There are many canine sports and hobbies to choose from: doggy freestyle dance, nosework, disc dog, protection sports, dock diving, barn hunt, agility, flyball, treibball, and many many more! I often recommend Rally-Obedience to my students who are interested in doing their first sport. Here is a breakdown of why I think Rally is a great choice for newbies.
Rally Skills Help with Real Life Manners
Some dog sports encourage dogs to get really excited and go crazy. That’s fun and all, but many people who train Rally find that the control and engagement involved in training the sport actually transfers over to their regular life. Rally falls into the category of “competition obedience.” A more modern way of describing “obedience” is focus and listening , which most pet owners want more of! The main elements of Rally are following at the side with complete attention and precision (aka heelwork), plus staying in the signaled position. I have had many students report that their neighborhood walks became much more pleasant after attending my Rally classes.
Training Can Be Started at Home
In fact, in most cases, you should begin your training at home. (Here's a story illustrating why.) All of the precision-based skills can be started in a relatively small space. For heelwork, I recommend doing lots of practice with just a couple of careful steps forward, which most people can do in their living room.
A full-sized, competition Rally ring is no larger than 50 by 60 feet. So, even when you’re doing long stretches of heeling and are in the most advanced stages of training Rally, a small front yard does the trick for many things.
Training Rally requires minimal props: A few sign holders and cones here and there, and, once you’re training for the higher levels, 1 single jump. (A makeshift jump can easily be built with something lying around your house.)
If you plan on competing in person, you should eventually practice training around a helper who pretends to walk with you like the judge will during a trial. But, compared to other dog sports, training for Rally can be done quite independently.
More Physically Accessible
A Rally run is just a few minutes long. The most physically demanding task is the jump in higher levels of Rally, but your dog only has to jump once or twice, and they never have to take more than a single jump at a time. The most physically demanding task for the handler is walking the whole course and possibly heeling at a “fast” pace (so a jog or faux-jog) for a handful of steps.
Course Variations are Fun
Some sports like AKC Obedience and Schutzhund have the same routine every single time. For people that compete in those sports, it is still fun because the challenge is so high. There is, however, something to be said for a variable competition that keeps you on your toes! Rally courses are composed of signs that are placed in a different order for every competition.
The rules for handling in Rally are much more lenient than its sister sport, AKC Obedience. You can talk to your dog throughout the course and use a variety of signals, unlike in Obedience where you are mostly silent during your run. The judge also typically stands further away from you in Rally than in Obedience, which is easier for dogs who are distracted by people.
Precision still matters to a degree in Rally, but it is judged more leniently than in Obedience.
There are two levels of Rally where you keep a leash on your dog the entire time; this is a great stepping stone for new competitors who are worried about performing off-leash.
Finally, there are now options to title completely virtually! If you are interested in Rally but are completely turned off by the idea of competing in person, you can now participate in the AKC’s Virtual Titling Program.
If you live far away from any good dog training schools, want to train at your own pace on your own schedule, or have a dog that prefers the comfort of your own home, you can learn everything you need to know about Rally in my Rockin’ Rally-O course.
Rockin’ Rally-O is an A-Z Rally curriculum. It can be watched or read and has 10 comprehensive levels of content. (That’s 3 hours and 12 minutes of webinars.) The course covers heelwork from beginning to the finished product, positions and stays, drive and enthusiasm, proofing for competition environments, and more. It was written to be appropriate for dogs with a basic set of skills, those with extensive foundations ready to put the pieces together, as well as teams who have started competing but are looking to up their game. You can purchase the course for a one-time fee, or sign up for the monthly subscription and receive one-on-one coaching and feedback from the instructor. You'll also have access to a private group forum to ask questions, share progress, celebrate success, and connect with a dedicated community of students. Click here to read more about the Rockin' Rally-O Group.