What is Rally? Rally is a competitive dog sport where a pup and their handler go through a course made up of 10-20 stations that have commands to perform. It is sometimes called AKC Rally, Rally Trials, Rally Obedience Trials, Rally Obedience or Rally-O. The sport is based on obedience and the point is for the dog and handler to work together to perform each command. If your dog learns tricks and commands well and has fun doing it, Rally may be the sport for you!
Rally has been growing in popularity over the last several years, with both amateur and professional competitors testing their dogs’ speed, agility, and focus through increasingly difficult courses. In fact, many of the same concepts and techniques used to train Rally dog sports champions are also used in training other competitive dogs like Shelties, Border Collies, and German Shepherds! Take a look at this video to get an overview of the sport.
Here are eight facts about Rally that may surprise you.
1) The key to winning Rally competitions is teamwork.
Both the dog and their handler need to be patient, hard-working, able to learn, and enthusiastic about the sport. Handlers rely on vocal directions, hand signals, tapping, or clapping to signal commands to their dog. Since both handlers and pups have to learn the signals and practice doing the tricks together, teamwork is key. There are also many tricks that require both the dog and the handler to do the same thing, like walk in a circle beside each other at the same time. That means they both need to be aware of each other and work together.
Watch this video to see why people love doing Rally with their pups.
2) Being fast doesn’t mean a dog will win.
It's not always true that fast dogs are best for competitive sports—the most important factor is consistency of performance. However, certain breeds are better at doing sports than others and they typically do best in competition: Border collies, Labrador retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs and Australian Shepherds are known for excelling at Rally. The sight hounds, such as Greyhounds and Salukis tend to excel at lure coursing (think of a faster version of fetch) and other activities that rely on fast reflexes.
3) Dogs need training before doing Rally.
There are levels in which a dog can compete – Novice, Advanced, Excellent and Masters (the highest level). Each level has minimum tricks to perform and rules. In competitions, handlers can only give one command or signal. Extra commands or signals are penalized. The rules might state which one can be given. If a signal is allowed, it must be a single gesture with a hand or arm. There are online and webinar classes you can take. A popular one is Rockin’ Rally-O which you can find here.
4) Dogs must meet certain requirements to compete.
Dogs must be at least 6 months old, have certain registrations, be well-behaved, and healthy, in order to participate in Rally Trials. Since handlers can give only limited signals and commands, training is extremely important. Minor errors can lead to deductions. Watch this video to see how a tight leash, likely due to the need for more training, cost this team a few points. They still did an impressive job!
5) There are a few costs associated with competing.
You can compete in Rally virtually or in person. There are a few costs associated with in-person competitions, the largest being travel. Competitions take place all over the world, and if you’re interested in pursuing dog rally competitions on a large scale, it will quickly become necessary to acquire a motor vehicle (or two) so that you can travel quickly and efficiently. In addition to travel costs, some rally competitions require registration fees; while others require no entry fee whatsoever. Competition fees vary widely based on the type of competition you are entering.
The American Kennel Club now offers the AKC Rally Virtual Program. In this program, you can earn titles with your dog online.
6) Newbies shouldn’t compete more than 3 times a year.
If you and your dog are just starting out in Rally, it's recommended that you compete no more than three times per year. As your dog becomes more accustomed to performing in Rally, you can increase how often you compete. When training for a competition, be sure to take two days off between competitions so that your dog doesn't get too used to competing on a regular basis. That way when it comes time for an important competition with a big prize on the line, your dog will still be excited and enthusiastic enough to put their best paw forward. But don't overdo it. There is nothing worse than watching a tired or bored competitor drag themselves through each event of a Rally tournament!
7) The Format of a Rally Trial is Simple
A course is set with 10-20 stations (depending on the level of the competition) that consists of numbered signs. The handler and dog walk together down the course, performing an exercise at each station, in accordance with the commands on the signs. At most levels, handling is done under voice control so you're not allowed to physically prompt your dog, like touching their paws or whistling to get them started. Instead you must use your voice (commands) and body language (signals) alone.
8) The typical courses are challenging.
In a Novice trial, a dog has to perform actions at 10-15 stations. The dog may have to stop, walk fast, sit, walk normal, weave through pilons, stop, sit, walk a few steps and sit again. Watch this video to see a pup and their handler in their first Rally Trial.
In a Masters competitions (the highest level of Rally), the courses become more difficult, with more rules, and tighter spaces in which to do the moves. There are between 15-20 stations. Dogs may have to do spins in multiple directions, walk backwards and spin, come to heel after jumping over an obstacle to get to their handler, and spin while you spin. All of these moves are performed off leash. These moves are challenging. Watch this video to see a Rally Master’s perfect score pup in action.
Rally Trials are unique in that they bring out the best in a dog. These dogs need to be healthy, energetic, and attentive. They must be willing to work for the handler, including when distractions present themselves. The most important things you should know about rally include: 1) make sure you fill out the proper entry forms and have the necessary registrations. For AKC competitions, you can find the list of acceptable registrations here.
Second, it's critical that your pup is enrolled in Rally class well before you need them to be ready for competitions so that both you and your pet are fully prepared by show time. If you like the idea of getting your pup out and active in an organized sport, you may also want to read our posts on Dog Agility, Disc Dog and Dog Flyball.