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junior akc rally national championship
Junior rally competitor Skye Marvin and her Cairn Terrier, Klaus.

Some of the country’s best rally competitors will be gathered together in Wilmington, Ohio, on Friday, June 29, for the 2018 AKC Rally® National Championship. Although she’s only 16 years old, Skye Marvin is one of those handlers. Even more impressive, Skye is entering not one dog, but two. The first is her Cairn Terrier named Klaus, and the second is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Pappy. “I’m super excited to compete both my boys this year,” says Skye.

Rally is an obedience-type competition where the handler and dog work together as a team, moving side-by-side through a course of 10-20 signs. Each sign describes a different exercise for the handler and dog to perform. The emphasis is on teamwork, and although each performance is timed, the goal isn’t to finish the course quickly, but for the handler-dog team to execute each skill to the best of their ability.

Teams had to qualify to enter the championship and there are four classes offered at the event, from Rally Novice to Rally Advanced Excellent (RAE). There is no minimum age requirement for handlers — as long as they can control their dogs, they are welcome to compete. Skye, who will be at the national championship for the first time, has both her dogs entered in the Novice Class (the entry level). Given that she’s under the age of 18, she’s considered a Junior competitor.

Skye with her Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Pappy.

Teams will earn scores for their performances from 70 to 100 points (a perfect score!) and their combined scores from the competition will be ranked, with the top 10 teams earning placements in each class. Points are deducted for any errors made during their performance on the rally course. To be eligible for the national competition, Skye’s dogs had to earn a confirmed title in the Novice Class and at least three scores of 93 or more during this year’s qualifying period.

Skye first tried her hand at rally three years ago with Klaus. “My parents have titled a dog in rally in the past, but other than that my family wasn’t participating in this particular dog sport for a long time until I started participating.” She was introduced to rally by her barn hunt trainer and has loved it ever since. “I really enjoy being able to go out into a course and really get Klaus pumped up and going. He has a lot of fun, and I do as well.”

Not that rally isn’t without its training challenges. Skye uses a special technique to keep Klaus focused during practice course runs. Rather than giving him his treats by hand, she spits cheese at him to catch. “This makes it better for the ring because it keeps his attention on my face and I can fool him into thinking I still have bait.” (In rally trial competitions, no food or toy rewards are permitted in the ring.)

Skye, who has had Klaus since she was nine years old, does her best to fit as much training into her schedule as possible, although it can be tricky during the school year. Almost every day at mealtime, she uses Klaus’ food to practice tricks and behaviors. She also tries to attend classes about once a week. “Throughout the years, I’ve competed him in conformation, titling him in both Australia and America; barn hunt, where I have gotten his RATO; and in obedience, Beginner Novice,” she explains. They even tried dock diving at one point, but swimming wasn’t the terrier’s strong suit. For fun, they also enjoy agility and lure coursing.

Junior AKC Rally National Championship
Nine-year-old Skye with a 6-month-old Klaus.

If that wasn’t enough to keep Skye busy, she got her Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Pappy, two years ago. Where Klaus has competed in almost 20 rally trials, Pappy has been in less than 10. Pappy was bred by Skye’s parents, and she picked him from the litter herself. The two have accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time. “At nine months, he completed his conformation Championship in one weekend, and then later that month completed his Rally Novice title and qualified for the nationals. He earned his conformation Grand Champion title in March, all shown and trained by me,” Skye says.

The AKC Rally® National Championship will be a family affair for Skye, Pappy, and Klaus. Skye’s older sister, Saxon, will be at nationals as well. The duo has a friendly rivalry with their dogs, but Saxon will be competing in the Rally Advanced Class.

When Skye started participating in rally three years ago, Saxon also took up the sport and has subsequently become a dog trainer. Skye says, “She does help me with my training as she allows me to attend the rally classes she teaches and use the courses she sets up.”

Junior AKC Rally National Championship
Skye and Pappy (right) with Saxon and her dog.

Skye’s favorite thing about rally is the interactions with both her dogs in the ring and the people outside of it. “The people in this sport are really welcoming and willing to help out or cheer someone on because they like to see people succeed in this sport.” Especially with newcomers, Skye is impressed at how eager other rally competitors are to step in and offer advice.

Although she doesn’t make it to as many competitions as she would like, Skye’s certainly looking forward to the upcoming event. “I’m really excited to be competing at nationals with both my dogs and my sister. I think it’s going to be a really fun show.” With a little luck and a lot of cheese, she may just bring home some awards.

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, but please leave your dogs at home. 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.