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Obedience, Westminster, Freestyle, 2019, Masters

On Monday afternoon, a black Labrador Retriever named “Heart” earned the title of Masters Obedience Champion at the 143rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show – an accomplishment she has logged every year since the competition began in 2016.

The 6½-year-old Lab is owned and handled by professional dog trainer Linda Brennan of Columbia, New Jersey, winning with a best-combined score of 287 out of 300 under judge Diane Schultz.

The nation’s 250 top-ranked obedience dogs were invited to compete at the Masters Obedience Championship, held at Pier 94 in Manhattan, with competition slots going to the first 30 entries received. The initial round of competition included a signal exercise, drop on call, directed jumping, retrieve over high jump, scent discrimination and group sit/stay exercise. In the second and final round of competition, the handlers performed six-minute routine they created themselves to showcase their dogs’ obedience moves.

Heart’s formal name is OTCH Rhumbline’s Once In a Blue Moon UDX9 OGM BN GN VER RE JH ACT1 SCN CGC TKI; that string of acronyms after her name reflects not just multiple Obedience accomplishments, but also titles earned for agility, Rally, hunt tests, scent work, Canine Good Citizen, Trick Dog, and versatility.

How did Heart Win?

Obedience can be a very intense, precision-focused endeavor. With the exception of giving commands at specific times, handlers and dogs work in silence. On her website, Brennan explains that she utilized the more low-key sport of Rally, as well as AKC’s non-regular Beginner Novice Class, to introduce Heart to competitive canine sports when she was a youngster. Their more relaxed rules — such as permitting handlers to talk to and encourage a dog during the exercises — made them an effective “stepping stone” to the more vigorous sport of Obedience.

Labrador Retrievers like Heart are among the most popular breeds competing in Obedience, along with Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherd Dogs. But non-traditional breeds – that is, those that are not bred to be reflexively obedient, such as many Hounds and Terriers – can be successful in Obedience if owners use lots of positive reinforcement and short, interesting practice sessions.

Mixed breeds — also called All-American dogs — also compete in AKC Obedience, which showcases the bond and teamwork between dog and handler.