People and dogs have been companions and work partners for centuries. This requires teamwork, as well as the dog’s ability and willingness to respond to directions and behave accordingly. Of course, the same could be said for the modern day; we all want our dogs to behave well in public places, in the presence of other dogs and distractions, and at home. Obedience showcases this ability and the teamwork between dog and handler. The natural movement of the handler and the dog’s willingness and enjoyment while it is working is spectacular to watch.
You’ll see several levels of competition in obedience, which require different skills and levels of difficulty:
- Novice Class — The dog shows good companion skills, such as heeling on- and off-leash; coming when called; and other basic good behaviors that show whether a dog has learned to watch and listen to his handler. This is a second level class for dogs getting started in obedience.
- Open Class — This is more challenging, with more exciting exercises all performed off-leash. It includes a dog’s ability to retrieve an object on command; retrieve while jumping over a high jump and jumping a low-wide broad jump among other exercises.
- Utility Class — This is the most inspiring class of all. For many exercises, the handler doesn’t give voice commands, and the dog must understand and respond to only hand signals to sit, come, or stay, for example. There’s a scent discrimination exercise that shows the dog’s ability to find the handler’s scent among several like-type articles. The dog also follows signals to retrieve and jump.
In all of these classes and their exercises, you’ll see handlers and dogs working together, enjoying the teamwork and the challenges. And you may be wishing you could train your dog to behave so well. You can! Obedience can start as early as puppy class and continue through training for competition. In the natural order of things, our dogs look to us — leader of the pack — for guidance and direction. It’s never too late to start, and many AKC clubs offer obedience training.
Rally is an excellent introduction and companion event to obedience. With tasks, similar to those in the obedience competition, rally fosters teamwork and communication between dog and handler. And, although judged less rigorously than obedience, it’s both challenging and exciting.
The rally course has several different signs, placed one following another, to make a course of specific tasks to be performed. The teams move through the course at their own speed, following the signs and completing the different exercises while showing a clear sense of teamwork. With an emphasis on fun, enthusiasm and energy are encouraged.
Like obedience, rally has several levels of competition both on- and off-leash. Each class performs a combination of stationary and moving exercises; with some of the classes having jumps. In each class, the teams are judged on a continuous, uninterrupted performance of all the signs on the course while being timed.
- Rally Novice — Some of the signs you’ll see in the Rally Novice Class include sit, right and left turns, circles to the right and left, fast pace, slow pace, and spirals. The dogs perform these exercises on leash, and handlers may clap their hands or pat their legs, and even talk to the dog through the entire course.
- Advanced — This class is more challenging, and the exercises are performed off-leash; the handlers may talk to their dogs throughout the course. Signs may include: sending the dog over a jump, pivoting in place, side-by-side circles, walking together as a team while spiraling around cones, and many combinations of stops, turns and jumps.
- Excellent — This highest level of rally is the most inspiring. Although handlers may still verbally encourage their dogs, they may not clap their hands or pat their legs at this level. The team moves through more signs at this level to complete the course. You may see some of the same exercises that were performed in the Novice and Advanced Class in addition to those designed for the Excellent Class only. Each sign requires a combination of steps by dog and handler, as well as exercises with the handler and dog backing up together, or with the dog dropping to a down position while heeling.
Rally is a great introduction to other dog sports, including obedience and agility. It’s even good for dogs that compete in other events because it strengthens their skills and the communication between handler and dog. In some ways, rally mimics real life, encouraging behaviors like sit, heel, leave it, halt, and come. If obedience is equivalent to being on one’s best behavior, rally is more like being basically well behaved in the course of daily life.
See both obedience and rally competition at the Obedience Classic held in conjunction with the AKC National Championship Dog Show presented by Royal Canin on Dec. 16 and 17 in Orlando, Fla. Get your tickets here.