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Jesse Belle at AKC Rally school.
Cindy Stewart

It’s always impressive to see senior dogs competing in dog sports at a national level, but it’s even more shocking to see one who is also relatively new to the sport.

At 13 and a half years old, Jesse Belle, an All American Dog, is the oldest dog competing at the 2022 AKC Rally National Championship in Wilmington, Ohio on July 8. But she’s also a newer competitor, starting Rally just a year and a half ago, and is now attending her first national championship for the sport.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Transitioning Into Rally

Prior to competing in Rally, Jesse Belle had a long Agility career with her owner Cindy Stewart before retiring from the sport at 12 years old. Beginning when she was 3, Jesse Belle qualified for two AKC National Agility Championships, competed at two Master Agility Championships at Westminster, and won the 2015 Boston Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge for large dog Agility.

Though she decided Agility would now be hard on Jesse Belle, Stewart wanted her to continue to be active with a low-impact dog sport. With a course filled with dog commands and a few jumps like Agility, which she loves, Rally seemed to be the best fit for the pair.

“I’m just really impressed at how she’s just very focused on something that was just totally out of her element,” Stewart says. “And when you go to Rally shows, it’s more quiet than all revved up. And she’s excited to get in there and get in the ring.”

Jesse Belle training at AKC Rally school.
Cindy Stewart

When Stewart first got Jesse Belle from Aunt Mary’s Dog House in Montclair, New Jersey, she got Jesse Belle involved in Obedience classes to teach her a good sit-stay. This would give her a good foundation years later for Rally.

But when she wanted to begin the new sport, the pair’s options were limited. With the COVID-19 pandemic, training facilities were in lockdown, leading Stewart to enroll in the AKC Rally Virtual program, which is now a permanent sport feature with AKC.

It allowed the two to learn the sport and earn titles right in their backyard. Stewart would even have friends come over, see Rally, and train for the sport together using the virtual program.

“Then everything started to open up again, and we started to go to shows,” Stewart says. “We just love Rally now.”

Competing at an Old Age

Now that the pair has gotten involved, they don’t plan on stopping Rally. As Jesse Belle moved up through the levels, some of the skills got a little more challenging—but the two were ready to get through them together.

Jesse Belle just earned her Rally Advanced Excellent title and is on her way to getting her Championship title.

“She loves to be talked to,” Stewart says. “That gets her more hyped up and excited. W you get to the higher levels, you have those jumps in there, and it just brings back that Agility part of it. And she’s just so tuned in.”

Jesse Belle surrounded by her AKC Rally ribbons.
Cindy Stewart

In terms of their hopes at the Rally National Championship, Stewart is just excited to be there and to do the best they can, especially at Jesse Belle’s older age.

“I have so many friends who have just retired their dogs,” Stewart says. “I think it’s very important to continue doing something since she’s been a competitive dog all her life. She’s not one that’s just going to be happy just sitting at home and having treats all the time, and she really wants to be active.”

Stewart recommends that anyone gives Rally a try. While it may not be as fast-paced as something like Agility or Fast CAT, it can be something you and your dog really enjoy together.

For others competing with older dogs, Stewart advises going slow and at your dog’s pace. Also, to just enjoy the time you have on the course together.

“You got a lot of youngsters who are beating you in time, but hey, that’s OK,” Stewart says. “You’re with your dog and you’re still out there having fun.”

Related article: Dog Obedience Competition 101: How Obedience Works
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