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What is Obedience anyway?

Feb 17, 2024

When thinking of obedience, the first thing that comes to mind for most dog owners is a well-behaved dog who calmly walks alongside their owner. However, this picture is often associated with a somewhat boring, nearly sad image.

But the sport of obedience couldn’t be further from this perception! While the dogs do listen to their owners and perform brilliantly, what we are really looking for is great enthusiasm, attitude, precision, and of course, focus. These skills are trained with motivation- otherwise it wouldn’t look as fresh!

Example of high level Obedience



When you watch a performance like this, what do you feel? Do you see it as poetry in motion? Or wonder how on earth they do that? Perhaps you think your dog would never be good at that, or that it’s just for border collies. Some may find it boring or unnatural and wonder why they should train for it.


If you train Obedience…

Of course, you don’t have to train obedience to give an amazing life to your dog. But if you enjoy training, there are skills and elements you might want to take from this sport.
Although the highest level of the sport does require a certain level of athleticism from the dog, you’d be surprised at the breeds that can successfully train for this!

Competing in sport obedience isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re not one to immerse yourself in longer processes of learning & teaching, a career in this sport is very unlikely. However, the foundational exercises (see below) are actually really good fun and can lead to impressive skills, like listening to your verbal cues precisely and instantly.

Putting a performance together at competition level can be one of the greatest achievements in high-level dog sports.

Don’t be scared! In Urban Freestyle, we teach important elements and foundations mixed in with trick and obstacle elements, so you may not even notice you’re learning them. These exercises might seem a bit useless for everyday life on this precision level. Training obedience can have a significant impact on your dog’s confidence, success, problem-solving abilities, focus, and your ability to teach your dog well. Creating teamwork, which many people admire when watching these performances, requires being tuned in to each other taking your relationship to the next level!

So, what are the Obedience exercises?

As there are different variation of the sport these exercises look slightly different, but they all have Heelwork, Retrieve, Send away, Scent discrimination, Positions and often Stays included.


Heelwork is a component found in all different types of Obedience (UK, FCI, rally). Often the most admired and showcasing the teamwork greatly.

Dog in training is attentively walking by human It is one of the hardest things to train, and achieving proper heelwork takes months or even years, especially if you want it to look nice.

Styles vary across sports, and many people say the dogs look unnatural. Well, they might be, but they’re athletes (when does one naturally do a pirouette on ice?!). They don’t live in that movement, and as athletes, their bodies are well taken care of. It’s also unnatural to lie on the couch all day, unable to move, etc.

Personally, I love teaching heelwork. When you finally achieve it, it’s one of the best ‘flow’ experiences! It’s like a dance between you and your dog.

When teaching anything like this, it’s best to break it down into tiny pieces, so it’s clear for the dog. We often lure some parts, helping the dog move in balance and in the required way. We also want them to learn how to get into position and stay in position, even when we are moving, speeding up, slowing down, turning, or stopping.

Retrieve, Recalls, Stays, Send aways, Scent Disrimination and Positions you often see in these sports, too. All these exercises originated from dogs actual uses and became a sport.


Did you know?

In England, the ASPAD (Associated Sheep, Police, Army Dog Society) developed tests open to all breeds. Working Trials and Obedience competitions became available to dog lovers. These exercises originated from the training of German Shepherds. The UK obedience has its own style, and one of the highest achievements is participating in the Crufts Championship.

In the US, the first obedience show was created by Helen Whitehouse Walker, who wanted to show that her Standard Poodles were more than just a fancy haircut. She created some exercises to showcase their intelligence and athleticism. The relationship between dog and handler, where the dog shows enjoyment in working, was prioritised.

This paved the way for obedience as a sport, much like most other sports have developed into what we have today: FCI Obedience (Europe), UK Obedience, US Obedience, IGP B, each with slightly different styles.

Rally Obedience got into the picture as a newer sport, with added elements, especially the heelwork elements look different and more unpredictable. You follow signs along to complete the course and allowed to talk to your dog.




Examples of FCI Obedience and IGP B (Obedience) Routines:



Obedience is just another trick!

I heard this from Silvia Trkman, who was a pioneer in spreading trick training, next to smart training in agility, obedience.

It all comes back to really good training.

What we mean by that is that the task is broken down enough that the learner is successful. That’s
how we teach Urban Freestyle, including the Obedience, Tricks and Obstacle elements; we
break it down, consolidating the learning at every stage for both dogs and humans.

Also not to rush our learners and keep motivation even in complex tasks!

How do you feel about the sport of Obedience?

Have you already liked watching it or trained in it? Have we changed your mind about how you view Obedience? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!