By Becky Henson
For those that don’t compete in performance, the letters that precede and/or follow a dogs name can be a confusing mishmash of letters. I will attempt to explain what some of the letters mean, both in terms of titles, and what kind of work is behind those titles. I am sticking to American Kennel Club titles only, as the Collie Club of America is a member club and if you attempt to encompass ALL titles a dog can earn in other organizations, it is truly mind-boggling.
A couple of notes about titles in general: AKC titles should be listed in the order that those events joined AKC, Obedience, Tracking, Herding, Agility, Rally. Certificates such as Herding Instinct Certificates (HIC) and CGC are not official titles and should not be listed in AKC show catalogs etc, although they can be listed in CCA publications and such, the same as the ROMs and ROMPs. All the Championships listed below precede the dog’s official registered name, all the lower titles go at the end of the dog’s official AKC name and remain a part of the dog's name for life, the same as a bench championship. Lower titles are superseded by the higher ones, and can be dropped off.
(A personal note: it used to make me absolutely crazy, when I was campaigning a top Special with working titles, to have magazines just leave off her working titles. If you are going to chop off some of the dog's registered name, just leave the dang CH off too! I worked a lot harder for the titles at the end of the name and they mean even more to me!)
As recently as a decade or so ago, Collies had earned a very poor reputation as working dogs. Not a popular choice among performance aficionados, Collies in working events were few and far between, and although there have always been some stellar performances, judges often commented about slow, badly conformed dogs with very ‘hang-dog’ attitudes. Present day training techniques have changed a lot and Collies are starting to be noticed again for talent, drive and ability among all breeds – as it should be! Our performance entries at CCA have become some of the biggest I’ve ever heard of at a specialty. Our heritage as a herding dog should make for a dog that readily trains and works with their master to achieve common goals! In herding, Collies are second to only Border Collies in numbers of championships (BC being selected for herding ONLY for a hundred + years). Our numbers are not huge in the other working sports but there are many dogs performing at the highest level nationally and achieving great scores and titles. The literally hundreds of hours of training that go into these titles makes for a truly dedicated team. I hope this quick overview gives a hint of the work behind the letters, and when we recognize these dogs at CCA, please give them a standing ovation!
Present day training techniques have changed a lot and Collies are starting to be noticed again for talent, drive and ability among all breeds – as it should be!
The titles in bold are the titles that mean a Collie will be invited to the Top Twenty ceremony at CCA, honoring the top Collies in the country.
Obedience: The classes are Novice, Open and Utility (all have an A or B division, basically A is for those dogs working towards the title for that class, and B for dogs already having achieved the title, with some exceptions). The titles available are CD, CDX, UD, UDX, and OTCH. In each class, 170 or better out of 200 qualifies, with at least 50% of the points in each exercise earned.
Most conformation exhibitors know the work that goes into a well trained show dog – now take those exercises into a strange show site, with no leash, no food or toys, no touching or physically guiding the dog, and you get ONE command, and the dog will either obey or not, qualify/win or not. Now you know how to start for novice obedience.
OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion): The ultimate obedience title -- a dog needs to display “the utmost in willingness and enjoyment” as well as great precision. This title takes no less than 100 points to achieve, points earned from placing in the Utility B and Open B classes (after having completed both CDX and UD titles). A dog must also have three first place finishes, at least one in each class. An example of how competitive these classes are: in the area I live, these classes are usually 30-40 dogs and the scores that earn placements are almost always 198 out of 200 or above. That means EVERY sit, front and finish MUST be arrow straight, heel position must be perfect at all times and every exercise better be performed quickly and precisely.
UDX (Utility Dog Excellent): This title is earned by qualifying in both Open B and Utility on the same day, and you have to accomplish that 10 times for the title. It is non-competitive, but it takes quite the consistant dog for a UDX title. A number after the UDX signifies how many times a dog has completed the 10 ‘legs.'
