The History of AKC Obedience

Tuesday, March 01, 2016 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

With the new Obedience Regulations soon to be published & in effect December 1st, let’s look back to the past. - - - The History of AKC Obedience - The First set of Regulations - The First Obedience Trial - - - March 10, 2016 marks Eighty (80) years from the time the AKC BOD adopted the Obedience Regulations.

(Reprinted with permission from the November 1973 AKC Gazette)

During the years 1933 and 1934 four "obedience tests" were held in the United States. The first was held in Mt Kisco, N. Y. on the estate of Henry J. Whitehouse and was witnessed by over 150 spectators. These tests aroused tremendous interest in training on the part of spectators, kennel owners, dog owners and dog clubs, and were a favorable topic of dog writers. The four tests were brought into existence largely due to the efforts of Mrs. Helene Whitehouse Walker who brought all-breed Obedience tests to the states from England, and Miss Blanche Saunders, her kennel maid at that time.

As interest in Obedience tests increased Mrs. Walker was besieged with inquiries from people wanting information on dog training, what was expected of the dogs and how one would arrange holding a test. In response to an inquiry from a dog columnist, Mrs. Walker writes:

"There has been no effort that I know of to organize anybody (club) to standardize these tests. I think it would be a most excellent idea. The best way would be to have the American Kennel Club recognize them as they do field trials, Also, to have certificates of merit and a title after a dog's name. Up to the present I have been pushing this alone and it is so satisfactory to feel that interest is at last aroused."

Mrs. Walker wanted Obedience in as many shows as possible as she felt this would be a selling point in persuading the AKC to take over the responsibility of the tests and officially recognize them. During an early visit to the offices of the AKC Mrs. Walker discussed with Charles T. lnglee, Executive Vice President, the importance of training, pointing out that Obedience was not a passing fad but something to be taken seriously. To support her arguments she displayed newspaper clippings and correspondence she had from all parts of the country and showed that the success of the tests already spoke for themselves.

In 1935 Mrs. Helene Whitehouse Walker wrote the first set of regulations for Obedience which she published in a booklet called "Obedience Tests". The cover page consisted of a notice that the pamphlet, as written, had been submitted to the AKC and that there was every possibility that the rules as outlined or slightly changed would eventually be adopted by the governing body and be incorporated into the rules of the AKC concerning dog shows. The 22-page pamphlet (including six illustrative photos) outlined procedures for judges, handlers and show-giving clubs. In January 1936 Mr. Inglee acknowledged receipt of the regulations by writing Mrs. Walker:

"The typewritten manuscript which you sent me is now in the hands of our council to put in proper form for insertion in the rules."

Approximately 2 months later, on March 10, 1936, the AKC's Board of Directors approved the first set of "Regulations and Standards of Obedience Test Field Trials"

The basic exercises, the procedures for judges and handlers, remained unchanged. Mrs. Walker, Miss Saunders and Josef Weber (a well-known dog trainer) submitted refinements to the AKC which were incorporated in the final A-page leaflet originally published in the April 1936 issue of the Gazette, and the forerunner of today's "Obedience Regulations”. 

The foresight of those three individuals, especially Mrs. Walker, in selecting and describing the exercises used in the 1936 Obedience regulations is amazing. The exercises for the Novice and Open classes exist today virtually unchanged with only minor refinements. The Obedience titles, originated almost 40 years ago, remain unchanged except that the "Tracking Dog" has been added.

On June 13, 1936, the N. Westchester Kennel Club held the first AKC licensed Obedience test at Mt Kisko, N. Y. It consisted of one class, Novice, and was judged by Mrs. Wheeler H Page. Miss Marie Leary and Ward C Green stewarded. This test drew a total of 12 entries all of which competed, placing as follows:

1. Ch. Cadeau De Noet - Poodte-j owned by Mrs. M Erlanger

2. Carillon Epreuve - Poodle - owned by Carillon Kennels (Mrs. Walker) 

3. Tango of Piperscroft - Poodle - owned by Carillon Kennels

4. Shaw's Little Pepper - Miniature Schnauzer - owned by Mrs. L. Shaw

Also qualifying were Lydbrook Coco (Poodle) owned by Mrs V Vanderlined; Nansoe Skagin of Carillon (Poodle) owned by Henry J Whitehouse; Schwarzpeltz von Mardex (GSD) owned by Walker Peisser; Misty Isles Schandel of Piperscroft (Poodle) owned by Mrs. Miriam Hall.

