If you’re a dog person (and you most likely are if you’ve found this blog), then you are probably familiar with “traditional” Obedience – a seemingly daunting sport if you’ve heard anyone talk about it or describe it. To watch traditional Obedience, it does look daunting. It looks as if the handler/trainer has spent years training their dog to act perfectly. In the advanced levels of traditional obedience, dogs are jumping, dogs are retrieving items, dogs are sitting perfectly still with their owners out of sight. And they’re doing all of this with (what seems like) very little direction or commands from their people.
Truthfully, traditional obedience is a daunting sport. It is one that demands perfection.
Now, forget all of that. While Rally Obedience – or RO, or simply Rally – holds true to some of the foundations of traditional obedience, the two sports are completely different. While both sports are a testament to the amount of training you do and the kind of relationship you have with your dog, Rally is much more laid back and fun.
Rally is much like a maze through a series of obedience commands that test the knowledge of the handler and her dog. Sign 1 takes you to sign 2 which takes you to sign 3, etc. There are about 12-15 signs in any given Rally course. In most venues, there are three levels which get increasingly harder as you move up. In AKC, there is first Rally Novice (RN), Rally Advanced (RA), and Rally Excellent (RE). In UKC there is URO1, URO2, and URO3, and APDT there is RLP (Rally Puppy title), RL1, RL2, and RL3. Of course, you can go above and beyond these titles and earn MORE titles and more accomplishments, but let’s start small, shall we?
All three venues are similar in their signs, with each sign holding the same basic layout and language, making it easy for a new handler to compete in all three venues with very little trouble. As long as you understand the basics of the signs, you could hop from venue to venue and be alright.
Course difficulty is going to depend on the judge. Some judges like to see how well the dog “knows their stuff” and will make the course harder; other judges like to see how well you and your dog work together, rather than focusing on trying to trip them up with a difficult course.
Other than the maze of signs that you and your dog navigate, the biggest difference between traditional and Rally obedience is that you are allowed to consistently talk to your dog during competition – in fact, you are encouraged to talk to your dog throughout the course. Things like, “Good boy, Fido!” and “Let’s go! Yes! Yay!” are encouraged by all Rally judges. You will hear a flurry of encouragement from handlers while they’re in the ring, trying to keep their dogs happy and interested. Traditional obedience is always the same pattern all the time, whereas Rally is always changing – you are asking your dog to do action after action, so you have to keep them interested. This makes the sport of Rally fun!
A Typical Rally Course
You never go into a Rally course blind. Since the courses are new at each trial (the signs never change, but the order of the signs is always different), it would almost be unfair to throw you and your dog into the ring never having seen the course. The judge will allow for 10-15 minutes for the handlers to walk through the course without their dogs so that they can be prepared to do the very best they can. Handlers are allowed to walk the course as many times as they wish within that time period. Handlers are expected to know all of the signs within the course and how to execute them, but in UKC and APDT, handlers are allowed to ask the judge for clarification during the walk-through if they don’t understand a sign or if it’s a sign that the judge may be looking for something specific (for example, there is a “fast pace” sign that requires you and your dog to go faster – some judges just want to see an “obvious change of pace”, while others want to see you run those few paces to the “normal pace” sign). The only time you may ask the judge for clarification on any sign is during this walk-though. AKC is a little more strict, and looks down upon handlers speaking to the judge.
Competing Successfully in Rally
To compete successfully, your dog should know more than just sit, down, stay, and come. One of the most important tasks your dog should know is loose leash walking – this will set you and your dog up for success from the beginning. Rally does not require the “glued to your hip” type of heel as formal obedience does, but points will be deducted from your score for each “tight leash” your judge sees.
The signs for each venue can be found on the respective websites, and links to those venues can be found out the Team Unruly Links tab posted above. Study these signs, know these signs, and more importantly, know the difference in the rules between venues before jumping in. In APDT you are allowed to give your dog a food reward at each stationary sign, but in UKC and AKC you cannot. So, just be informed before going!
If at all possible, find a Rally class at your local training club. These classes will help to set you up for success when you head out to compete. The teacher will be able to help you work through any problems you might encounter, and you’ll be able to meet up with other people to attend competitions with so that you’re not competing alone.
Although it seems daunting, it’s a very fun sport. Jax and I are attempting to secure a spot in UKC’s Rally All-Stars for 2012, and we are having fun doing it! Watch for our series on our journey!