There are three main levels, or classes, of competition in Obedience: Novice, Open, and Utility. Dogs start in the Novice class and advance to Open, then Utility as they master the increasingly more difficult skills. There are many optional classes to choose from that provide exercises that are half-steps between these classes. Here’s a brief rundown of the core classes:

Novice: Dogs in this class need to demonstrate good companion skills such as coming when called, standing for an examination, staying in both a sit and down position with a group of other dogs, and heeling both on and off-leash.

Open: Dogs in this class need to perform all of the exercises off-leash. In addition to some of the exercises performed in Novice, retrieving and jumping exercises are included.

Utility: Dogs in this class have added challenges including directed jumping (the dog must jump over a specified hurdle) and scent discrimination (the dog must find and pick up from a pile of dumbbells, referred to as articles, the one dumbbell with the handler’s scent). Other exercises must be performed with the handler giving hand signals only.

If you haven’t done competition obedience, start with a Beginner Competition Obedience class. No age or level of training is required. Prerequisite: dogs must have a high food drive. Prey drive is a plus.

Watch a video of a dog performing in Beginner Novice Obedience: