"What in the world is that?!" someone asked me at a recent show and pointed to the ring where stewards were setting up ground-level signs. I answered simply, "rally obedience," and explained the strange goings-on in the ring.
Rally obedience, or "Rally-O" as it has been termed by enthusiasts, is the latest American Kennel Club event to hit the show circuit. Rally-O combines characteristics of sports car racing, dog agility, and traditional obedience into a new fun sport.
Rally is timed, includes 12-20 performance stations depending on the level of participation, and is scored by a judge who watches for a smooth performance as well as skill in following the directions at each station.
As it does with obedience and agility, AKC offers Rally titles at three levels:
- Novice, with on-leash exercises that demonstrate the dog's understanding of basic commands such as sit, stay, down, and come and heel position;
- Advanced, a set of exercises performed off-leash that includes at least one jump; and
- Excellent, a more difficult off-leash course that includes at least one jump and demonstrates more precise skill and coordination between the dog and handler.
As in agility, courses are designed by the judge and are different in every trial. Exhibitors receive a course map from the judge and can walk the course without their dogs prior to the start of the class. Judges design their courses by choosing from more than four dozen stations that direct handlers and dogs to perform specific exercises.
A sign at each station gives instructions to the dog-handler team, and each team must execute the station's particular task within two-to-four feet of the sign. Once the judge gives the command "forward," the dog and handler complete the course on their own without further commands from the judge. Handlers may not use treats or toys in the ring, but may do anything else to encourage their dogs at the novice and advanced levels except physically touch them or make corrections with the leash. Encouragement is allowed at the excellent level but handlers cannot pat their legs or clap their hands as they can in novice and advanced classes.
Signs instruct teams to go fast or slow, to halt (dog must sit at heel), to make turns and circles, to reverse direction, to do a sit-stay-recall, or to follow other basic obedience exercises.
Each team has a starting score of 100 points from which points are deducted for such faults as missed or incompletely performed stations, touching the dog, leash corrections, etc. The team with the highest score (i.e., fewest number of faults) wins first place, followed by the next highest score for second place, and so forth.
If two teams achieve the same score, the judge determines the placements according to the time recorded for each team's course completion.
Rally-O is a wonderful introduction to the sport of obedience for dogs and owners, an end it itself, an opportunity for veteran dogs to remain active, and a chance for shy or anti-social dogs to get ring experience without worrying about being examined by a judge.
Many dogs enjoy this change from the usual silent heeling of traditional obedience as their handlers can clap hands, talk, whistle (even sing!) to them throughout the entire course without penalty. Those who participate in agility trials will recognize the pre-class "walk-throughs" and the challenge of working with their dog partners in an almost dance-like flow from one station to another. A complete description of Rally Obedience is on the AKC website at http://www.akc.org/pdfs/rulebooks/RO2999.pdf. Station signs for all three levels can be found http://www.akc.org/pdfs/rulebooks/ROR999.pdf. Information is also available at dog clubs that are sponsoring demonstrations and classes for an increasing number of dog owners who are happily exclaiming "Rally-O!"