On that day in 1936 this small historical event occurred that was to grow into the national participant sport of today. Since first recognizing Obedience tests, AKC has worked consistently to standardize the regulations so that Obedience tests would be uniformly held in all parts of the country. Eight months after approving the first set of regulations the Board of Directors of AKC approved a revised version. A third version was approved a year and a half later, and the fourth a year after that. This system of review, clarification and correction continued on a yearly basis for 35 years.

As early as 1939 AKC realized the need of being informed of the problems and trends of Obedience around the country. The extraordinary rapid growth of Obedience work in this country fostered organization of a committee of individuals from various parts of the country to have round table conferences whenever necessary and to discuss in detail the various phases of Obedience, making recommendations to the AKC Board of changes or additions for the betterment of the sport. In June 1939 the first Obedience Advisory Committee convened chaired by Donald Fordyce of AKC. The other 9 members were Mrs. Radcliff Farley (PA), Miss Aurelie Tremaine (MA), Mrs. Bryant Godsell (CA), Mrs. W L McCannon (MA), Mrs. Whitehouse Walker (NY), Geo. Foley (PA), Josef Weber (NJ) Samuel Blick (MD), Frank O Grant (OH). The major contribution of this early committee was to further standardize judging procedures and refine the Utility exercises.

The advent of World War II forced a change in emphasis of dog training and every canine enthusiast spoke of "dogs for defense." With the resources and energies of the country diverted, competitive sports involving dogs saw a temporary decline. Immediately following the war, with "leisure time" for Americans reaching unparalleled levels, interest in Obedience trials soared. In 1946 the AKC called another Obedience advisory committee consisting of John C. Neff, Chairman, John Brownell, Howard P, Calussen, Elliott Blackiston, L Wilson Davis, Clyde Henderon, Clarence Pfaffenberger, Oscar Franzen, and Miss Blanche Saunders.

Through the efforts of this committee emerged a book of regulations that helped to standardize judging procedures more than at any time before. The most significant addition was that of definitions for the principal part of each exercise and the development of aseparate title for those dogs certified to be a "Tracking Dog"

Through the years, the Obedience Advisory Committee has been the guardian of the sport. They have expanded the Obedience regulations from a 4-page leaflet to a 43-page detailed booklet with carefully planned descriptions and explanations of every facet of the sport.

In its efforts to keep pace with the needs of Obedience enthusiast and the sport in general, AKC has recently taken two important steps. The first was the formation in 1971 of an Obedience Department directed by the well-known judge Richard H. D'Ambrisi. In June 1973 the direction of Obedience activities was assumed by James E. Dearinger following Mr. D'Ambrisi's death earlier in the year. The formation of this department has established constant full-time review of all facets of the sport and a place to go for advice, suggestions, or with complaints.

The second important step taken by AKC is the formation of another Obedience Advisory Committee. This committee is chaired by Mr. Dearinger and has two special consultants, L Wilson Davis, Special Consultant in Tracking, and the Rev. Thomas O'Connor, Special Consultant on Handicapped Handlers. The members of this committee are Thomas Knott (MD), Wm. Phillips (CA), Jack Ward (VA), Lucy Neeb (LA), James Falkner (TX), Robert Self (IL), Mary Lee Whiting (MN), Edward Anderson (PA).

In 1939 the first Obedience Advisory Committee met with the purpose of holding meetings when necessary and to discuss in detail various phases of Obedience, making recommendations for changes and additions to existing rules. Then, as now, many recommendations and changes were presented for consideration. The September 1973 Obedience Advisory Committee considered and discussed Handicapped Handlers, Protection Dog Training, Advanced Tracking and the official recognition and designation of the Highest Scoring Dog in Trial". The committee also completely reviewed the Obedience Regulations and Guidelines for Obedience Judges. Many other recommendations were enthusiastically proposed and considered by this Committee.

The Obedience Advisory Committee of 1973 by cheerfully volunteering the time and energy can assure the fancy that our sport will continue to be as efficient and exciting as we desire it to be.

AKC wants to do everything possible to promote and encourage the sport of Obedience. The formations of the Obedience Department and the new Obedience Advisory Committee have already proved their value. Anticipated future programs are expected to further the rapport between AKC and Obedience enthusiasts so that every possible assistance will be provided.

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