What is Competitive Obedience? | HotDogs K9 Training

What is Competitive Obedience?

happy heelwork
Sarah Ripley
Posted in Sports Training

Ok, so I’m totally biased here!  Competitive obedience is my passion. I love to watch and train happy, enthusiastic dogs performing precise moves and exercises with attitude and pizazz.  There is something about having a dog so tightly and joyfully synchronised with your every move that is just indescribable.


Competitive obedience is ‘old’.

As a sport, competitive obedience has been around for decades.  It is recognised in many different countries although each country follows its own rules and ‘style’.  Here in NZ, we closely follow the UK requirements and exercises; dogs have to work very close to the handler in heelwork and we have no exercises that require jumping.  In the USA and Australia the dog is not allowed to touch the handler and they do have jumping exercises.  Most variations fall into one of these two ‘camps’. However, wherever you are, competitive obedience has some common principles.  To give you a taster, here is a round from the highest level of competition in NZ, Test C:



No matter what the exercise, in competitive obedience precision counts.  A lot! Heelwork (when the dog trots along next to the handler’s left side) has to be tightly synchronised; no lagging behind, surging forward or drifting in or out from the handler’s side.  Sits have to be absolutely parallel to the handler’s side or lined up straight in front of the handler’s feet.  The dog must perform retrieves with no chomping of articles or deviations from ‘out and back’.  Every little move must be clean.  The dog must only move on the handler’s signal or command – but move instantly the signal is given.  I make no bones about it, it’s tough!


Minimal help from the handler

In obedience, in the higher levels, you are not allowed to give extra commands or signals.  You cannot help your dog – they have to be very confident of their job and able to perform it independently.  If your dog forgets what they are doing you will be heavily penalised for providing help – so you had better be sure you have trained that exercise thoroughly!


So why do it?

Like all difficult enterprises, the thrill is in the challenge.  You will not get a ribbon every time you enter the ring, nowhere near. But the feeling of being out there, showing off your teamwork and your dog’s expertise is second to none, even if you don’t place.  For me, the challenge is in finding ways to teach my dog the exercises, to the required standards, while maintaining their joy for the work and attitude of ‘let me do it!!’  I refuse to use punitive methods – the mainstay of many obedience trainers – my dog’s emotional wellbeing is far more important than competition scores.  However, I am competitive!  I train to win!  I love nutting out training challenges and so far, I’ve found nothing that challenges me more than competitive obedience.


Are you up for the challenge?

If you think you’d like to get your teeth into a challenge, if you think ‘details’ matter and want to teach precise behaviours, get in touch!

Happy training!

– Sarah & The Gang

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  1. Eleanor

    I have a two and a half year old Portuguese Water Dog and have started on training the competitive obedience – I have a problem with her watching me and remaining in. Tight heel. Any suggestions?

    • Sarah Ripley

      Hi Eleanor

      If I understand you correctly, she is either losing her focus or losing her position? Unfortunately there is no quick fix for either of those problems – I wish there was! The only way to build a good, solid, heel with attention and duration is to go back to basics and start building the duration again more slowly so you don’t build the issue into your heeling again. I almost always see it in handlers who have asked too much too soon. Good luck!


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