I have found my joy, and his name is Steve.

Years ago, when Steve was young and completely insane and I was new to agility and new to the special kind of insanity that is Border Collies, I had a trainer completely steal my joy. The club where I took obedience and rally also ran an agility program, and the instructors were some pretty accomplished people– multiple championship titles, Nationals, even someone who has been to Worlds. It was natural that I would just start off my agility journey there.

Very bad plan. Very bad. They begin with what they call Foundations, which is exactly the skills that it should be, but the problem is they have six young, green dogs all trying to

Big air Steve

Big air Steve

work, usually offleash, at the same time. Steve, young and overly excited about anything and everything that moved tasked with rear-foot-targeting a small board OVER AND OVER AND OVER again… well… let’s just say that didn’t keep him very occupied.

I did a lot of mat work with him. I did a lot of control unleashed games with him. But what it came down to was that there was no way for me to keep this dog under threshold far enough for him to learn much of anything with the class set up the way it was.

And none of the instructors either could understand that or were able to honor that and help me work around it.

We finally made it out of Foundations after several sessions and moved into Beginner 1. This class involved stringing several jumps together, maybe in a big circle. Stever dropped probably 85% of the jumps. So they found me special jumping instruction. She was going to teach my dog how to jump.

Never did anyone address that my dog was so over threshold that his brain was gone and the only thing his body wanted to do was GO AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.

I left class crying week after week.

I was taken out of the class and set aside and told to work on my relationship problems with my dog.

My heart broke. I got this dog to play agility with him, and I had failed completely before I ever got started.

They missed it. They missed it completely. The problem was not my dog, not at all. It was not me. I was doing everything I knew how to do.

The problem was the setting. The problem was instructors who just didn’t get it. Nowhere along the line did anybody suggest a different class, or private lessons. That was what he needed. No one said anything about thresholds.

Steve masters a different kind of teeter totter

Steve masters a different kind of teeter totter

I quit. I left class crying yet again and I never went back.

Finally after some encouragement from friends, I switched to another training club. I went to meet the instructor to see if my dog was broken. He wasn’t. He ran beautifully alone in her training building. What?

So we joined her classes. One dog in the ring at a time, for the most part. The rest of the dogs crated either in the building or out of it, depending on the dog.

And yeah, he was high at first. WOOHOO AGILITY! He crashed a lot of jumps. But as he learned the game, as he learned the environment, he started to settle.

And we made progress. I stopped crying. My dog learned. I learned.

Somehow, I had an agility dog.

We’re nothing amazing. I don’t like to trial, so he has a couple CPE titles and a couple legs in USDAA Performance 1 Gamblers (and I think 1 in Standard).

Here’s his first USDAA Gamblers run ever. (fast forward to about 50 seconds in)

Now most of the agility we do is on our own, just playing around in the training building, running whatever course is leftover from classes. I like it. He likes it. It works.

Recently I’ve put him back in Rally Obedience classes again. I love the instructor. I love the sport. Steve is a smartypants who pretty much knows all the exercises (he has one Rally Excellent leg, and I just haven’t managed to get out of bed to make it to another trial). But it’s good for him to go brain, and it’s good for me to go play with him in public.

And play we do. Sometimes, our play gets caught on camera, like it did before class last week. We were just warming up, fooling around, getting ready for class. The instructors husband caught us on film.



(and before anyone says it, yes, he forges terribly and no, I don’t care)

And what do you know, my old agility instructor, the one who broke my heart and stole my joy? She saw it and she commented on the “long way” that Steve and I have come and that it was “impressive”. And that would feel good if it were coming from somebody else, coming from someone who supported us and believed in us from the beginning. But she is somebody that we worked hard *despite* of, somebody that broke us down instead of lifting us up.

Steve and I? We didn’t need to work on our relationship. We have that in spades and we always have. We just needed somebody who understood what we needed to help that relationship shine in a particular environment.

