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Rally Obedience is a fun canine sport where the purpose is to create a strong bond between the dog and its owner, and where the focus lies on respect and mutual trust. It is a sport where you and your dog get to learn to work together as a team, and the relationship formed is one you will benefit from for the rest of your life together.
Not everyone knows what Rally Obedience is, and for those of you who are still unfamiliar with it – this is your chance to learn. What makes Rally Obedience so amazing is that any dog can participate; both purebreds and mixed breeds, and it doesn’t matter if the dog or the handler is physically challenged or in any way different. Rally Obedience is open to anyone who wants to have fun together with their dog!
Related: Dog Whistles for Training.
An Introduction to Rally Obedience
Rally Obedience is also known as Rally-O or simply just Rally, and it is a family-friendly sport that is currently practiced in multiple parts of the world. While you only compete together with your dog – Rally Obedience is in many ways a team sport.
To be successful you need to be on the same wavelength as your dog; you need to work together and truly listen to one another while moving through the course and completing the required tasks together. You can practice just for fun or compete in the competitions held worldwide, and the purpose of the sport is to learn to communicate with your dog on a deeper level.
In Rally Obedience, the course consists of 10-20 signs, and each sign tells you what you and your dog are supposed to do next. The handler always walks with the dog heeling on the left, and at each sign, you will stop, perform the task and move on to the next.
Some of the commands (but far from all) you are asked to demonstrate for the judges are ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’, ‘Down’, ‘Right Turn’ and ‘Left Turn’, but this may vary depending on the competition you are taking part in. The signs used in Rally-O are studied by the handler ahead of time so that you know what each sign means before you walk out on the course. The goal is to perform all the tasks as well as possible. You can use a training book to help teach your dog commands.
You are allowed and encouraged to talk and verbally communicate with your dog during the competition, but no physical touching is allowed. Words of encouragement, hand signs and other non-physical praise is instead used to let the dog know what a good job they are doing. This is part of what makes Rally-O so great for both owner and dog, as it becomes a positive experience despite the required discipline.
When you participate in Rally Obedience, the idea is not for you to gain points, but to avoid losing the points you already have. Each team of two (dog and handler) starts out with a full set of 100 points – a perfect score – and the judges will then deduct points if you fail to perform a task to their satisfaction. If your dog performs as expected – no points will be deducted, and if not, then points will be taken away depending on how poorly the task in question was carried out.
If by the end of the rally, you still have at least 70 points, you qualify towards earning one of the sought-after Rally Obedience titles; and once you have qualified three times for at least two different judges – the title is yours. The titles are added after the registered name of the dog and each trial is referred to as a “leg”, and once you have another title you will be moved up to another level.
These rules apply for AKC (American Kennel Club) Rally Obedience, and the scoring systems and requirements for titles may differ depending on the sanctioning body. There are currently 5 different sanctioning bodies only within the United States and several more throughout the world.
Being moved up to a new level is what most hope for when competing in Rally-O, and as mentioned above this is determined by how many times you have qualified in an individual competition.
Again we will use the AKC rules as an example, but every country tends to have their own rules, and while almost always very similar – it is a good idea to look up the rules for the country or the area where you plan to partake in Rally Obedience already before you get started. The levels in AKC Rally Obedience are the following:
+ Novice. The title for this level is RN and it is the beginner’s class. When competing for an RN, the dog is on a leash and there are 10-15 stations for the dog and handler to complete.
+ Advanced. For this level the title is RA, and while it works almost the same as the RN level – dogs compete off-leash in the Advanced class.
+ Excellent. In the RE class, which you move up to after having first passed the Advanced level, the dog completes 15-20 stations and two jumps.
+ Rally Advanced Excellent (RAE). Should you and your dog qualify in a total of 10 trials in both the Advanced level and in Excellent – then you will be given this prestigious title that for many are the ultimate goal when competing in Rally-O.
Regular Competitive Obedience vs. Rally Obedience
There are many similarities between traditional competitive obedience and Rally-O, such as demonstrating the dog’s ability to follow commands like sit, down and stay, but Rally Obedience is a much more relaxed sport with fewer requirements to enter.
In Rally Obedience, you are also allowed to verbally communicate with your dog by giving praise and simply by talking to your fur friend, and this is not allowed when you compete in regular obedience.
In traditional obedience you will also wait for the judges to tell you what to do next, as they are the ones to instruct you throughout the competition; and in Rally Obedience the judges will simply sit by and watch while you navigate the course yourself with your dog.
It becomes a more intimate experience for your dog and yourself; one that isn’t as bound by rules and where positive reinforcement and communication is greatly encouraged throughout the experience. For those who find traditional obedience somewhat too restricted and stiff – Rally-O might be a better option.
Another obvious difference is that there are more commands used in Rally Obedience than there is in a traditional Obedience competition, and in Rally-O you have jumped when competing for certain titles, which is never the case when competing in regular obedience. Neither sport is better or worse than the other, and it is simply a question of what best suits your preferences and the personality of your dog.
Who Can Participate in Rally Obedience?
This is not one of those sports where the dog needs to be a pure breed with pedigree, and instead, Rally-O welcomes all dogs regardless of their breed, size or looks. You may have to register your dog ahead of time to be able to compete, but the sanctioning body you are competing under will have the information needed regarding this.
Watching a Rally-O competition is fun due to all the different dogs you get to see; unique looking mixed breeds, poodles with perfect lion cuts, Border Collies (lots of them – be sure of it), different terriers, mastiffs and much more – any dog can compete, and it is only the dog’s interest in learning and your ability to teach that sets the limits.
The best part is that your dog does not have to be a pro to get started, and the beginner level allows you to complete the course with your dog leashed. It truly is a sport made for everyone, and one focusing on the fun aspect of dog training.
How to Get Started
Do you have a dog? Great! Then you are good to go. Ideally, you would want to find a kennel club or a local organization hosting Rally-O classes, as it is so much easier to grasp a new experience when having it explained (and demonstrated) by a pro! Look online to see if there is a Rally Obedience class anywhere in your area and reach out to them directly with questions and concerns. ¨
In the case that there isn’t a local club that offers this activity, you can practice yourself, even though it will require additional patience and dedication on your part. The internet has given us access to great instructional videos, step-by-step tutorials and much more, and you can always start by teaching your dog basic commands.
Once your dog has that down (sit, down, stay, spin to the right, spin to the left, etc. etc.), moving on to competing in Rally Obedience won’t be hard at all! If you discover that your dog likes it – it might even be worth it to travel further for the chance to compete in Rally Obedience, because only you decide how far you would want to go.
Rules, regulations, and titles may vary depending on the sanctioning body hosting the competition, and this article is based on the Rally Obedience Competitions hosted by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
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