UD (Utility Dog): This class tests the true teamwork of dog and handler. The dog must work as part of a precision team for heeling portions, as well as away from the handler. Exercises include Signals (long heeling pattern with a moving stand, down sit recall and finish, all on hand signal only, handler may not speak nor give a second command), scent discrimination (pile of leather and metal articles are scented by ring steward, and handler scents one article of each type, and separately, dog must distinguish, and retrieve the handler scented articles on one command), Moving stand (while heeling, dog must stop and remain standing on command, while judge performs conformation-like exam, then return to heel position when handler signals from 10 feet away), Directed retrieve (dogs back is turned while three gloves are placed along the ring barriers, at judge's verbal command, dog is turned and sent to retrieve a specific glove), directed jumping (dog is sent straight away from handlers side, must stop, turn and sit at far end of ring on one command, and stay until directed to jump one of two jumps on either side of ring). All this is done off leash of course, and if the dog does not obey the first command or signal, it's an automatic zero for a NQ (non qualifying score).
CDX (Companion Dog Excellent): Starts with a heeling pattern that includes a figure 8 pattern around two human posts. Goes to a Drop On Recall, call your dog, while in mid flight, command to lie down, then call again on the judge's signal. A retrieve on the flat and a retrieve over the high jump are next, your dog must wait until sent, and bring the dumbbell back to front position, hold onto it until commanded to release, then finish. A broad jump is next. The class ends with groups of 6-12 dogs doing a three-minute Sit Stay and a five-minute Down Stay while nervous handlers wait outside the building, wondering if their dog is still in position, and they earned that coveted Q.
CD (Companion Dog): The first heeling exercise is on leash, and then you must hand your leash to the steward, and from here on out, your obedience career is off lead! Your dog must stay at your left side throughout slow and fast, normal and about turns, right and left turns with halts thrown in. You may command once at each “forward.” Your dog must stand-stay for the judge to touch, with handler six feet away. Another heeling pattern, off leash. A recall across the ring (your dog must sit-stay until you command to come), with a finish. To end the class, the dogs go in groups of 6 – 12 and do a one-minute Sit Stay and three-minute Down Stay with handlers across the ring.
Agility: Agility is a great sport. The dog and handler tend to have a great time, run fast, challenge themselves, and it's fun to watch to boot! The classes are: Novice, Open and Excellent, with divisions for Standard and Jumpers, Preferred and Regular, A and B.
To watch a top agility dog and handler team is about like seeing an ESP demo. The dog, running at full steam, takes subtle body, hand and voice signals (and some not so subtle) often with the handler behind and 40 feet away from the dog! One single, tiny mistake on course gives a big fat goose egg for a score (in Excellent classes). The titles earned are (deep breath): NA (Novice Agility), NAJ (Novice Agility Jumpers With Weaves), NAP (Novice Agility Preferred), NJP (Novice Agility Preferred JWW), NF (Novice Fast), NFP (Novice Fast Preferred), OA (Open Agility), OAJ (Open Agility JWW), OAP (Open Agility Preferred), OJP (Open Agility Preferred JWW), OF (Open Fast), OFP (Open Fast Preferred), AX (Agility Excellent), AXJ (Agility Excellent JWW), AXP (Agility Excellent Preferred), AJP (Agility Excellent Preferred JWW), XF (Excellent Fast), SFP (Excellent Fast Preferred), MX (Master Agility Excellent), MXJ (Master Agility Excellent JWW), MXP (Master Agility Excellent Preferred), MJP, (Master Agility Excellent Preferred JWW), MXF (Master Fast), MFP (Master Fast Preferred), FTC1 (Fast Century 1), PAX (Preferred Agility Excellent), MACH (Master Agility Champion).