I am so lucky to have this amazing dog in my life, and I am so very very grateful to have found people who would build us up, who would work through the hard stuff, who would sing his praises and help me toward achieving what I wanted with him.

That is what everyone trying to train a dog deserves, whether you’re just trying to learn basic manners in a beginner obedience class or you’re trying to learn a complicated game like agility. Respect. Honoring of your special relationship with your dog. Encouragement. Knowledgeable advice appropriate to your situation. We are not all cookie-cutters. We all deserve to be treated and taught as individuals.

Sign 57 – Getting Mr. Ein over our Biggest Training Challenge

Warning: This post may only be interesting to lovers of Rally Obedience!

Bane of my Existence.

Bane of my Existence.








World Cynosport Rally Obedience Sign 57.  I underestimated you.  Big time.
“This exercise requires two signs. The team halts at the first exercise sign, at a spot 10-15 feet away from the jump and 4-6 feet offset to either side of the jump upright. The handler leaves the dog in a Sit and walks to the second exercise sign, at a spot 10-15 feet to the other side of the jump upright and directly facing the dog.  At this sign, the handler cues the dog to jump. Points will be deducted if the handler steps towards the jump while cuing the dog. The dog must come over the jump. As the dog is jumping, the handler may turn slightly so that the dog can come to front position but does not move forward towards the dog. The handler then cues the dog to Finish or Forward either Right or Left.”

My dog sport fever all began with my little corgi, Ein, in an agility class in January 2012.  Straight from the beginning we learned jumping.  Ein is okay with jumping.  Right?  RIGHT?  It was the teeter and weave poles that really freaked him out and sapped his enthusiasm for agility.  But jumps?  He’s got that.  Sure.  Sure he does.

Ein and I started trialing in AKC Rally Obedience and (then) APDT Rally Obedience in August 2012.  What a fun year we have had, with plenty of ups and downs, as a green handler and anxious dog.  We have collected up to the Rally Excellent title (AKC) and the ARCH title (WC Rally).  But not the elusive Rally Level 3 title.  And why?  You guessed it.  Sign 57.  (I was mostly worried about the heeling backwards required in the Moving Backup sign.  It has not been an issue.  Not once.)

Due to my inexperience, I never imagined that Sign 57 would be a problem.  It’s a jump, my dog was taught to jump.  Therefore he will jump when I point.  Simple!  Not simple.  (The errors in my thought process are clear to me now.  Not so much back then.)
Two things I failed to consider: This sign is a variation on a Utility Level Obedience exercise.  So: not easy-peasy!  Also, this sign requires more independent work than any other rally sign ( in my opinion.)    Approximately 30 feet of independent work.
Ignorance is bliss: I attempted three Level 3 entries with Ein and received Non-Qualifying scores for every single one. What can I say, I am a “learn from mistakes” type of person.
Ein is great at holding a stay.  He is so splendid that when I left him in a stay and sent him to the jump, he continued to stay.  And stared at me.  Because, much to my naive surprise, he had absolutely no idea what I wanted him to do.  I was shocked and ashamed of myself that I had asked Too Much of my little red dog.

Well, it had to be fixed!  My initial attempt at “training” this was to simulate the exact same set up and ask Ein over and over again to take the jump.  Ridiculous, I know.  It didn’t work.  The next logical step was to get Ein and I closer to one another.  I would leave him half a foot offset from the jump, and position myself – facing him – on the opposite side, about 2 feet from one another.  That worked, but unreliably – yet it has still been my favorite method.  Next attempt was to put a target (we use a can cover) in front of the jump and send him to target that.  That worked okay.  I moved the target to the other side of the jump and Ein would: walk around the jump to target, stare at me, or rarely actually go over the jump for the target.  Everything was Not Working.  We have been struggling with this for months with little to no resolve.

A few weeks ago, Ein performed this sign two different times in a rally-o class.  I was ecstatic.  But then the next week, we were back to square one.  I think about this sign so much.  And the more I think, the more I realize that I would find our solution only by breaking the sign down to its basic fundamentals.

IMG_2659Part 1 – Leave the Dog in a Sit.
You must heel up to the sign.  Your dog must sit.  You leave the dog and the dog must stay.  It seems very simple, but in order to help Ein understand what is being asked of him, something had to change.
Our instructor suggested that instead of saying “Stay” I might say “Wait”, or something different so that Ein knows what is coming.  I like this a lot.  This helps me communicate to Ein “I want you to stay, but you will be asked to jump soon.” versus our normal “Stay.”  Ein has a very reliable “Recall Over Jump” when I leave him directly opposite of me, so telling him “Get Ready.” before asking him to jump in that situation, and only in that situation, should help him learn his new cue word.  “Get Ready” will be exclusive to “Staying Until Jumping.”

einlPart 2 – The Handler Cues the Dog…
Dogs need clear direction when they are being asked to do something.  It only makes sense to consider my own body language and cue Ein in a way that communicates most clearly with him, and takes his personality into consideration.
Without listing everything that I have done wrong, I know that I need to: Say his name.  Say our new cue word loudly and clearly.  Point to the jump in a grand sweeping motion with open hand (or two hands!) and keep my arm(s) raised.  Look at the jump during all of this, not at Ein.

Part 3 – The Dog Must Come Over The Jump. That jump needs to be a Really Good Thing for Ein.  And previously?  It really was not.  Again, a new cue word (bar”) and more concentrated emphasis on the bare bones concept of the jump. (starting at a low jump height is ideal for teaching the basics of a jump, and for building confidence.)
When I taught Ein agility jumps, I was told to wait for him to make the decision to jump, and then throw the reward out in front of him after he took the jump.  So, we revisited: I sat by the jump standard with a bag of yummy treats.  Ein got a treat thrown opposite the jump for: looking at the jump, for taking the jump.  He would initially stare at me.  It did not take him long to realize that that would get him nowhere fast.  Soon he began some glances at the jump.  Jackpot!  I threw the treat opposite the jump with a verbal praise-marker (Ein is afraid of the clicker sound.)  Since I started off sitting by the jump standard, Ein didn’t have the option of running around the jump.

It wasn’t long before Ein realized that he was Getting Food and Being Right and I soon had a corgi who actually wanted to jump.  I had succeeded in making jumps fun again!  We repeated this process with my moving one foot, three feet, and so on away from the jump standard.  Same process with me sitting in back of or in front of the jump.  It took some time, but now I can actually stand rather than sit and tell Ein “Bar!” and he scampers over that jump and smiles at me.   Mission accomplished.


Part 4 – Front and Finish.
Though I have obviously had issues with underestimating the above three parts of this exercise, I feel confident that this will be our strong area!  Ein is always happy to return to the safety of Me, and by now a Front and Finish are non-issues.  At eight years old and obsessed with Me, Ein is not prone to a zoomie run following the fun of taking a jump.  But hey, I don’t want to jinx us – especially not if we survive the sign to this point!

Sign 57?  You are going DOWN.  

So how about you?  Have you ever had a training challenge that baffled you and your dog?  What did you do about it?  Still working on it?  Please share!

Yes you SHOULD teach an Old Dog New Tricks.

My corgi, Ein, was no spring chicken when we started our first sport.  He was 7 years old.  I had always wanted to do agility with Ein.  I would do internet searches for agility clubs and classes and think, “Someday.”  By the time my lifestyle finally allowed for enrollment in a class, Ein was a whole 7 years old.  He had never been to a training class of any kind.  I taught him basic obedience at home.  What did Ein know before turning 7?  Sit, Down, Stay, Shake, Roll Over, Heel, Sit at Halt, Recall.

