Charles River Dog Training Club, Inc.

Waltham, Massachusetts -

Frequently Asked Questions about Obedience Training

Q: "What’s the difference between dog shows and obedience trials?"

A: Dog shows usually refer to breed competitions — also called conformation — where dogs are judged for how well they conform to their different breed standards for size, shape, coat, color, markings, and so on. The competition is for points toward a breed championship and for placements such as Best of Breed.

Obedience trials are performance events where the dogs are judged for how well they perform various training exercises. The dogs are competing against a standard of performance.

By the way, obedience handlers are almost always the dogs’ owners, not professional handlers working for the breeders or owners. Most of the dogs you’re watching here are beloved family companions, not just "show dogs."

Q: "What’s the difference between an obedience trial and a match?"

A: Obedience trials are official competitions in which dogs can earn qualifying scores ("legs") toward a CD, CDX, or UD title or, for dogs who already have a UD, points for a UDX or OTCh. title.

Matches are a kind of practice trial, like exhibition games in baseball — the scores don’t count toward a title, although there may be prizes to win. Usually, you enter a few matches to get your dog ready for trials. There are several types of obedience matches depending on how closely they imitate a trial — ranging from "show & go" or fun matches (which are quite informal) to AKC-sanctioned matches which run according to trial rules.

Q: "Can any dog be trained or only certain ‘smart’ breeds?"

A: Nothing in any of the obedience exercises is beyond the abilities of any healthy, well-trained dog. You’ll see dogs of all breeds competing successfully — Toy Poodles and Rottweilers, Cairn Terriers and Labrador Retrievers. Sure, individual dogs may have more or less aptitude for some exercises, but regardless of your dog’s breed, you can train him successfully and enjoyably.

Q: "My dog doesn’t have ‘papers.’ Can I show him in obedience?"

A: Yes! Obedience competition isn’t just for "show" dogs. If your dog is an AKC-recognized breed but doesn’t have a pedigree registration — for example, if you adopted your dog through a breed rescue organization or animal shelter — you can apply for an Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) which lets you compete in AKC obedience, agility, tracking, and other performance events.

Getting an ILP number is simple and inexpensive process. You’ll need two color photos proving your dog is pure-bred, and a copy of the dog’s spay/neuter certificate. You can get an ILP application from the AKC website, AKC Customer Service at 919-233-9767, or send email to

Q: "How about mixed-breed dogs?"

A: All dogs, including mixed breeds, can earn an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate. Other AKC events are for pure-bred dogs only, but you can still enjoy obedience training and competition with your "all-American" dog. There are matches and trials open to mixed breeds and non-AKC breeds, sponsored by the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry (AMBOR), United Kennel Club (UKC), Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), and other organizations.

Q: "My dog is 6 years old. Is it too late to train him?"

A: It’s never too late to teach your old dog new tricks! Dogs are perpetual learners, and obedience training is a great way to put the spring back in the step of your old friend, even if you’re not interested in a title.

Many matches and trials have non-regular classes such as Pre-Novice (also called Sub-Novice) which is entirely on-leash for dogs just getting started in competition training. And later on, there’s Graduate Novice for dogs with a CD title who can do most of the Open class exercises except jumps and retrieving; Veterans for canine seniors (7 years or older) with an obedience title; Brace for pairs of dogs working in tandem; Versatility, which uses exercises chosen randomly from Novice, Open, and Utility; and Team, for quartets of dogs and handlers.

Q: "So, what good is all this training?"

A: Obedience training makes dogs smarter! The more your dog learns, the easier it is to teach him new things. Moreover, some canine misbehaviors may be easier to handle or correct, because the training gives you better control and understanding of your dog.

Other misbehaviors may lessen or even disappear without your doing much about them, simply because regular training gives your dog confidence in his relationship with you.

Best of all, obedience training lets you and your dog enjoy each other’s company. A trained dog can go with you to more places, without scolding and wrangling. As the saying goes, "The bad dogs need training; the good dogs deserve it."

Obedience training isn’t difficult. Nor is it cruel or unnatural. Obedience training is crucial to your dog’s safety, keeps him mentally and physically active, and helps build and maintain a bond of trust and understanding between you and your dog. It’s a great way to share time with your dog and with other people who love dogs.

Q: "How do I get started training my dog?"

A: Find a dog training club like CRDTC in your area and start dancing with your dog! Club membership and training fees are very inexpensive. Training classes are fun and friendly for handlers and dogs alike. Experienced members are always willing to help you get started. Make training a regular part of life with your dog!

© 1996-2009 Geoff Stern

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last updated 15-July-1998

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