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Your first Obedience Trial!

Updated on July 1, 2017

You're finally ready!

You've been training your dog in the Novice exercises, he's got them all down pat.

You've attended fun matches (also called correction clinics, run-throughs, or show-and-goes) and done well enough to qualify.

You're ready for your big debut! Now what?

  • First step: find an Obedience Trial you'd like to attend. You can do this by checking the American Kennel Club's events calendar, either online or by subscribing to the AKC Gazette magazine. You can also find trials by looking at the Trial Superintendents' websites. When you find a location that's convenient for you, check out the particulars - is the trial indoors or out? If it's outside, is your dog familiar with working in grass? If not, you may have to give that trial a pass, at least for now. See who the judges are and ask your Obedience friends their opinion. Judges try to be impartial, but some score with a heavier hand than others.
  • Second step: Enter the Trial! Pay attention to the date entries are due and the fees. There isn't a standard amount - trial entry fees vary, but are usually between $20 and $25. Be sure to fill out all the information correctly. If this is your first Obedience dog, you are eligible for the Novice A class - take advantage of it! Only handlers who have never achieved an Obedience Title are eligible for this class, and judges want newbies to succeed!
  • While you're waiting for the trial date - practise, practise, practise! Take your dog wherever it's allowed: Heel in parking lots and pet stores; practise the Long Sit and Long Down at sidewalk cafes, have everyone you know examine your dog for the Stand For Exam.

North Shore Dog Training Club Trial, 2005
North Shore Dog Training Club Trial, 2005

The Day Finally Arrives!

The big day is here - what's going to the trial with you?

  1. Your dog
  2. Dog's training collar and leash
  3. Your dog's crate
  4. Water and water bowl for your dog
  5. Treats for your dog
  6. A folding chair
  7. Something for you to eat and drink
  8. Your entry confirmation
  9. Very strong breath mints (some say it hides your nerves from your dog)
  10. Your sense of humor

Long Down

Group Exercise - 2008 NSDTC Obedience Trial
Group Exercise - 2008 NSDTC Obedience Trial

You've arrived!

Plan to get to the Trial venue with plenty of time to spare. The last thing you need is to arrive and have the stewards calling your number, telling you you're up next!

Scope out the site before you unload all your stuff - chairs may be provided, or space may be limited for crating. Some obedience competitors "work" from their vehicles, never setting up at the site at all.

If your class (Novice A) is up first, you may "check in" at the Ring you will be competing in (listed on the Judge's Program you received with your entry confirmation) as soon as the Ring Stewards are ready. Most Stewards are volunteers from the Club that's holding the Trial. Their experience level will vary from greenhorn to old hand, so be patient, get in line, and wait your turn. The steward will ask for your entry number - it's on your confirmation. Then they will hand you a number and a rubber band. If they don't give you the band, there are usually some on the steward's table - pick one up. The number goes on your left arm, above your elbow. Secure it in place with the rubber band.

When the judge is ready to start your class, he or she will demonstrate the heeling pattern with one of the stewards. It's a good idea to pay attention. Then you wait.

Getting ready to go in the ring

As you're waiting your turn, keep an eye on the ring you'll be showing in. Novice runs about 8 dogs an hour, so you'll have a rough idea of how long it will be before it's your turn.

Take your dog out for "potty time" well before you're due in the ring - and don't forget a pit stop for yourself! Expect to be nervous - so you want to make yourself and your dog as comfortable as possible.

As your number gets close, let the stewards know you're there and ready. Don't make them go looking for you! Save a treat or two to give your dog right before you step in the ring. Pop a breath mint - it'll not only help mask your nerves from your dog, it'll help that nervous dry-mouth thing.

Leave space by the ring entrance for the dog ahead of you to exit. Wait for the judge to invite you in. Take a deep breath, listen to the judge, and have a good time! No matter what happens - you still get to take your dog home!

In the Open ring

Roc and I competed in Louisville in 2007
Roc and I competed in Louisville in 2007

Obedience Titles and Abbreviations

Beginner Novice
CD (Companion Dog)
CDX (Companion Dog Excellent)
Utility A
UD (Utility Dog)
Utility B
UDX (Utility Dog Excellent)
The highest title any dog can achieve in American Kennel Club Obedience competition is the OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion) which is difficult to achieve and includes not only your own performance, but takes into account the number of dog/handler team

About the author

Hope Saidel is the co-owner of, a bricks-and-mortar and online small dog shop featuring fun, affordable and practical products for small dogs. She has trained and competed in Obedience with small dogs for over a decade and is President of the North Shore Dog Training Club, the oldest AKC-member obedience club in the U.S.

© 2008 HopeS

Are you ready?

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      Anthony 7 years ago

      Thank you for this. As a total newbie who is bewildered by dog trials, your article has shed much light.