Rally ’Round For Rally-O

I suspect you might be seeing a lot about Rally – O on this blog in the near future. I’m really excited about teaching a clicker Rally class soon and my posts will follow what we are doing class. 

 Rally Obedience is a relatively new sport with the AKC adding it to their roster of titling events in 2005. It was wildly popular from the very beginning. A niche needed to be filled and the AKC as well as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) rose to the occasion. Rally O is more relaxed and a lot fun than traditional Obedience but does not require the athleticism  (of both you and your dog) that is involved in Agility.

Rally – O is also a sport that strengthens the bond with your dog. Unlike more traditional AKC Obedience trials, you are permitted to talk to your dog, even clapping your hands,  and you follow a numbered course, rather than having a judge call a pattern. The order of the course of signs differs with each event and that keeps it always exciting.

Both the APDT and AKC offer titles. There are slight differences between them but they both emphasize working as a joyful team and having fun.

The behaviors that are necessary for competing in Rally are also quite useful in other settings. And taking your dog out and about will be much more enjoyable. Sits, down, recalls, figure 8, serpentines, spirals, U turns and more are involved.

AKC Rally

 We have many opportunities to compete in AKC  Rally in this part of the country, so I am going to concentrate most on AKC rules rather than APDT. The differences though are rather slight.

Who Is Eligible?

 You are! Any dog is eligible to enter AKC Rally competitions. Even if your dog is not a registered purebred you can compete. Mixed breeds can be registered with the AKC Canine Partners program which will make them eligible to compete in AKC Rally. So everyone can join in the fun now!

AKC Rally has 3 levels and 3 titles.

  • RN – Rally Novice. At this level dogs are on leash
  • RA – Rally Advanced. At this level dogs are off leash
  • RE – Rally Excellent. At this level dogs are off leash


To Click Or Not To Click – That Is The Question

 Most of the students in my class will have taken classes with me previously, so they are pretty clicker savvy. Though it is quite possible to train without using the clicker, I emphasize the value of having a clicker trained dog.  Dogs who have been clicker trained, TRULY clicker trained, are eager learners and experts at offering new behaviors.  When they are truly in the game it is a thing of beauty. Although using a word, like “yes” to mark the behavior rather than a clicker is fine, I think the clicker is more precise. I wonder sometimes whether our voice and chatter just becomes white noise. I talk to my dogs all the time, but I know that it is not their “native tongue.” They are much more adept at listening to the clicker and my body language.

You Get What You Ask For

A concept I use throughout training is that tagging or naming the behavior should be the last thing you do when training something new.  If I rush it, and name or “tag” the behavior before it is perfect, then I will be asking for an imperfect behavior. You get what you ask for!

First Step

Rally requires a sit both directly in front of you as well as on the left side in a heel position. Getting a sit is usually quite easy, and often becomes a default behavior. Pulling up on the collar and pushing the rump down is passé. It also wastes a good bit of time, as

Most dogs actively offer “sits” all day long. It is already part of their behavioral repertoire, so “capturing” it is easy. But you can also lure it easily by holding a treat discreetly in your fist, placing your fist close to your dog’s nose, and slowly bringing it up and over his head. As his nose follows it, his rump will automatically go down. It is simple doggy physics..head goes up, and rump goes down.

Click when his rump hits the ground and immediately give him the tiny treat concealed in your hand. Repeat often throughout the day, getting 6-8 repetitions in rapid succession.  In order to get these in rapid successions, throw the treat to the side, which forces him to get that rump up, so that you can lure him quickly into another sit.

Do this often, clicking and treating(C/T) until it is offered often and quickly.  When the sit looks they way you want it to, you can begin to add the cue “sit” simultaneously with him getting his bottom down. Remember that the “cue” is not  added to the behavior until it is in the state  like it to be. After 6-8 repetitions using the cue simultaneous with the behavior, you can begin to actually use it as a cue, meaning you can now use to ask him to “sit.”

At this point you can start to ask for “twofers” and “three-fors.” You can ask for two sits in a row before treating, then three sits in a row followed by a treat. You should now also be able to use either your hand signal, whioch is the raising of your hand, or the verbal cue “sit.”

Mixing It Up

 Time to start mixing it up now. Sometimes reward with a game of chase. Sometimes reward with a belly rub. Sometimes reward after two sits. Sometimes after three.

And you can now start to take it on the road. Ask for it in the backyard, the front yard, when people are around, when he follows you to the bathroom. You get the idea!

Start to ask for while your dog is at your leftside. Sometimes dogs swing their rears out a bit so that are somewhere between sitting at your left and sitting in front. An easy way to remedy this is to practice it with your dog between a wall or curb, and yourself. This forces a straight sit. You gradually move away from the wall or curb after sitting straight has become habitual.

If you use a treat bag, start doing it without the treat bag. After you ask for a sit, let your arms drop to your sides. At this point you should be able to start fading the treat bag and the treats away. Keep it fun and lively and think of ways that you can reward your dog that are unexpected and unpredictable. If you are practicing in the bedroom, and your dog loves jumping on the bed, let him jump up on the bed as a reward. Take a small handful of treats and toss them up in the air if he has done something especially well. Don’t always have the treats on your body, but rather have them occasionally on a table or chairclose by. Keep it light and lively.

Attention Please!

In Rally as in all competitive obedience, you want your dog to give you his attention.

Here is how I start to get this behavior. With my dog in a sit by my left side, I wait patiently for him to look up at me. If you give him a hint by coughing or in some other way trying to get his attention you are cheating! Don’t make it too easy for Fido. You want him to figure out that if he starts to offer behavior he may hit the jackpot. So the first time he looks up at you, click and treat. Make sure your arms are by your sides when you do this. The first time is the most difficult. Most dogs will soon have a Eureka! moment – “Oh, THAT’S what you were waiting for.” After your first success, return your hands to your sides and wait for another glance up into your face and click/treat again. He should now start to check in with you more and more often, at which point you can start to name the behavior. Some people name this “Watch Me” but I prefer to just use my dog’s name. After 6-8 repetitions naming the behavior as he is doing it, I make the shift to using it as a cue. In other words I am now asking for his attention when I say his name.

Our next step will be a pivot to the right which helps to emphasize that you would like him to hold that position by your left side. It is a rewarding place to be quite literally!

Related Posts:

Practice Makes Perfect – How To Train Almost Anything

How To Get Your Dog’s Attention and Keep It

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2 Responses to “Rally ’Round For Rally-O”

  1. Laura Neiheisel 19. Jul, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    That’s really exciting! We love Rally-O here at Austin Dog Zone. :) Keep up the good work!

  2. Jan 19. Jul, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Hey Elizabeth! Any more info on classes? Suuuuundays perhaps? :-)

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