MACH: Master Agility Champion (a number following, i.e. MACH5, signifies how many separate MACHs a dog has earned). If 15 points seems like a lot sometimes, try earning 750 points! That's what you need to earn a MACH title, plus 20 “double Qs” (QQ). After a dog completes its AX or AXJ, it can begin compiling MACH points – one point for each second under standard course time. Double Q is qualifying in both Standard and Jumpers runs on the same day (Exc B). So, your dog not only needs to be fast as the speed of sound, but accurate and consistant as well.
MX and MXJ (hard to make words from these, but they are referred to as Master titles). To earn the Master title, the dog must qualify in the Excellent class 10 times (remember it takes a perfect score of 100 to qualify). The titles are earned separately in Standard and Jumpers With Weaves, also regular and preferred classes)
All the levels are similar in the obstacles encountered -- tunnels, jumps, weave poles, tables where the dog must stop and do a sit or down stay, and contact obstacles (contact refers to a colored zone on the way up and down that the dog MUST touch in order to qualify) such as teeter totters and "A" frames. The course is different every single trial and must be memorized before the class in a 10-minute ‘walk through.' As the levels progress, the turns get tighter and tighter, the number of obstacles greater, and the time allowed gets shorter. Also, the number of mistakes allowed before an NQ decreases, although you are allowed precious few mistakes at any level. In Novice, the course is laid out so that it flows from one obstacle to the next, in Excellent, things are bunched together in order to test the dogs' ability to discriminate between the different objects. Some dogs learn the name of the objects. Some are that in tune to the small directional command differences from the handler. Most dogs seem to do a combination of both and some dogs just do the wrong tunnel over and over because it's so much fun!
Preferred Classes: They compete over the same course and use the same rules as the corresponding regular titles, but they have an extra five second time and the jumps are 4” lower. Can be used as a way to start younger dogs without having to jump full height, or a way to extend older dogs' competition life, start over again in preferred classes. Others just prefer to jump their dogs at lower heights.
The classes are: Herding Tested, Pre-Trial Tested, Started, Intermediate and Advanced. The titles offered are: HS (ABC)(sdc) – Herding Started, HI(ABC)(sdc) – Herding Intermediate, HX(ABC)(sdc) – Herding Excellent, HC: Herding Trial Champion. There are three different courses, A, B and C. There are three different stock used, cattle, sheep (rarely goats are used in place of sheep) and ducks (or some other poultry variation such as geese or turkeys) *for C course, only sheep are used. So, each A, B or C and d, s or c is achieved separately.
HC (Herding Trial Champion): To earn an HC, the dog must compete in the Advanced class after finishing the respective HX title, and earn from 1 – 5 points from placing in the class. You must have two first places, one being a “major,” and earn 15 points. The DC (Dual Champion) is for those who are Bench Champions AND Herding Trial Champions. A TC (Triple Champion) would be the previous two titles plus an OTCH. There are conceivably five Championships a dog might earn, Ch, OTCH , CT , HC, MACH – I do not believe that any dog in any breed has accomplished this feat.
Advanced herding dogs have to walk a fine line between being ultra obedient and making good decisions on their own about the mood and direction of the livestock. Advanced dogs need to know their right from left (Away To Me and Come By), when to bring stock to the handler and when to drive them away, when to go fast and when to go slow, when to hold ‘em and when to fold em, oh wait forget the last one. Sometimes they need to make all the decisions and sometimes they need to listen enough to place one foot at a time on command. A great deal of herding cannot be taught, the dog is gifted or it is not, it's a great thing to watch a talented herding dog do what it has been bred to do. While it does take serious time and effort in training to advanced levels, Collies also can, and do, succeed as "weekend warriors” as well. Herding titles are more accessible than some think, even if you live in the city. The human handler has FAR more to learn about herding than the Collie does!
Herding Tested and Pre-Trial Tested are both judged on a Pass/Fail basis, and need two ‘legs' to complete. They are not hard to pass with a dog with solid herding instinct and good obedience foundation skills. You need a solid sit, down or stand stay, and a good recall for HT. You must demonstrate the stay to start the class, and must call your dog to you to end the class. The middle part is simply getting the stock from point A to B in any calm controlled manner, three times, in a smaller area, usually with fairly cooperative sheep. PT is usually in a bigger area, often the trial arena. The dog must demonstrate a stay at the beginning, and then gather and move the stock along the fence line, through two gates along the way, reverse course back to where they started, and re-pen the sheep, demonstrating one stop on course.
