National Train Your Dog Month: Obedience and Rally

Moving on to more doggie activities!  So I’m lumping here, and I generally avoid that, but I added the Rally to the Obedience topic to lighten the dish.  If you have no idea what I just said, read on.

The world of competitive obedience is a complicated one, so let me first just explain both of these sports, and later I will explain a few more controversial things.

Obedience is a sport in which dogs are trained to perform several behaviors, spanning across three different levels, and precision is key.  The behaviors trained involve heeling (this is different from loose leash walking, people), stays, retrieves (on the ground, over a jump, and directionals [take the one of three that I point to]), directed jumping, hand signals, stand/stays involving exams from the judge, recalls (with and without a down in the middle) and scent discrimination (in which the dog must retrieve an article that his handler touched amongst identical articles that someone else touched).  Seem complicated and difficult?  It can be, for sure.  In case you’re still confused, here’s a video of a very well-trained dog competing in Open (the second level).  The handler here is Denise Fenzi, more on her later.

Rally (or Rally-O) is Obedience’s younger more relaxed cousin.  It came along because Obedience as a sport was dying in popularity, and the folks over at the AKC thought it might help spur peoples’ interest in Obedience again.  It looks like this:  there is a “course” set up made up of different stations.  Each station directs the handler to complete an exercise with her dog, and the exercises are derived from Obedience but none of them look the same as in Obedience.  The handler is not directed by the judge, and the handler can talk to their dog the whole time (Obedience is a silent sport except for commands given, and in between exercises), and can give their dog multiple cues.  Precision is not valued, in fact if your dog is roughly right you will not be docked any points.  Here’s a video of a CUTE border collie doing Rally.  This dog is also trained in Obedience, so he is more precise than most dogs seen in this sport, though his bouncing would lose him points in the latter.  The handler is Deb Jones, more on her later.

Look like fun?  I personally love Obedience, but don’t care much for Rally.  I do value Rally as a much more accessible sport people can get into with their dogs.  I love the precision training for Obedience, and I love the complexity of the exercises.  I am a dog training nerd, so I adore training for Obedience.  Rally bores me a bit, because I feel any Obedience dog that is well-trained should be able to do Rally without additional training.  If I don’t have to work for something, it usually doesn’t excite me much, which explains a lot about me as a person.

How to get involved in one of these sports is where the aforementioned “controversy” comes in.  I want to tell you how to get into Obedience if you want to, and I want it to be as simple as asking around or going to an Obedience trial and talking to people.  But it isn’t.  There just aren’t many reward-based dog trainers in the world of Obedience.  Most people in the sport these days are using rewards, but they are also using archaic and harsh corrections.  There is a general attitude surrounding this sport of human>dog and therefore dog must do as told.  This is not to say everyone in the sport is doing unspeakable things to dogs; but many of them are.  So you have been warned!  Finding a good dog trainer that will teach you about Obedience or Rally will not be simple, but I have a place for you to start.

Remember the women I mentioned earlier?  Denise Fenzi, Deb Jones, and Fanny Gott (previously unmentioned, but worth a shout out.  Here’s a video of her BC doing some European-style Obedience; Fanny lives in Sweden.) are all available online for you to utilize, and if they are close to where you are located, they can probably help you find a trainer to work with.  And of course, if you are in the Northern Colorado area, I teach competitive Obedience private lessons, and the occasional group class.  I love helping people achieve precise high-scoring performances without corrections.  Just visit my website www.thecognitivecanine.com and shoot me a message.  Or, leave a comment here!

The bottom line is that Obedience and Rally can be a blast for you and your dog.  Wading through the murky waters of old-school dog training will be necessary if you want to get involved, but once you find a trainer that shares your ethics, you’ll do just fine.