The agility training center that I looked into asked me to bring Ein to an obedience class, to see if he had the basic skills needed for an agility class.  It was a bit of a competitive obedience class, with strict walking patterns and other things that are commonplace in such a class.  They made no sense to me.  I was acutely aware that Ein was the oldest dog in the class.  It was clear by the end of that hour that when it came to basic obedience, Ein knew what he was doing better than I.  The instructor was training ME, not my dog.

We were a shoo-in for the Foundations Agility class that I wanted to join.  The class would be Foundations Agility one week, Obedience the opposite week.  We waited a month for the class to begin, and in that month I wavered between excitement and concern that Ein was Too Old.  When the night of our first class finally arrived, Ein was indeed the oldest dog there.  None of the other dogs were older than 2 years.  Was I doing the right thing?

That was last January.  The months flew by, and they were fun.  I loved the agility classes!  The Obedience classes?  Ein already knew that stuff.  How boring.  My old dog was learning stuff, though.  He learned hand touches, target touches, weave poles, teeter, “2 on/2 off” target touches on contacts, running through tunnels.  And one class, he started offering “sit pretty” to me for treats.  “Sit Pretty” was a trick that I had tried and failed to teach him for years.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Ein’s age was not our obstacle.  It was his social anxiety.  But something funny started happening outside of class.  Ein stopped plastering himself to the sides of the aisles in Petsmart.  He stopped full-body shuddering when somebody wanted to pet him.  He began sniffing people instead of hiding behind my legs.  He ate a treat that the vet gave him.  He ate a treat that a dog bakery owner gave him.

Class time continued to progress and we switched over to something called “Rally Obedience” in the opposite week to our agility class.  And something else switched over.  My brain.  I began looking forwards to both weeks equally.  While Ein was progressing and learning agility, he was slow with it.  He was in no hurry at all.  Some of the obstacles were still frightening to him.  While it improved Ein’s confidence to work through that anxiety, I could see that he did not wholly enjoy what he was doing.  What Ein did enjoy doing was walking at heel with me.  He enjoyed working closely with me as a team, instead of being sent away from me.  In Rally Obedience, we could do just that!  But we had a lot of learning to do.  Rally Obedience was more than just heeling and sitting.  Each class we learned a few new AKC Rally signs, practiced them, and worked on heeling patterns.  And I fell in love with the sport.  Ein learned, at 7 years old: Call Front, Right Finish, Left Finish, About Turn, About Turn Left, About U Turn, Stand, Moving Down, 270 Right/Left, 360 Right/Left, Figure 8 Heeling, Serpentine Heeling.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks??

After about a year, I stopped agility with Ein.  We had had a good run.  And we, by chance, had found a sport that we enjoyed.  So I entered Ein in his first AKC Rally trial.  Terrifying.  He qualified and placed in Rally Novice.  My 7 year old anxiety-ridden corgi walked into a busy dog show and earned a qualifying score.  Good boy.  And I was hooked.  We continued to work up through AKC Rally, as well as APDT (now World Cynosport) Rally.

And now, this year, I find my dog to be 8 years old.  He is still learning new tricks.  He has to.  We want to earn our Rally Excellent and Level 3 titles after all.  At the age of 8, what has Ein learned? Ein has learned to walk at heel…in reverse.  Call Front, Walk Backwards.  Drop on Recall.  Moving Stand.  Moving Down.  Sit from a Distance.  Down from a Distance.  Perch Work.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks???

This past weekend, Ein and I made a second attempt to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test.  It was crystal clear that Ein’s confidence has improved by leaps and bounds. He allowed the instructor to pet him.  He did not shake or drool when I walked away for three minutes and left his leash in the hand of a stranger.  He heeled smartly without forging or worrying.  Ein still has his anxiety demons.  He failed the test, no way was he allowing that instructor to BRUSH him.  But it is clear that learning all of his “new tricks” was just the thing that my old dog needed to help him feel more confident about himself, and to not be so afraid of the world.

