Here at ‘The Dog Snobs’, there is a fair amount of competitive spirit. It reasons then that dog sports would play an active role in our existence. Busybee and Mr. T, despite having the hearts of Champions (and probably better training than most dogs who actually compete), don’t have any plans to step into the show ring, but Fang, Potnoodle and their dogs are regular competitors at a variety of performance events. Between the three of us, we know a lot about different performance events and feel it is our duty to share (with a touch of snark) the intricacies of each type of event. For our first entry on this topic, we will tackle Obedience which is Fang’s favored venue.
The Obedience ring is where it all started. To the outsiders, most people with a pulse under the age of 45, and spectators, Obedience is rather boring. It’s quiet, subtle, and like fine wine; it’s all just Boone’s Farm if you don’t know what you’re talking about. There are a ton of subtleties and class variants and optional titling classes. These vary by organization but the most basic version is pretty simple.
There are three levels; Novice (CD or Companion Dog), Open(CDX or Companion Dog Excellent) and Utility (UD or Utility Dog). You must qualify (Q) three times in the class to earn the title and the previous title is required to move to the next level. Each level has different exercises but the idea is that each level is built upon the successes of the previous. There is functionally an alphabet soup of possibilities in terms of Obedience class titling. As a tip though if you see OM (Obedience Master), UDX (Utility Dog Excellent) or most impressively OTCh (Obedience Trial Champion) in a dog’s name; they put more hours into their dog’s training each week than you spent picking your last vehicle.
The rules for Obedience are not by any means simple. While people always tell you to “RTFM!” (Read The Fucking Manual), this time they mean it, and we mean they really really mean it. Can you use both a hand signal and a verbal command? Well, we know the answer and we’re not telling you because 1) It would take too long and 2) RTFM!
Obedience is one of those funny places where everyone is a Type A personality and anything other than that will earn you a funny look. Weirdly, this is also one of the places where breed sweaters with matching pants and pom poms are held up as a standard and even expected fashion choice.
While occasionally standoffish at trial, they’re also some of the people most willing to bolster up a new exhibitor and offer suggestions when frustration hits. However, it is a hard regular clique to break into. Like in a lot of dog events, there are clubs based around groups of people, many of whom have been around since the dawn of time and they’re not so inclined to invite you into their inner circle. If you want in your best bet will always be the old fashioned way. Train your ass off, and someone will notice… eventually.
The cliques in obedience are fairly broad and have a lot of ‘Shades of Snob’ in them. Oddly enough despite a fair amount of animosity between Conformation and Obedience competitors (You’d be pissy too if you were relegated to the back corner of a massive complex) they share the most similarity in groups. You have ‘The Old Timers’, ‘The Clicker-ites’, ‘The Balanced Trainers’, ‘The <Insert Breed here> people’. The groups then get smaller as personality conflict, training-style and who-knows-who gets sorted. The tribalization isn’t surprising really. We all like to be a part of a group but eventually someone’s got to get sacrificed upon the altar of competition. It’s like Hunger Games but with no risk of actual death, at least hopefully.
So, you’ve made it to the club. You’re in! You’re training your dog and now comes the rough reality, there are over 200 ways to NQ (Not qualify) on your way to a CDX and in Utility that number goes up exponentially. And sometimes the longer you train the more it seems like your dog is inventing new ways to circumvent the exercise. Dreaming of an OTCh? How many times have you won in a class over over 6 dogs, heck in a class of just 3 dogs even when you’re competing against finished OTCh dogs? How many times can you spend $200 a weekend for trialling. Can you handle the inevitable failure that comes with the journey? It’s as much a mental commitment as a financial one really.
If you think you’re still game, it’s time to meet who you’ll be up against.
Agility: Probably the number one rival for funding, space and attention, Agility is the whoreish younger sister of Obedience. It’s fast, it’s flashy and it has crowd appeal. A lot of the training is similar and both sides have noted the benefit to cross-training but be damned if anyone likes to lose space to the other.
Rally Obedience: Don’t let the name fool you. What was originally supposed to be a “pre-obedience’ styled competition has morphed into its own bloated image as the epitome of obedience. The love child of Obedience and Phonics, rally is a wonderful place to introduce your dog to a lot of stuff you can’t do in Obedience and a handful of stuff you can. Judging is pretty typically loose and easy and generally it’s a fun relaxed environment without a lot of the stresses Obedience brings.
All kidding aside, dog sports are awesome ones with ribbons, trophies and more big-ass ribbons even more so.
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