The Utility Dog is the highest level of obedience training and it requires the dog’s utmost focus and attention the entire time in the ring.
Many handlers jokingly refer to this level as “FU-tility”…all it takes is a split second’s loss of focus and you’ve lost your chance to qualify. If you ever get a chance to watch a nice-working dog/handler team performing a utility routine, it is pretty incredible to see.
The video above (taken and “narrated” by our good friend and fellow Bulldog Performance Group member, Ikuko Jones) shows Gabe earning the 2nd leg of his Utility Dog title as well as 1st place and High In Trial honors at the 2012 BCA Division III Obedience and Rally Trials on November 18, 2012 in Costa Mesa, CA. These trials were a back-up to our BCA Nationals, which made the win extra special! (Note: the video was started partway into the first exercise, but still shows the crucial elements of the Signal Exercise, as well as the other four Utility exercises)
You’ll notice Gabe’s performance wasn’t a “perfect 200”, but with deductions for slow responses, crooked sits, and other discrepancies, he still came away with a very decent score of 182.5 in this very challenging level! His 2nd “Go-out” was borderline for anticipating and he was barely out far enough when I gave the command to sit, but our judge was gracious and Gabe pulled off the jump at that steep angle–so we came away very happy!
Below are the descriptions of the five exercises that must be mastered to earn this difficult title:
The first exercise is called the Signal Exercise. For this the dog is required to do an off-leash heeling pattern as directed by the judge using signals only (no verbal) with fast, slow and various turns.
Following the heelwork, the handler leaves the dog in a *stand/stay while she walks to the opposite end of the ring, then proceeds to signal the dog to *down, *sit, and *come–all done with a single signal for each position (a 2nd signal will automatically be an “NQ” or Non-Qualifying score).
Next is the Scent Discrimination exercise. The handler provides their own set of 10 dumbbells (5 leather/5 metal) which are given to the ring steward. Two articles (1 of each material) are taken out and set aside for the handler to “scent”, the rest are emptied out on the ground about 20′ from the dog/handler, and arranged in a cluster roughly 6-8″ apart by the ring steward who deliberately handles each article to impart his/her scent onto them.
When ready, the dog/handler turn their back to the pile, then the handler picks up one of the selected articles (each set is clearly marked with a number to distinguish them) and holds/rubs it in her hands for a few seconds to give it a fresh layer of scent. The judge then takes the article and places it somewhere among the pile of other articles, and the dog is sent to pick out the one with their handler’s scent on it & bring it back to the handler.
The same process is then repeated with the other article, so the dog must be proficient in scenting both with leather and metal articles (and in Canada they also add wooden ones to the mix!)
The third exercise is the Directed Retrieve or “Glove Exercise”. While the dog and handler are standing in the center of the ring with their backs to the ring steward, three gloves are laid out across the back of the ring–one in the far left corner (“Glove #1”), another in the center (“Glove #2”) and the other in the far right corner (“Glove #3”). Once placed, the judge directs the team to retrieve a specific glove. The dog must turn in sync with the handler, go directly to the glove and return with it.
As with any retrieve exercise, the dog must continue to hold the glove in front of the handler until the judge directs the handler to take it–and each exercise is always finished with the dog being called back into the “heel” position with shoulders in line with the handler’s left leg and always parallel to him/her (points are taken off for crooked sits, slow responses, lagging, etc.)
*Click here to see more photos and details of the Directed Retrieve Exercise*
4-The Moving Stand
For the Moving Stand the dog & handler begin heeling, then, when directed by the judge to “Stand your dog”, the handler signals the dog to stay in a standing position, while simultaneously continuing to walk about 12′ beyond the dog.
The judge then goes over the dog (as in a brief breed ring examination), steps back and orders the handler to “Call your dog to heel”. The dog returns directly to the heel position (rather than the usual “front” position). Points are taken off for any additional steps the dog takes after being signaled to “stay”, for shyness, slow response, etc.
*Click here to see more photos and details of the Moving Stand Exercise*
And finally the dog does the Directed Jumping sequence. With dog & handler positioned in the middle of one side of the ring, and two jumps (one a high jump, the other a bar jump) placed midway on either side of the ring, the dog is sent running away to the far side of the ring, where he/she is commanded to “sit!” (they are ideally supposed to go out briskly, straight down the center of the ring and keep going until at least 10′ beyond the jumps and not stopping before they are commanded to do so).
The dog is then directed to return over one of the jumps (as per the judge’s order), then back to the handler. The exercise is then repeated with the opposite jump.
*Click here to see more photos and details of the Directed Jumping Exercise*
As in any of the obedience levels, a dog must earn a score of at least 170 out of a possible 200 points and must perform the main parts of every exercise properly to earn a leg. For a title it takes 3 passes or “legs”.
*Gabe earned his Utility Dog title on May 18, 2013 and became eligible for induction into the BCA Hall of Fame for Companion Events.