And as if that was not enough, Ein also earned his Veterans title in World Cynosport Rally this past Sunday.  (Veterans is a class for dogs 8 years and older.)  It seemed odd to have my dog, who is still green in so many ways, entered in a Veterans class.  After all, we have only just begun.  Old dogs CAN learn new tricks.  Lots of them.  And those new tricks can strengthen your bond, build teamwork, and enrich your dog’s life in ways that you cannot even imagine.


A serious case of the yips: Competing with a reactive dog

What do you do when you’ve got the yips about your yapper?

PS: I just totally gave away the ending to this post.

“The yips” is a slang term for the sudden loss of skills (usually the fine motor skills of accomplished athletes). There are some medical explanations for the loss of these motor skills, but in common language, having the yips is usually attributed to a loss of confidence in one’s abilities. Sometimes athletes recover their ability or change their technique to compensate, but others end up retiring from their sports.

Most people probably don’t think of dog sports as, well, “sports”, but those of us who do compete with our dogs know better. Agility, obedience, weight pull, rally – all of these activities require training, physical preparation and mental readiness. They require partnership between dog and owner and — in my opinion — they are influenced just as much by mental mistakes as by physical mistakes. A lot of people go into competition and blame failures on their dog. “He knows better than that.” “He missed that jump.” “She was distracted.” Ultimately, it is the handler’s preparation and competition mindset that makes the difference here. A distracted dog is not engaged – so engage him. A dog doesn’t “know better” unless you prepare him – so prepare adequately. A dog who misses obstacles or signs has not been directed properly – so direct him. In fact, I would venture to say that most errors that cost dog-handler teams points or qualifications are caused by mental mistakes, not physical inability.

About 18 months ago, I got a serious case of the yips.
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Play is for everyone: Some thoughts on the sale of APDT Rally to USDAA

I mentioned a while back that I’ve recently started competing in APDT Rally with my two dogs. I’ve wanted to do Rally for ages–I bought myself Click Your Way To Rally Obedience about two months after getting Nellie and have been slowly working my way through it.  I got Nell to the point where she had a handle on the entry-level signs, and, feeling full of myself, I started calling around to find a) classes we could take and b) places we could trial. And that is where I first encountered the labyrinth of dog sport venues and realized that things had just gotten a lot more complicated than I’d thought. I’m in the US, so I apologize for this being US-centric, but I bet wherever you are, there are similar multi-venue issues afoot: just replace AKC/UKC/ASCA/APDT with your local organizational alphabet soup.

Though I’d done a little bit of agility-for-fun with Lucy, when I started researching Rally, I still hadn’t quite grasped the whole idea that dog sports have multiple sponsoring organizations, that every organization has different rules, and that these organizations are, in many cases, highly regional.  The organizations also have, for lack of a better term, particular vibes: some are just-for-fun, some are very competitive, some are preoccupied with breed, some don’t care, some are easy for new handlers to get into, others aren’t, etc. If you’ve got an athletic young border collie you’d like to do sports with, you don’t really have to worry about this: every organization will accept you, and you have the luxury of shopping around to find the organization that best fits your style and geographic area. The rest of us, as I was soon to find out, are not that lucky. I didn’t realize it, but at the time, I was living in AKC country. Compete in AKC Rally with Nellie? In 2009? Ha. Nell has three strikes against her, as far as the AKC is concerned:

  • She is a pit bull (and very definitely NOT an AmStaff). The UKC believes that the American Pit Bull Terrier is a breed; the AKC does not.
  • She is a pit bull mix; until 2010, the AKC did not allow mixed breeds to compete at all. Now mixes are allowed to compete under the ‘Canine Partners’ category; individual clubs have the autonomy to run them in their own all-mixed breed classes or disallow them altogether. Mustn’t sully the purebred dogs with their filthy mongrel germs!
  • She has three legs. This is still a disqualifier from participation in any AKC event (including, depending on who’s interpreting, the Canine Good Citizen exam and the STAR Puppy program.) If you’ve bred a dog who’s dysplastic or can’t breathe, no problem (especially if he’s a purebred)! A dog with vision issues, however, or a dog who’s going a little deaf as he ages, or my healthy-as-a-horse, vet-cleared, speedy little tripod? Uh-uh.

