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Competitive obedience: How to teach your dog commands

German shepherd with trophies advice

Dog obedience training

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Competitive obedience shows test a dog’s ability to follow commands. Think of it as a dog sport, where pooches and handlers get to show off their skills and maybe even take home a prize. Shows are held all over the world, with the most prestigious events like Crufts attracting huge crowds.

By Ashley Murphy

Published on the 09/03/2020, 15:00

But there's more to obedience training than impressing the judges. It's an integral part of maintaining your dogs physical and mental health and a great way to bond with your pooch.

Teaching your dog obedience

Obedience training is a vital part of any dog's development. It helps keeps their minds and bodies active, but it also instill a sense of structure and routine. Dogs love this as it helps them understand their position in the pack. Without the right training and socialisation, they may develop behavioural problems, including signs of aggression as they begin to compete for dominance.

What is the best method to teach your dog commands? 

Dogs learn through repetition and positive associations. For example, when teaching a pooch to sit, you should start by holding a treat over their head. Then move your hand in a backward arch and say ‘sit’ in a firm, but friendly voice. When your dog’s bottom touches the floor, give them the treat and lots of praise. Repeat this over a series of short training sessions. And remember, dog obedience training is all about patience and positivity. Learning should always be fun for you and the dog.

Do you want to teach your dog how to sit? Read our expert's tips

How to train my dog to be in competitions? 

The training methods for competitive obedience work on the same principle. You just need to adapt the training to specific obedience trials and be willing to put in a lot more time and effort.

Dog obedience exercises

They are many different levels of competitive obedience, but you should always start by mastering the basics, such as heelwork. This is where your dog walks on your left-hand side along a designated pathway while following a set of commands, such as stay and recall. Heel training has three basic stages:

  • Establish the heel position: Using treats, entice the dog to sit down by your left-hand side. Repeat, then introduce a heel command.  
  • Walking at heel: Start with just a few paces. When the dog walks ahead of you, stop, then use a treat to entice them back into position. Increase the number of step as your sessions progress. 
  • Introduce distractions: Introduce distractions into your training sessions. The park is a great way to replicate a dog show. It's full of other people and pooches. Follow the same methods, dishing out big praise and tasty treats when your dog learns to focus on the task at hand.

UK dog clubs

For more advanced obedience trials, like scent discrimination and distant control, you should enrol your pup into some training classes.

There are loads of dog training clubs across the UK that run regular classes. You can join for a small annual fee. It's usually around £20 with extra charges for lessons. Dog clubs are great for meeting other owners. They'll also keep you up to date on any upcoming dog shows or changes in the rules and regulations of dog obedience.

How much do dog training classes cost in the UK? 

For basic obedience classes, expect to pay between £6–15 per session. Some charities run sessions for as little as £2.

But if you want your dog to stand out at obedience shows, you'll need the best trainers and handlers. The relationship between dog and handler is crucial to doing well in dog shows. As such, the top handlers can charge up to £30 an hour for one on one sessions. Alternatively, you can sign up for six-week beginner courses with other owners for around £60.

Which breeds are best suited for competitive obedience

Working dogs tend to do well at obedience competitions. The group winners of last years American Kennel Club obedience trials included a Golden Retriever,  an Australian Sheepdog, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Working dogs were bred to work side by side with humans and will always have an advantage over other breeds. But plenty of pooches have broken the mould, including Rudy the Bulldog. He wowed judges with an amazing agility performance despite his diminutive stature and wobbly belly!

Find out more about dog agility

You don't need to pick up the best in show rosette to enjoy competitive obedience with your dog. In fact, for many people, the best part of competitive obedience is spending some quality time with their furry friend and watching them develop into a healthy and happy dog - and that's more important than any trophy!