Obedience is like a silent, choreographed routine in which the dogs show a willingness and enjoyment to be working with their handlers, who use very few verbal commands, creating a rather awe-inspiring presentation. Though many dogs have basic obedience skills, the 144 canines competing at the AKC National Obedience Championship are exciting and breathtaking to watch as they smoothly perform the heeling, jumping, and retrieving exercises, mostly by watching for hand signals. Similarly, AKC Rally® is a sport built on teamwork, but it allows for more movement from the handler, in addition to verbal communication. It requires the dog and handler to navigate a course of 10 to 20 stations where signs instruct the team what skill to do. Like obedience, it features a dazzling display of talent that leaves all eyes locked on the ring.
This month, devotees of both sports will convene at the same location for the AKC Rally® National Championship and AKC National Obedience Championship, which take place at the Royal Canin Ring/Eukanuba at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington, Ohio. Those competing in rally will show off their skills on June 29, while teams competing in obedience take their place in the ring on June 30 and July 1. A small contingent of competitors — 13, to be exact — have qualified for both that weekend.
Victor Kaftal of Okeana, Ohio, is one of them. He started in obedience in 1990 with his first Canaan Dog, “Gil.” He later dabbled in rally with a female Canaan Dog named “Rashit.”
Rashit is the dam of Kaftal’s current dog, “Anak.” Like his mother, Anak achieved his Rally Excellent title before his owner decided to focus on obedience.
Like Kaftal, Raissa Hinman of Ann Arbor, Mich., will be competing in both rally and obedience at the AKC National Championships. She owns Alaskan Malamutes, a strong-willed breed that, similar to the Canaan Dog, is not a “traditional” obedience dog. Her current contender is named “Bootstrap.” Hinman notes that while both sports require similar skill sets, the ring experience is entirely different.
From the dog’s perspective, the biggest difference is his master’s voice. “You can talk to your dog during the exercises in rally, but not in obedience,” Hinman explains. “I think that overall, rally is a bit easier on the dogs. It’s quicker. You are in the ring for maybe two minutes, not seven or eight.”
Kaftal agrees that obedience is more challenging. However, the precision required to demonstrate each skill is mesmerizing to watch. “There are no second commands, no encouraging or helping your dog,” he says. They’re doing amazing things seemingly on their own.
For her part, Hinman doesn’t train any differently for the two sports — she uses the same collar, treats, and training techniques. Still, Bootstrap knows the difference. “He is a very smart dog and must know on his own that all those signs in the ring signal ‘rally,'” she says. “In any case, from the first step he feels my different attitude in the ring.”
No matter what sport you compete in, knowing your dog is of the upmost importance. For example, Kaftal noticed that Anak was struggling with the scent-discrimination exercises in obedience — particularly the ones involving dumbbells. He ended up switching from regular metal dumbbells to jar lids, which are lighter.
Hinman notes that it takes a long time for any dog to gain fluency in the behaviors that both obedience and rally require. “It takes trialing in many places and thousands of repetitions before a dog can begin to really grasp what you expect of them,” she says. But as spectators will see, it’s worth the effort.
Both Kaftal and Hinman’s dogs have had their share of successes. Last year Kaftal’s Anak got his AKC Rally Master title in 10 trials, with nine Triple Combined awards. And Hinman’s Bootstrap placed in the Top 50 at last year’s National Obedience Championship.
Competing in these team sports with an independent thinker may bring special challenges, but it also makes the victory that much sweeter when it does arrive.
The 2018 AKC Rally® National Championship and AKC National Obedience Championship take place Friday to Sunday, June 29 to July 1, 2018, in Wilmington, Ohio. The events will be held at the Royal Canin Ring/Eukanuba at the Roberts Centre and are FREE for the public to attend. Tune in to AKC.TV or our Facebook page, or download AKC.TV on Roku or Apple TV, to watch the livestream of the championship events starting on Friday at 8:30 a.m. EST, Saturday at 8:00 a.m. EST, and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. EST.