(*I am not a real big fan of the AKC, in case it’s not obvious)

This also, as I found out, excluded us from taking AKC-based classes (this is up to the instructor’s discretion; the discretion of the three instructors I called was that if Nellie wasn’t eligible to compete in AKC Rally, there’d be no point in training her in AKC rally.) AKC did eventually withdraw its ‘no mixed breeds’ rule, so if I’d wanted, I could have trialed with Lucy, but by this time I had an understandably bad taste in my mouth.

So then I moved! And I moved to an area that had some APDT! And choirs of angels came out of the clouds to sing! OK, not really, but after my crummy experience with AKC-affiliated stuff, it was such a breath of fresh air to go to my first APDT trial. APDT Rally is open to all dogs (mixed/purebred) and explicitly welcomes dogs (and handlers!) with disabilities. Judges are empowered to make small course changes to accommodate physical needs: if, say, you’re running a 12 year old dog and would like to jump him at a slightly lower jump height, that’s permitted (on judges’ approval). And at least at the trials I went to, that open, inclusive attitude permeated the whole atmosphere. Everyone cheered for everyone; there was certainly no grumbling about how Maybe Some Dogs Just Shouldn’t Be Here; it was friendly, open, social, non-intimidating for newbies and a huge amount of fun. I loved it. My dogs loved it. I was totally hooked.

And then.
APDT Rally Transitions to Cynosport APDT Rally

In August of this year, APDT sold its entire Rally program to the US Dog Agility Association (USDAA, soon to be known as Cynosport). This was not unexpected: Rally began with the APDT, but they are, after all, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and running a sports organization with all of the attendant paperwork, etc. is not exactly their primary mission. I’m sad to see Rally leave the APDT, but I understand that decision: what I do not understand is the decision to sell to the USDAA (except, presumably, that the USDAA had the cash and the desire to pay it out.)

USDAA is a fine organization, and many people love competing there. It was designed as a performance venue for all dogs, so mixed breeds have never been a problem for them. In all other ways, however, USDAA Agility is the opposite of the friendly, inclusive environment that the APDT has worked hard to foster in their Rally program. USDAA is widely known as the most competitive of the various US agility venues: their courses are longer, their obstacles are more challenging (narrower dog walk, smaller tire), their weave poll spacing, at 22″, is smaller than that of any other venue (which has caused some controversy, as smaller weave entries are harder on a dog’s frame, and the risk of injury subsequently goes up.) Their jump heights are also famously high and don’t account for body type: Nellie is 16.5 inches at the withers, and as such, she’d have to jump 21 inches (almost higher than her own head). Of course, Nellie wouldn’t be able to compete anyway: the USDAA does not allow three-legged dogs (here’s an awesome story about a tripod who got kicked out of USDAA after she lost her leg to cancer and went on to rock out in CPE). The APDT’s press release about the sale says that Cynosport has agreed to keep APDT Rally’s rules through the transition period: they also say that they expect the transition to be complete at the end of 2012. No word on whether or not those rules will stay consistent once Cynosport has taken over completely.

USDAA also has a reputation as being an organization that exists primarily for border collies. This is not entirely fair, but also not entirely unfair: have a look at the 22″ and 26″ classes in this year’s Masters’ Standard Top Ten. See many non-Border Collies? In fact, take a look at all the classes. See many mixed-breed dogs at all? (note: every mix is classified by USDAA as ‘All-Breed’) There were so many border collies at this year’s Nationals that Susan Garrett (who runs border collies) posted about wanting an Anything But Border Collies class. And yeah, I get it: border collies are often good at agility. And yet, other sponsoring organizations don’t seem to have these same all-BCs, all the time results: here’s a photo of the AKC’s 2011 National Champs. Here’s the UKC’s 2012 Agility All Stars list: lots of breeds on there. Most of the people on the Fortune 500 CEOs list are men. Are we going to argue that that’s just because men are naturally more talented and capable? Or might issues of corporate culture and work environments play a part? I know border collies are awesome. I don’t think they are awesomer than 99% of all other dogs at agility. I think the attitudes of the sponsoring organization and the people who participate absolutely play a role, and I’m going to suggest that anyone who doesn’t feel similarly has never been to a trial or dog event where they felt unwelcome.

