Open is IMO MUCH more fun than novice. The exercises are more interesting, but they don't require quite as much intense concentration and independent decision making from the dog as utility. Once a dog gets comfortable in open, they can get very reliable in their performance and and it all just seems to flow along smoothly. Open does require that the dog is physically sound enough to handle the jumping exercises (the high jump is set at the dog's shoulder height and that is doubled for the width of the broad jump; there are certain breeds that due to their structure may jump 3/4 of their jump height- for example, basset hounds).
Probably the hardest part of training for open is teaching the retrieve. For some dogs, it is ridiculously easy (they don't call them "retrievers" for nothing!). For other dogs the idea of putting a foreign object in their mouth, bringing it back to you, and actually holding it until you take it, is just not appealing. Then once you teach it, refining it (clean pickup, no mouthing, etc) is another challenge. I teach a retrieve with a clicker, by shaping the behavior (we'll talk more about that later). It probably takes longer at the start than traditional "forced retrieve" methods, but once the dog starts to get the idea it can go very quickly. It is actually taught in two separate parts, the actual retrieve (running out to get the dumbell and bringing it back) and the hold (holding the dumbell while sitting in front). I usually find the retrieve relatively simple to teach and the hold considerably tougher. You can also tell what I enjoy teaching and what I don't; my dogs usually aren't the best about mouthing the dumbell and having clean pickups. I am working with Cory to clean that up but it's going to be a long haul. Cory probably had the best natural retrieve drive of all my dogs, but he was the hardest to teach a hold to; we got stuck there for a LONG time until it dawned on him that he could sit without dropping the dumbell, then actually fix his sit and get it straight, all without dropping it. It is something we work on daily, although most often not with a "formal" retrieve but instead with bringing me a lot of different objects around the house and learning to hold them until I take them.
The hardest behavior to MAINTAIN when you are showing a dog week in and week out, is the long sit. In open, the stays are done with the handlers out of sight. The dogs are placed in a line, the handlers leave the ring and the dogs are expected to hold a three minute sit followed by a five minute down. At some point, most dogs will get bored or tired and lie down on the sit. Once they discover they can do this and there's not a darn thing the handler can do about it, it is REALLY hard to fix the problem.
The exercises for open are:
Heel Free and Figure 8
Drop on Recall
Retrieve on the flat
Retrieve over the high jump
Below is a video of Cory doing open at our show and go last weekend (aren't I lucky to belong to a club with such a great facility? ). There are a few caveats (that's what you call it when it's your own dog, if it's someone else's dog it's called an excuse!). Cory is very green and has not yet shown in novice. This was only his second time to do the open exercises in public with distractions- he has been working on them at home but hasn't really even done them at club, except possibly a couple of times when we had the building all to ourselves. You can see that the additional distraction of jumps in the ring and a dog doing utility (fun stuff!) in the next ring was tough for him to handle, especially since he knew the dog and handler in the next ring well and the judge was someone he especially likes. It took the whole first half of the heeling pattern to get his head together (didn't hurt that I was between him and the jumps for the second half either). I did not ask for a drop on the recall as he's not ready to put that together yet; and as you will see, we haven't worked the broad jump much.
When I watch this video Cory reminds me for the first time of his great, great, great grandam Tuppence who was a CH/UD dog. Some of my LONG time clients might remember her, she belonged to my tech at the time Pam and came to the clinic every day and was good buddies with my old man Levi. Tuppence passed away in 1997. I never think of him looking like her, but there's just a little hint there! Andy reminds me of her from time to time as he gets older as well.
Hitting the boards of the broad jump with his feet would have been an NQ. He is not really ready to do that yet, I should have faced him and called him directly over. He also would have lost points for the bark (his dad is the champion of that!). For some reason that day he totally lost his "around" finish in both rings, we will have to go back and fix that!
Open is divided into A and B just as novice was; however the rules are just a little different. All dogs start in A UNLESS the handler is a judge or has trained a previous dog to an OTCh (Obedience Trial Championship). Once they finish their title, they have 60 days to continue showing in A or until they get a High in Trial; then they must move to Open B. Dogs can compete in Open B for the rest of their career. They also can enter Utility and Open B on the same day; once they earn their utility title they may work on two additional titles. For a UDX, the dog must qualify in BOTH open B and utilityB on the same day 10 times. In addition, points are awarded for placements in both classe based on the number of dogs defeated. In order to finish an OTCh, the dog must have an Open first, a Utility first, and one more first from either class and must earn 100 points. Open B is VERY competitive and many of the dogs have a very high qualifying percentage. The difference in placing or not may be a bump on the heeling pattern or a slightly crooked sit. To place in the B classes you generally need around a 196 1/2 or higher, I have seen three way run offs for first place with all dogs scoring a 199 1/2. Open B is TOUGH if you are going for scores! Many people showing for their UDX are not competitive for placements and OTCh points and are not as concerned with high scores.
In Open A the scores are typically lower just as in novice. Just as in novice, your dog must Q three times with a score of 170 and at least 50% of the points for all exercises. Once he does, he may now put CDX (for Companion Dog Excellent) after his name.