Why were the Obedience finals at Westminster so successful?  Why is everyone talking about that event?

If you’re not aware of how Westminster structured the final round, go ahead and see it for yourself here.

Westminster obedience – final round

I was impressed by the joy I saw in everyone from the judge to the exhibitors to the crowds!  And of course, I want to see more of that!  I saw a future of our sport – and it looked like a lot of fun!

What elements caused people to enjoy this event so much more than traditional obedience?

Was it the tricks?  The props?  The variety?  The creativity?

If I had to pick just one thing that stood out for me, I’d say this:

The judge did not direct the team, leaving only the interaction between the dog and the handler.  That is enormous.

That detail might seem like a small matter, but really – it’s huge.  It means that the audience focuses only on the team – the dog and handler – and their relationship.  The handler directs the dog.  The handlers do not need to be told what to do and when to do it – that part is obvious.  Even if they had been instructed to include every obedience exercise in Open and Utility, there is no need for a judge to say “throw it, send your dog, take it, and finish.”  We know that part just fine – and it’s a lot more fun to do it without splitting your attention between a judge and your dog.  That means you have more of “yourself” available to your dog. What a gift!

Yes, there was a whole lot more going on than that, and I found the event really exciting to watch.  I’d love to see AKC open up a program where all of the elements need to be performed (for example, in Open you’d have to show heeling off leash, a figure eight around something, a retrieve of something, a retrieve over a jump of some type, and a broad jump) but the order of those events could be left up to the exhibitor, along with what they chose to do between exercises.  You give each team a set period of time, say seven minutes for open.  If they don’t finish in seven minutes, then the exercises that were not completed don’t get scored.  If the team is fast, they can play all sorts of fun games and show training tricks in between exercises; if they are slower, then they might need to concentrate more on the scored variables.

Then leave the team alone to show what they can do.

What happens when the handler controls the ring instead of the judge?  They relax.  They stay connected with their dogs on a much deeper level. They interact as they do in training; a totally different experience than when we add a judge and start doing run throughs to prepare for competition.

There is no reason for a judge to direct each exercise in AKC; it’s not like they’re going to say something unexpected.

When I was competing in IPO I found the obedience much easier on both me and my dog for exactly this reason; the judge does not direct the handler.  I knew what I had to do – but I also felt like I could breathe without the judge constantly interacting with me.

I’m not suggesting that IPO be the model, but I am suggesting that the judge can stay quietly out of the picture and get the focus where it needs to be; a routine between a handler and their dog.

Anyway, that is where I’d start; a manageable piece that requires very little change from what is currently known and understood.  Heck, make it part of the “preferred” classes and leave the regular classes alone.  See what happens.