by Robin Camken 

Obedience training isn't just for people interested in preparing for competitive obedience trials! There are various types of obedience classes for all ages and experience levels. Basic obedience will give you the necessary knowledge and skills to train your dog to become a well behaved companion and welcomed neighbour.  The "manners" your dog will learn through obedience training is a good foundation to have before attempting other activities--like agility or drafting. 

Puppy Classes

Your breeder will probably encourage you to take your new Berner to a puppy kindergarten class. These classes are designed for ages 2 to 5 months and are great for socializing and establishing good manners that will make your new puppy a more enjoyable family member. Puppies are introduced to a variety of situation that they may encounter in the world, as well as basic commands such as heel, sit, stay, come and down. These classes should be non-stressful and fun. In most cases, you will be required to provide proof of inoculations before being allowed to start classes.

If your puppy is over five months, it's too late for kindergarten, and you will have to start obedience at the beginners' level. These classes are for dogs with no formal training. Most courses will introduce the basic obedience skills--controlled walking (heeling) and the sit, down, stay, and come commands. There are a variety of training methods that can be employed by the various schools that train in obedience. I recommend that you find one that teaches using one of the motivational methods, with positive, rather than negative reinforcement.

Finding a Trainer

In order to learn effectively, both the handler and the dog must be comfortable with the type of training offered. Unfortunately, there is no licensing body or minimum requirement to become an obedience instructor or to open a training school or business.  Be advised that just about anyone can claim to be a dog trainer.  For this reason, it is a good idea to talk to a variety of trainers in your area, and if possible, go and watch some of their classes before enrolling.  Discuss your training needs with the instructor and see if you like the answers they provide.  Ask what methods are used to motivate and correct the dogs. Ask about this size of the class, and the ratio of instructors to students.  If your breeder lives near by, ask them to recommend a school or club where you can start obedience training. Your veterinarian should also be able to recommend a good place to begin training in your neighbourhood.

Next Step

After you have completed your beginner's level, you may find that you are interested in moving on to the next class and preparing for entry in competitive obedience trials.  Many people and dogs enjoy the challenge of advanced obedience training and competition. Obedience is a fun activity that brings dogs and owners closer together.

To compete in official obedience trials and earn points towards a title, your dog must be purebred and registered with a recognized canine registry, such as the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) or American Kennel Club (AKC).

Obedience Titles that you can earn in Canada include:

-Companion Dog (CD)
-Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) 
-Utility Dog (UD)

When a dog has completed the requirements for all three titles, he becomes an Obedience Trial Champion (OTCh). 

There are obedience classes and trials that you can participate in with your Bernese from time he is puppy until he becomes a veteran.
The picture to the left is my Beaumont (Ch Sacsha's Beaumont, Can/AM CD, CGC) after he placed fourth in the Veteran's obedience trial at the 1998 Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA) Specialty in Rhode Island.  He was 8 years old at the time. 

If you are interested in learning more about obedience training, here are a couple of website with further details:

Obedience Training Your Dog by Norma Bennett Woolf
Cheryl May's Dog Behavior and Basic Training Page
All about Titles: Obedience by Carol & Ellice Hauta