The trial classes HS, HI and HX are all the same course, the difficulty changes by the distance the handler has to be from the dog and stock. In started, the handler may walk the whole course with some slight exceptions and help direct/ control things as they go. It starts with an “outrun” where the dog is sent from a set point to gather the sheep on its own, and bring them to the handler, called a “fetch” up the middle of the arena and around the arena along the fence line to a point where they must turn 90 degrees and cross the arena. At the end is a re-pen, with the dog showing they can hold the stock off the open gate while the handler opens it. In advanced, most of the course, the handler must stay at the ‘post' and verbally direct the dog throughout the course. Intermediate is some of both, with the handler usually slightly closer to the dog, and able to help in some spots, less in others. Trial classes take three ‘legs' of 60 or more points out of 100 and at least 50% of each exercise.
Tracking: There are three kinds of tests offered, the classes correspond to the titles of: Tracking Dog (TD), Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) and Variable Surface Tracking (VST). When a dog earns both the TDX and VST dogs, he can add a CT (Champion Tracker) title to the front of his name. The track is anywhere from 400 yards to 1000 yards and aged up to several hours. In each level the dog must identify items dropped by the stranger they are tracking. In TDX the dog must ignore a fresher track that crosses the one they are following, cross many obstacles and terrain changes, such as ditches, trials, fences, and there must be different kinds of surface, from lush green short grass, to waist high weeds, to gravel. Often there are critters or their tracks to ignore as well. Variable Surface tests are held in an urban or suburban area, and the dog must track on mostly concrete and some crowded, or recently traveled areas. Only a few dogs earn these advanced titles every year, and only two Collies to date (CT). These tests are held in ALL weather, and sometimes it can take up to two years to even get to enter a TDX or VST, the entries are so limited, even at $75 an entry or more. Good news is, you only need to test once, two judges judge each track, and the two passing scores give you the new title.
Rally: a new sport, a cross between obedience and agilty. Obedience exercises are performed, at your own speed around a course indicated by numbered signs telling you what to perform at each station. What makes it fun is that you can go at your own speed, and ties are broken on time, and that you may talk to your dog and give several signals and/or commands without being penalized. Novice class is all on leash, after that, the classes are off lead and have more stations, and include some faster things like an occasional jump, plus an “honor” down stay while the previous dog is working. The classes are Novice, Advanced and Excellent and the titles possible are RN, RA, RE, RAE (the last earned by qualifying in Adv and Exc classes on the same day 10 times)
Versatility Awards and other Awards: CCA also offers the titles VA, VX (Versatilty Award and Versatility Excellent Award) and ROMP (Register of Merit for Performance) as well as the mentioned HIC (Herding Instinct Certificate)
AKC offers their own Versatile Companion Dog titles. VCD1 through VCD5 and a Versatile Champion. The dog must earn Obed, Tracking, and Agility Standard and Preferred Titles.
About Becky Henson of Montara Collies: I got my first Collie in 1990. I immediately was hooked on both conformation and obedience competition. That first smooth bitch got her first CD leg the same day she won our first specialty BOV and finished the CD the day we won our first specialty BOB. She was a great foundation -- Ch Rogalin Dance Time In Texas, CD. I've never bred much, or had a large number of dogs, in order to spend more time with each doing 'the fun stuff'! I have competed in every level in obedience, agility and herding, as well as having finished bench Championships on six of my own dogs and many dogs of other breeds, but enjoy herding the most these days. I am an AKC Herding Trial Judge for A and B course. I serve currently as Working Collie Committee Chair and National Show Chair for Performance for the Collie Club of America.