Introduction to Obedience Training

Written by: Isobella Ash

You’ve seen a collection of blogs from our Managing Directors Personal Assistant Jane, about her new litter of puppies, but what you may not know is she trains her dogs to compete in obedience shows. If you think that this may be something you and your canine companion would like to have a go at then we strongly suggest you give this blog a read.

“When you own Border Collies, you need to give them a job to do, or they become self-employed and you might not like their chosen career”, I was told by an experienced owner when I first professed my wish for one back in 1991. They were right.

I have always had dogs in my life, Mum and Dad got me a springer for my 4th birthday. I was allowed to choose and after I had chosen Sindy, I cried all the way home as I wasn’t allowed the other 8! So, when I left home, I bought a small house, with a tiny garden, so I could have a dog. I took Sadie, a rescued collie lab cross, to the local Dog Club so that I could teach her a recall and then that would mean I could let her off to run free. As I progressed up the classes I used to see the competition dogs and handlers come in, they are always the last class of the night as they are hardened enthusiasts and can cope with not starting before 9pm! Most owned Border Collies. I was mesmerised by what they did, and was hooked on the breed, and that’s where it all started.

So, I wanted a Border Collie and I wanted to know how to do this competition obedience thing. First came the collie, Charlie was a breed line Border Collie, she came from Portland and as I knew nothing about collies, she was an educated guess, she turned out to be super and lived until she was almost 17.

There are two lower classes when you start out called pre-beginners and beginners, as a handler, once you have won out of these you can never enter them again, even with a new dog. Therefore, they are full of people starting out and these people are supportive of each other. By the time I had won out of these with Charlie (about 6 shows in total) I had the bug.

My new home-grown pup will be the 11th dog I have competed with. Training takes about 1 – 2 years to complete to reach the entry-level standard required for where I have to start as an experienced handler (that is about halfway up the class system). This is the job I give my collies so that they don’t become self-employed.

Obedience is similar to the dressage test in three-day eventing, in that you are looking for accuracy and both handler and dog are marked. I enjoy working with my dogs to enable them to understand what is needed, whilst always making it fun. I base my training on a play and reward system, what this means is that we have games and rewards, such as a tuggy or a treat in order to shape the response I get to a certain word or action. It is easier than it sounds!

The classes I work in require the dog to be off lead and don’t allow me to speak to them other than at the start of each exercise, so they really have to want to do it. I am always very proud of my dogs; they all work happily and always enjoy themselves. This is paramount to me, I want them to have a good time, our day must be fun for both my dogs and me.

There are a series of tests, heelwork, retrieve, send away or recall, distance control, scent and stays. Each team (handler and dog) complete the same test and the one that does it best wins.

I drive all over the country to attend shows. I love the 4am early wake-up call to prep the dogs and get into the car for the drive to the showground, usually a field in the middle of nowhere, by 8am. I feel sick every time, a combination of the early rise and the anticipation. As strange as it might sound, I love that sick feeling. It is the start of the competitor in me. Each time I set off at some unearthly hour I have a chance. I love that. I don’t know what the day will hold for us, but all I have to do is do the best I can to recreate our training and then if I am lucky, I come home with a rosette.

In a normal year, I do at least one show a weekend, every week from April to October. So, we clock up the miles. You only win a rosette and a place card. There is no money, for me it is about being able to say to myself that we did it. Of course, there is a social aspect to all of this. I have a great many friends all around the country who I meet on the show field throughout the year. We all talk about dogs – what is there not to like? Sometimes we even have an ice cream van, heaven.

Mr Darcy has taken me the furthest I have ever managed. He works the top open class in the country and has two qualifiers for the championship class. He needs another two to be able to enter that class. Bunty is just starting out on her career, she won her starting class last year in 4 shows. This year we were hoping to move on further, but the obviously now all shows have been cancelled.

This means we have been able to concentrate on the pups. When they are homed, we are starting training again. Darcy and Bunty are eager to go. I will also be training my pup and probably Mr Martin’s too (I like his girl very much). We will have lots of time on our hands to progress their understanding and have one almighty good time doing it. I can’t wait and neither can Darcy and Bunty. In fact, Mr Darcy has just joined me in the office to remind me that I promised we could do something today and he feels we should do that now!

If this has made you wonder if you could do this, then I would strongly encourage you to have a go. Look up the nearest dog club to you and ask if you can go and watch a class, when they are back up and running. You will be most welcome, and I hope someday I might see you on the show field.

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