Rally Obedience: Everything You Need To Know

samoyed at dog show

Participating in dog sports is a great way to bond with your dog. It keeps them physically active, mentally stimulated, and provides handlers with a sense of accomplishment while simultaneously building an incredible bond between dog and handler.

While many dog sports require extensive amounts of training and discipline, AKC Rally Obedience is an accessible sport which works to maintain a fun environment, while also enabling a dog and handler team to demonstrate practical obedience related skills. Unlike other dog sports, Rally Obedience does not have strict participation eligibility criteria. Most dogs over six months of age possessing an AKC number are eligible to compete in the thousands of Rally competitions held annually within the United States.

In this article, we will discuss everything you might want to know about AKC Rally Obedience before choosing whether or not to get involved – from outlining what Rally involves, to how it can benefit your dog, and much more. 

What is Rally Obedience?

AKC Rally – or Rally Obedience – is an event organized by the American Kennel Club. It is often perceived to be a fun and flexible alternative to standard obedience competition. AKC Rally tests the communication and teamwork between handler and their dog.

Rally highlights positive reinforcement, promoting an enjoyable experience for both the dog and their handler. Rally Obedience focuses on the dog and handler working together as they navigate through a course with 10 to 20 different signs. Each sign displays a skill for the dog (and sometimes the handler) to perform, such as making 270-degree turns, or heeling.

When navigating the Rally course, the handler can speak to their dog, praise them for encouragement, and use body language. Depending on the level of Rally a dog is competing in, the event can be either on or off-leash. 

The variety in course structure at every competition and the number of different levels in the sport make Rally Obedience a truly unique activity for you and your dog.

Who can participate in Rally Obedience?

Any dog six months or older who is not injured or physically incapable of performing the signs can compete in Rally Obedience, provided they have an AKC number. There is also no breed restriction, so both purebred and mixed breeds can participate.

Although most dogs can participate in Rally, there are some exceptions. Dogs matching any of the following criteria are not allowed to compete:

  • Female dogs in season
  • Blind dogs (deaf dogs can participate)
  • Dogs with physical injuries 

The casual participation requirements and enjoyable nature of Rally provide a range of benefits for dogs. Dogs who enjoy engagement and working with their owners love and usually excel at Rally Obedience. Another benefit of training for Rally is that it is an excellent source of mental stimulation, which is something that all dogs require in order to thrive. It also improves a dog’s focus and obedience by challenging them, and helps to keep them active and working.

german shepherd in grass

How is Rally Obedience structured?

AKC Rally has four levels. From the easiest to the most difficult, these are Novice, Intermediate/Advanced, Excellent, and Master. Each course at a Rally event has a series of numbered stations that indicate the next skill to perform. 

Here is a brief explanation of each level’s specific criteria and challenges:

  • Novice: The introductory level of Rally Obedience, Novice, consists of 10 to 15 signs that test basic obedience and teamwork. These signs include simpler exercises, such as turning, recalling, and heeling on a leash. Teams with three qualifying scores earn the Novice title.

  • Intermediate and Advanced: The primary difference between Intermediate and Advanced is that the exercises are performed on-leash in the former and off-leash in the latter. After earning a title for Advanced, teams can advance to Rally Excellent. Both Intermediate and Advanced have 12 to 17 signs with exercises like 180-degree turns, changing pace while heeling, figure 8s, and parallel heeling. These exercises are designed to be a stepping stone for teams to continue developing their skills before advancing to the exercises in Excellent. Teams that earn three qualifying scores receive a title.

  • Excellent: The Excellent level consists of 15 to 20 signs that demand exceptional teamwork. It includes challenging exercises, like backward movements and serpentines. In Excellent, the drills are performed off-leash. Furthermore, handlers are not allowed to clap their hands or pat their legs to guide the dog, and dogs must jump over an obstacle twice. Like the previous levels, teams with at least three qualifying scores earn a title.

  • Master: Master is the elite level of AKC Rally. It involves more complex exercises than Excellent, like side-by-side 360-degree turns in different directions and backing up three steps. There are a total of 15 to 20 signs in Master. As in Excellent, handlers are not allowed to clap their hands or pat their legs to guide their dog. In Master, each team must obtain ten qualifying scores to earn a title.

The dogs and handlers start each event with a score of 100 points. As the dog and the handler navigate the course, points are deducted for mistakes. If the participants maintain at least 70 points, they qualify and earn a leg towards their title.

How can my dog and I get involved?

The best way to get involved with Rally Obedience is by taking classes with your pup. Find a nearby training club offering Rally classes and join them. It is also possible to train for Rally competitions on your own using resources like YouTube, virtual courses and sign lists. The AKC also has an extensive section on its website offering resources for dog owners interested in competing in Rally.

Once your dog learns the positions and signs, you can create a mock course to test your dog’s skills. You can find each level’s virtual course on the AKC’s website. Doing this will enable you to detect and correct mistakes before they happen during a competition. It will also help you to practice navigating an entire Rally course and will help build your dog’s focus for longer durations and over multiple commands.

It is also advisable to attend an event as a spectator before participating. This can give you insights into how the ring procedures work and help you analyze the course layouts. You can also see what experienced handlers do, and ask questions to help you and your dog prepare for future competitions.

Once you and your dog feel ready, check the AKC Rally events page for an event. Register for an AKC Rally Obedience Competition once a date is available near you.

On the day of your event, consider arriving a little early to check in and prepare for the competition. Most importantly, remember to have fun!

In conclusion

AKC Rally is an excellent dog sport to test your pup’s obedience and focus skills. It will strengthen your bond and provide a sense of accomplishment. The best part about Rally Obedience is that all of these things happen in a fun, enjoyable environment full of learning and positive reinforcement. 

With its wide variety of course layouts and increasing challenges with each level of the sport, AKC Rally is a great option for dogs of all ages and skill levels.

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