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Rally Obedience - a "heel" of a good time!

Updated on May 6, 2014
Dax and me competing for our Rally Novice title.
Dax and me competing for our Rally Novice title.

You really can do Rally with your dog!

Can you get around an area the size of half a tennis court?

Can you talk to, or signal, your dog?

Can you read?

Would you love to find an activity you and your dog can do together?

If you answered yes, you should check out Rally Obedience!

A tired dog is a happy dog

As everyone who's ever gone to school knows - working your brain can be just as tiring as working your body. The same holds true for dogs.

Challenging your dog by participating in new activities is good for both of you. You'll be able to strengthen your bond with your dog, your dog will learn to take direction from you, and both of you will have some fun.

Many dog training clubs have classes in Rally Obedience. My own club (North Shore Dog Training Club) is an American Kennel Club member, so we do AKC Rally Obedience. There are some other venues with some different rules, but most are fairly similar and learning one will make any other venue's rules an easy adjustment.

Samples of Rally Signs

The timer starts when you pass the "Start" sign.
The timer starts when you pass the "Start" sign.
Every time you see a "Halt" in a red octagon, your dog must sit!
Every time you see a "Halt" in a red octagon, your dog must sit!
You don't even have to remember which side is right!
You don't even have to remember which side is right!
One of the more complex Novice signs.
One of the more complex Novice signs.
When you pass the Finish sign, the timer stops and you can breathe - you did it!
When you pass the Finish sign, the timer stops and you can breathe - you did it!

Go from sign to sign

Rally Obedience is you and your dog, walking through a "course" with "stations." Each station has a sign with an exercise you and your dog must perform. The exercises vary in complexity with more difficult exercises reserved for those competing at a higher level in Rally. Novice, the first level of competition, features signs that most any dog with some basic obedience training can do.

I wouldn't recommend jumping into a Rally competition with no training at all. A class or two to become familiar with the way the signs should be performed and to learn the rules of the game should be enough to get you started - and get you bitten by the competition bug.

When you and your dog are successful in class, it's almost irresistible to go on and "show off" what you and your dog can do as a team. You know your dog is wonderful - you'll want the world to know it, too!

Dog training for the fun of the sport!

The sport of Rally Obedience was originally designed to be a "starter" version of formal obedience, but it's developed over the years into a sport in its own right. While many people who "do" Rally also participate in other dog sports, like Obedience and Agility, there are many who find a home in Rally.

The name "Rally" refers to the original street-car races that date back almost as long as cars. The race wasn't run on a track, but between check-in stations. The dog's version of "Rally" has a course with stations - each station marked by a sign with instructions for the dog/handler team to complete. The number of stations increases with the level of difficulty.


Less formal, more fun

Rally competition was designed to be less formal that traditional AKC Obedience. The person (handler) is judged from "the knees down." Hand and arm position is not considered, and the handler is allowed more freedom in talking to the dog and giving instructions while working their way through the stations of the Rally course.

Almost any dog and handler team can succeed in Rally with some training. The exercises for each station have to be performed in a certain way to earn a "qualifying" score, so becoming familiar with the signs is crucial for success. Many dog training clubs have classes in Rally Obedience. Even if you never intend to compete with your dog, it's a great idea to take a class and have an activity you and your dog can look forward to on a weekly basis.

If you've never "formally" trained your dog, it may be a good idea to start with some basics of positive reinforcement training, like "Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs."

A Novice Rally "Course"

This is a sample course for Novice Rally, from the book "The Rally Course Book" by Janice Dearth
This is a sample course for Novice Rally, from the book "The Rally Course Book" by Janice Dearth | Source

Just remember to breathe!

When you decide it's time to compete with your dog in a Rally Obedience Trial you don't have to go into the course "cold turkey." Competitors at each level have at least 10 minutes to "walk the course," planning what they'll do at each station and learning the sequence of stations.

The judge is usually on the course while the entrants are "walking." He or she is usually happy to answer any questions and will clear up any confusion. Judges design the courses and their "stewards" at the competitions help them set up the courses.

The show catalog lists the entrants in order - you'll know what kind of dog is going into the ring before you. When it's your turn the steward will call your number and the judge will invite you into the ring and tell you where to set up (although you'll already know, since you walked the course and watched other competitors). The judge will say: "Forward" and then it's just you and your dog, showing off your skills.


Qualifying scores

Every Rally competitor starts with a perfect score of 100. Then you start, and the judge starts deducting points for variances from perfection.

A score of 70 or better is "qualifying" - it means you and your dog did a great job and get a green, qualifying ribbon. Three qualifying scores earns you the Rally Novice title - your dog's registered name has a "R.N." following it!

Most of us who compete in Rally don't worry about competing against other people. Everyone who earns a score of 70 earns a "leg" toward the title. Top competitors may aim for placements, for most, the green ribbon is the one we seek, the blue, red, white and yellow ribbons are very nice surprises when they are awarded.

AKC Rally Competition level and stations

Level
Number of stations
Novice
10 to 15
Advanced
12 to 17
Excellent
15 to 20
The number of exercises each dog and handler team must complete in each level of AKC Rally competition

Sumo the Shiba Inu in Rally

Teddy, R.N.

My French Bulldog, Teddy, earned his R.N. title at the French Bulldog National Specialty in Topeka, KS in 2013. The green ribbon is for qualifying, the white one was for earning fourth place, and the red, white, and blue ribbon is for his new title.
My French Bulldog, Teddy, earned his R.N. title at the French Bulldog National Specialty in Topeka, KS in 2013. The green ribbon is for qualifying, the white one was for earning fourth place, and the red, white, and blue ribbon is for his new title.

© 2014 HopeS

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