And finally, regarding issues of breed: USDAA held its Nationals in Commerce City, CO this year. Commerce City, CO, where city regulations make it “unlawful for any person to own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport or sell within the city any pit bull [Any dog that is an American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics that substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club (A.K.C.) or United Kennel Club (U.K.C.) for any of the above breeds. A bill of sale of veterinary record that identifies an animal as a pit bull terrier mix shall be sufficient to establish that the animal in question is a pit bull terrier or a pit bull terrier mix for purposes of this chapter].” Katie wrote a great post on this over at her blog, and the only thing I can add to that is numbers: USDAA reports that 83 APBTs, 97 AmStaffs and 101 Staffy Bulls have titled with their organization. They also have titled 30 bulldogs, 332 boxers and a huge number of (presumably some) square-headed mixed breeds that might be affected by this legislation. They chose to have their Nationals there anyway, and when there was some controversy over that decision on their facebook page, they shut it down. No worries about the hundreds of dogs that would have been put in harm’s way if they’d chosen to show up! They’re a competitive organization, after all, and didn’t you see that most of the really good dogs are border collies? It’s right there in the top ten list!

I don’t know if anything’s going to change when the sale of APDT Rally changes over fully to Cynosport, I really don’t. I hope it doesn’t. I hope that the atmosphere and the rules stay exactly the same and the change in ownership is only reflected in what’s printed on the ribbons. All I’m saying is that my little three-legged rescued pit mix loves playing Rally and I love playing it with her: the deck has already been stacked against her enough, and if this sale becomes yet another thing that keeps us from living our lives and doing the things we love to do, I will be unhappy. So act right, Cynosport!

The Road to UKC Rally All-Stars, Part One

“I’m ready, Mom. Let’s do this!”

Jax and I have one big goal this year: to be ranked in UKC’s Rally 1 All-Stars. This is an invitational event that is held at UKC Premier each year. Each dog and handler team attend Rally competitions each year and earn points to earn a rank among the top 50 dogs. These are the dogs that will be invited to compete in Rally All-Stars at Premier in June.

On Friday at Premier, we earned a score of 97 (out of 100); on Sunday, we earned a score of 96. Considering this weekend was one of the worst weekends I had to experience in 2012, I was pleased with these performances. Jax knew I needed him that weekend, and he stepped up to the plate after not competing in Rally since Premier 2011.

I apologize for the shoddy video quality. Indoor lighting and cameras don’t always get along nicely.

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So, What is Rally Obedience?

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.

Jax & Lindsay executing the UKC “Halt, down, walk around” sign.

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?

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You only get one Novice A dog: In praise of Luce.

Luce CD!

Wearing her bling well.

When I adopted Luce from the shelter, I had some vague notion that I’d like to play some sort of dog sport with her, maybe agility. I’d never trained a dog before, but I’d been working with the public’s dogs in either a boarding kennel or veterinary hospital setting for several years. I felt pretty confident that I could adopt a dog from the shelter and train it without too much trouble.

I was woefully unprepared for what I brought home. Luce was a young adult pit bull, completely untrained, quick to fire up, slow to settle down, with absolutely no self-control. She was reactive, dog-aggressive, and had impressive barrier-frustration issues. I completely understand why she was in the shelter with nobody looking for her (she’d been picked up as a stray). She was a maniac. But she was also mine.

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