Rally Mutt

We’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with rally. During our general obedience classes we took in Montana, we covered many of the rally stations. Our trainer was working towards her RAE with her dog and we were often invited over to practice with them. We even took a rally course through the same trainer. Risa’s always been able to do the signs and I got really good at recognizing what we were supposed to do when I saw them.

Unfortunately, Risa was still easily distracted during that time. As soon as we started heeling, she was often off following a scent or looking around. I used to get pretty frustrated with her because she knew how to heel beautifully. She just hadn’t been trained to the distraction level she was often put in. Not to mention she was still pretty dog reactive at the time. I figured trialing in rally was something I might consider when she was older. Hoping that, because rally moves at a slower pace than freestyle, as she aged she’d be more attentive at a slow pace.

Fast forward from a sit at our first rally competition.

Now, when I said ‘older,’ I was thinking 10+ years old. Not almost 7. 😉 But, here we are. Not much more than 2 years later and I decided we should compete in rally.

There are several reasons why I recently decided we should try rally again. Freestyle competitions are not close by or very frequent. We finally competed in a live competition for freestyle earlier this year and Risa did amazingly well. And the local obedience training club was offering a rally class and I really wanted to get us in a class again. I thought rally was something we could manage. Especially since we were already familiar with most, if not all, of the AKC signs from our training classes in Montana.

The class we’ve attended has been great for us. It’s in a loud, busy room where there are multiple rings of stuff going on and dogs constantly walking by. It’s really a bit of a nightmare for a reactive, fearful dog but it’s given me plenty of opportunities to work with Risa and make her more comfortable. I realized that she may be ready to try competing so I entered her in a one day trial. If she did well and had a good time, we’d try for her RN (rally novice) title. If the experience had not gone well, then that would have been it and we would have given up on rally.

Yesterday was the day of the trial and I was pretty nervous. Worried about finding crating space, about getting Risa comfortable, about her being dog reactive, and then about keeping her attention once we were in the ring. So I figured we’d get there early to give us both plenty of time to acclimate and get ready.

I spent some time letting Risa walk around and investigate the show grounds. She sniffed passing people and dogs. Clearly, she was a bit anxious and worried. I worked with her on some focus at heel, general focus, and some of the rally behaviors. Risa was easily distracted. At one point, she was so distracted I was starting to get frustrated with her. I decided I would take her back to her kennel for a break before I inadvertently did something out of frustration I would regret.

She quickly learned where her kennel was and was quick to drag me back to it when we were getting close. When I took her outside for potty breaks, she dragged me to the door. I was starting to think this wasn’t going to go well at all. I couldn’t get her attention for long and she wanted to go to her ‘safe places.’ Now I was definitely worried she was just going to do her own thing in the ring.

Focus in the ring.

After a break, I got her back out and decided I would ask her for some focus and rally behaviors around the outside of the ring. After all, I didn’t need her attention in the grooming area or by the vendors. I just needed it IN the ring so I worked as close to that area as I could. She was visibly calmer and fairly focused. I still wasn’t sure how she’d do when we stepped into the gating but I knew we had to try.

I was able to get her to sit at the start sign after a couple tries. I told the judge we were ready and we started the course. At first, her heeling was very inattentive and wide. I know I felt the leash go taught several times. As I turned to go back through the cones for the straight figure 8, I picked up my pace a bit to see if that would grab her attention more (Risa has always done better at faster speeds). After we had completed 1/3 of the course, her focus had improved. In fact, it was much like when we compete in freestyle. It takes her a bit of time to realize what it is we’re doing but, once she remembers, she’s spot on. She did her automatic halts, had some nice tight turns, and even downed on command. I was so proud of her. Not only did she execute the moves well, but she was fairly focused considering the distractions present. Not an easy task for her at all!

I was stunned to see our score: 96. I thought we’d done much worse than that. Risa and I took 1st place out of a group of 5 dogs. Now, I guess we just have to finish that title. 😉

Even in close proximity to other dogs, Risa seems unphased.

Aside from her outstanding performance in the ring, I was so pleased with her outside of it. There were dogs everywhere. The worst thing she did was try and sniff them. 😉 If a dog made her feel uncomfortable, she just turned her head away and looked at me for reassurance (and a treat). She even sniffed a dog she knew from our rally class and then turned to get a reward afterward. On her own. With no cues from me. It’s so amazing to see all our hard work paying off. Though, the fact that there were SO many dogs there probably played some part. She is generally less reactive when in large crowds. Risa only had a minor meltdown when we passed a car of barking big dogs twice. Since it was in the parking lot, I’m not counting it. 😉

Going to get our 1st place award and green Q ribbon.

Now that we have a leg towards our RN and Risa actually seemed to enjoy herself in the ring, I think we’ll finish the title. Maybe we’ll even go further than that in rally. It’s pretty much up in the air for now. I’m just happy we were able to find another sport to compete in and enjoy.

If you’d like to see video of our performance, click here.

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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