I have loved doing Rally Obedience (called Rally-O) with Odin. I was a little worried about starting with him when we first signed up as he was only eight months old. I didn’t know if he had the focus, drive, or knowledge to be successful in the classes. Rally has been an amazing experience between Odin and I and it has greatly improved our relationship and communication.
Rally-O is all about using the right motivation to your dog so they perform the right command at the right time. You and your dog work as a team to complete the course and you need to develop strong communicative strategies to fulfill tasks and complete the course. When practicing Rally-O, you dog learns how to obey classic obedience commands (sit, stay, down, etc.) while having fun. The real core of Rally-O is the relationship and chemistry between you and your dog.
A Rally course is comprised of 10 to 20 signs that display exercises that demonstrate the controlled communication between you and your dog. The signs in the course vary based on your level, which ranges from Novice to Master. Each of the signs provides instructions regarding the skill that is needed to be performed. It is the job of the handler to communicate the commands to the dog (examples of the novice signs are shown to the right). The dog and handler move throughout the course together are expected to work as a team with the dog heeled at the handlers left side.
Rally-O is intimidating at first. You are walking into a course with your unleashed dog and they are expected to stay with you and listen to your commands. Of course, this is made easier during practice with a handful of yummy treats (Odin gets hotdogs or lunchmeat which are high value for him). Moving through the course and working together in classes has greatly strengthened our communication and relationship. Sometimes it feels like we are telepathically communicating to each other about the course. You learn to read your dog’s body language and are able to tell when they are about the break focus and need a little extra encouragement to continue and they can tell when you are about to signal a command.
Communicating with your dog in Rally-O can occur in multiple ways. In competition, you are allowed to use verbal communication, hand gestures, or luring in order to communication with your dog. As Odin prefers hand gestures, majority of our communication is done through hand gestures and luring while we work on getting his verbal up to par. Rally-O relies very heavily on your dog’s ability to heel, which can be easily taught using a high-level reward and keeping it in your hand at your chest. This also is a good way to train them the “heads up heeling method” which allows for your dog to pick up on subtle cues and focus on you. By giving your dog a clear focal point, you are giving them a reason to want to heel. They can see the treats but most importantly they can see you. This becomes important once you start competing as treats/rewards are not allowed on the course. The “heads up heeling method” gives them a consistent point of reference. To reinforce the “heads up heeling method” I always click and reward Odin whenever he is in the heel position and is making eye contact with me. Whether we are on walks, at the park, or even just hanging out in the house. If he is focusing on my face and my behaviors/cues, he will be able to understand and see what I am communicating to him.
When watching your first Rally-O competition, it can look like magic. The handler’s dogs seem to know the meaning of every head nod, look, or sweep of their arm. Don’t be intimidated by the videos online and jump into a course. Rally-O was designed to be for any handler dog team with basic obedience skills. The relationship and communication skills that will be developed between you and your dog are the reward that awaits you at the end of your training.