What is rally obedience?
Rally Obedience, or Rally-O is one of the newer dog sports, having only been recognised by the ANKC in 2012.
The sport is based on obedience, but rather than being directed to perform exercises by a judge, the handler and their dog perform a pre-set course, completing “stations” with the dog in heel position. Each station has a sign attached to it which tells the handler what they and their dog must do to complete that part of the course.
Rally-O is much less formal than obedience, and a great entry into dog sports. Many of the signs, particularly in the lower classes are exercises that dogs learn in puppy preschool and early obedience classes. Handlers are allowed to walk the course before judging begins to familiarise themselves with what they will need to ask of their dogs and in the lower classes, judges make themselves available for handlers to ask questions during this time. There are 59 signs for handlers to learn, which get more complex as dogs qualify for the higher levels in the sport.
Handlers start the course with a perfect score of 100 and have marks deducted for any problems with their performance (tight leads, crooked sits, hitting a sign etc). Unlike in traditional obedience, handlers are encouraged to praise their dog while completing the course and can pat them and re-cue them if the dog doesn't respond to the first command.
What equipment do I need?
Rally Obedience requires very little equipment to train all of the exercises at home. Though it is helpful to familiarise yourself and your dog with navigating around the signs, which are usually laminated and attached to traffic cones or specially made sign holders, all that is required to train the signs all the way up to the highest levels are some sports cones, a jump, and a couple of distractions (either food in sealed containers, toys or both) to teach the offset figure 8. Other than these, handlers will need a flat collar, a lead and a number holder to compete, as well as a treat pouch or large pockets to carry treats in while training.
How much training is needed?
Rally-o is a perfect introduction to dog sports, as it does require some training, and a good working relationship between the dog and the handler, but the exercises are relatively easy to teach a dog who hasn't had a lot of training in the past. Training in the sport is easy to come by - most obedience clubs around Australia run classes in the sport or use exercises similar to those in the lower levels of Rally-O to teach basic pet obedience.
As with most sports, the amount of training needed to compete in Rally Obedience increases as dogs move up through the levels. Many people compete in both obedience and rally o at the same time, and while perfect ring craft and obedience is not required in rally-o, it does help when competing to give a more polished performance.
The first level of Rally Obedience is a great entry into performance sports. Handlers are able to talk to their dogs, pat them and help them a lot more than they would be allowed to in formal obedience. Dogs only need to know some basic heel work, a straight front (sitting in front of the handler), two returns to heel (one where the dog spins into heel and one where the dog goes around the back of the handler), a sit, a drop and a stand. In Novice, the dog is kept on leash and must complete 10-15 stations depending on the course the judge has set out and of these, no more than 5 can be stationary signs. These signs have to be from the first 32 signs in the Rally O Rule Book.
Earning the title of RN requires 3 qualifying scores of at least 75 points out of 100 under at least 2 judges. The dog starts the course with 100 points, and deductions are taken from the score for things like a lead pulling tight, or the handler having to beg the dog to complete the stations.
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