by Terri Greer
Rally Obedience. What a concept! Not just a stepping stone to obedience competition, Rally is, in itself, a stand-alone performance sport unlike any other. It is a bit like obedience and a bit like agility – at least that is the best way I can describe it.
Rally courses are laid out with numbered, printed signs, and there are walk-throughs before the start of competition. There is heeling (actually a lot of heeling), but in Rally (unlike traditional obedience), you can talk to, encourage, and praise your dog as much as you want! You can also use hand signals and verbal commands simultaneously. There are halts, sits, downs, stands, moving downs, moving stands, turns, about turns, pivots, circles, serpentines, spirals, figure eights (around food bowls, no less), call fronts, finishes, forwards, slows, fasts, waits, stays, backing in heel position, and jumps. Whew!
In APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) Rally, they incorporate even more obedience exercises, such as directed retrieves (to the object of your choice), signals, directed jumping, recalls (including over jumps), and drop on recall. And the best thing of all, IT’S FUN!
You will see some differences between AKC and APDT Rally, and while both venues are great and I enjoy both immensely, I would like to talk about some of the specifics of APDT, who are the “founding fathers” of Rally.
You usually see longer, more difficult courses, often with “married” signs, meaning that a course may have two to three signs placed together, with a stationary element (i.e. Halt/Sit, Halt/Sit/Down). A retry of an exercise will cost you 3 points for each one, and each additional command will cost you 3 points. The loss of 10 or more points at any one station will result in a non-qualifying (NQ) score.
In addition, the following list includes some things which would also result in an NQ: dog does not hold position during walk-around exercises, dog refuses jump (passes uprights), dog fails to change pace, dog anticipates/moves forward on recall exercises, exceeding course time of four minutes, and LURING. These are just a few, and my intent here is not to make it sound hard, but to note that it does take skill and concentration on the part of the dog and the handler, as well as handler strategy! And just like AKC Rally, if you miss a sign you NQ, and you can’t blame your dog for that one!
You also have the OPTION of treating your dog on the course. Treats must be concealed in your pocket. You may treat only after the completion of a stationary exercise and it must not interfere with the flow of the run. This does not mean that you can lure your dog around the course – far from it! If you even look like you are luring, you will NQ. However, with the lengthy, complicated courses, often with those “married” signs, the opportunity to give your dog a treat at an allowed moment can be a great motivator, especially after a particularly difficult sequence. For the dog, a small reward, given at an opportune time, can make a world of difference.
There is also a bonus exercise (one of three for each level of competition), worth up to 10 additional points, and always worth trying, since you have nothing to lose. If it is not done correctly, it does not take away from your individual score. If you and your dog get it right, you get more points!
Physically challenged dogs and handlers are welcomed, too, and exercises can be modified for the dog (i.e. bar on the ground for the high jump). Puppy and Veteran courses have recently been added as well, and mixed breeds have always been welcomed.
There are titles to be won, points to be accumulated, double (and triple) qualifying scores to be earned, and awards of excellence to strive for – way too much to go into great detail about in this article. But each one of the three levels of APDT Rally holds fun and excitement, and the opportunity for great success, no matter what your goal might be.
My own experience with Rally began with some of the fun-runs offered by AKC, usually held after their obedience trials. I started formally competing in AKC Rally when it became official in 2005, and in UKC Rally in 2008. I was introduced to APDT in January 2005 by a friend and the rest has been history. Suffice to say I am, indeed, hooked on Rally!
My Tara, whom many of you knew or knew of, was the “Queen” of Rally, and she set the bar in APDT for all of our wonderful dogs who are now competing. She made history, being the FIRST APDT Rally Champion and Rally Champion Excellent Shih Tzu, in addition to earning numerous individual Championships and Awards of Excellence.
She was usually the only Tzu at our trials, and I am proud to say that she represented her breed with style and grace. I will never forget our first run, seeing her literally light up on that course. She was 10 years young and we had retired from traditional obedience, but with Rally we found a brand new performance venue, and one which fit us to a “T”. At the Bridge now, her legacy lives on, as she does in my heart and soul.
My little Zaina is having her own great time in the Rally ring, and is racking up titles in all three flavors of the sport (APDT, AKC, and UKC). And while she is still growing up, and sometimes puts her own unique spin on things, we are having a ball and enjoying each and every outing, Q or no Q. With a little more time and maturity she will be a force to be reckoned with. But then again, she already is! There is always something to be learned and fun to be had, and at the end of each time, I get to go home with the best little Shih Tzu in my world.
And I can’t exclude Lottie, my “All American” hound (honorary Shih Tzu and Zaina’s best buddy). She, too, is having fun in Rally and has earned a few titles as well this past year after her debut last August.
I would highly encourage you to check out Rally, whichever venue you choose. It truly is a team sport, and quite enjoyable for both dog and handler. I guarantee you will find a great group of folks, a lot of support, challenging courses, friendly judges, and a really fun time. On top of it all, it will keep you on your toes, too, having to read all those signs and not get lost on the courses! You will see old friends and make new ones, cheer each other on, commiserate over handler errors, and celebrate successes. And when you and your beloved teammate cross the finish line, I will be willing to bet that you will be eagerly looking forward to your next run!
Terri Greer & Olive’s Grove L’il Zhen Zaina, RL1, RN, RL1X, URO1, RA, RL1X2
Lottie, RL1, RL1X
-and from the Bridge, ARCHX ARCH Tara Ling Tzu, CGC, CD, U-CD, RN, RA, RL1, RL1X, RL1X2, RL1X3, RL2, RL2X, RL2X2, RL3, RL3X