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When Canaan Dog High Desert Ari Of Ascend Mazel Tov CD BN RM3 RAE2 CGC TKN, also known as “Ari,” competes in AKC Rally, he excels at listening. Thanks in part to how he uses his expressive ears, he’s reached the top of the sport amongst Canaan Dogs. Ari and his owner, Laura Alton, participate in the sport year-round, but this is the first time they’ll compete in the 2023 AKC Rally National Championship.

Laura Alton

In the National competition, teams will demonstrate their skills in one of six competitive classes—Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Excellent, Master, and Championship. Since 9-year-old Ari has earned Advanced, Excellent, and Master’s titles, he has qualified to compete in the Championship category. The Canaan Dog, co-owned by Risa Baumrind and Alton, will join more than 800 teams to vie for the title of National Rally Champion at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington, Ohio.

“Because I’ve had to work, we’ve never been able to make the 2,000-mile trip,” says Alton of Henderson, Nevada. “Since I retired in December, we’re not sitting this one out.” Alton’s Standard Poodle, Moonshines Zeus of Ascend CD BN RA CGC, will also travel with them and compete in the Intermediate class.

Meeting of the Minds

A representative of a rare breed, Ari is the only Canaan Dog entered in the 2023 AKC RNC. Although many breeds will show off their skills at this event, they are not compared to their own breed but rather by how well they navigate a course with their owners at their own brisk pace. Each team encounters a sign along the routine that instructs them to perform various exercises. Of the 200 possible signs a judge selects for each course, the team must execute 10 to 20 signs. These include turns and commands—all with variations.

“What I like about this sport is being able to talk to my dog when we come to a sign on the course,” Alton says. “The handler and dog must be on their game to earn the most points, with 100 a perfect score. They must also know the signs well enough to follow them correctly. I’ve messed up on reading and communicating the signs more than my dog has.”

Laura Alton

Here’s where competent canine listening skills and following directions make all the difference. A team will not score points for that sign if the handler tells the dog to turn right instead of left or ask them to walk slowly rather than fast. “I especially like Rally because Ari loves it,” she says. “His tail wags the whole time, and he looks up at me as if to say, ‘What am I doing now?’ It’s just fun.”

Sometimes, Ari shows off his silly side. “He might plop down in the middle of an exercise or go for a jump before I give the command,” Alton explains. For Alton, seeing her dog get excited when they enter the ring is worth all the preparation. “Sometimes he’s so happy that he messes up, but I think he likes the variety of the sport and doing something different every few steps.”

Devoted to Canaan Dogs

Alton has owned Canaan Dogs since 1996—when the AKC recognized the breed. A year later, the breed became eligible to compete in AKC events. “When I moved to Nevada, I had a Siberian Husky, but she was so miserable in the hot summer,” Alton remembers. “After she died, I looked for another breed, and the Canaan Dog appealed to me because it could handle the heat.”

As the national dog of Israel, this medium-sized, intelligent, and somewhat aloof breed seemed a perfect fit. “I knew training Ari would be a little work because, by nature, Canaan Dogs are independent, and I would have to keep him interested,” Alton recalls. “Once he figured out we were a team, he liked Rally.”

Laura Alton

Alton began working with Ari on basic obedience skills at 6 to 7 weeks. Within 6 months, he knew basic cues like “sit,” “down,” “stand,” and “heel,” and he could walk on a loose leash. She entered Ari in AKC Rally classes when he was a year old, and he also picked up Obedience and AKC Trick Dog titles, earning a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) title, as well.

Practice Makes Perfect

Alton likes to prep Ari casually around the house. After years of backyard practices and small local trials, how will this rare breed and Herding Group member follow his owner’s directions at a new and much larger arena?

“Ari is more than ready for the competition,” Alton says. “We’ve participated in crowded venues many times, and the noise and distractions there never seem to faze him.”