classes, not dread them. If you take a class from an instructor and don't enjoy it, start looking elsewhere. Before you enter your first trial you should know the rules of the organization backwards and forwards. For instance, you don't want to miss qualifying for something as simple as accidentally giving two commands on the recall exercise. Spend some time hanging out at obedience trials and watching the handlers and their dogs. Volunteer to steward (assist the judge) at a formal trial and you will learn a lot about the judging and rules of the organization. Ask your instructor and training buddies any questions you have. Attend as many matches (practice trials) as you can so that you will feel comfortable with the class routine, and your dog becomes accustomed to working in a trial atmosphere.
Even if you decide you do not want to compete in obedience trials, training for obedience competition deepens the bond with your Samoyed. Consider that your primary goal, and you will always be successful!
Open class out of sight stays at an SCA National