Avoiding the “One Game Only” Dog; Why Agility Dogs Should Learn Rally
Pamela Dennison © 2015
You love agility. You eat, breath, sleep, dream and spend all of your waking moments either thinking about or doing agility. You purchase every agility book and DVD on the market and go to every seminar you can find. You spend the money you should be putting away for retirement on agility trials or equipment. You are involved in a never-ending search for the perfect agility dog. Nothing else gives you a thrill and sets your heart racing like agility. Planning your life around agility becomes the norm. You obsess about speed, accuracy, getting that QQ and a MACH5. You cry when it rains and want to move to a warmer climate so you can do agility year round. You go into a deep depression in the winter months because you are stuck in the house and all of that potential training time is wasted in huddling up to the fire.
I am not making fun of people that love agility. Some of my best friends are agility fanatics. Heck, I love agility. I think it is great to have such focus to one’s life. I wish more people would train their dogs in any sport with such enthusiasm and dedication. There would be far less unwanted and dumped dogs if more people would train their dogs for a sport.
There is something else to think about though. We have many aspects to our lives. We work, have friends, go to parties, play computer games, watch TV, talk on the phone, train our dogs, read, go to the theatre, movies, museums, vacations, etc. However, if the only game your dog has is sleeping when you aren’t home and agility, how quickly will they burn out and shut down? As my mom always says, “Moderation in everything.”
A well-rounded dog will have such weekly activities as walking on a trail (I walk my dogs for an hour or two on the trail at least four days a week), running through the woods, swimming, cuddling, grooming, stretching exercises, learning silly pet tricks, playing with toys, practicing Rally and obedience exercises, Treibball, free-shaping, practicing agility and playing with other dogs. A well-rounded dog will know many different skills: house manners and foundation behaviors (to name a few—focus on the owner, name and come response, sit, down, stay and walk on a loose leash), as well as some more complicated ones. These can be anything—complex pet tricks, scent discrimination or service dog behaviors.
Agility isn’t and shouldn’t be the only game in town. Really. Introducing Rally or any other Obedience sport. Do I hear you groaning already? “But I don’t want to do Rally, I have no interest in Rally, I think they’re stupid.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—while you don’t need agility to do any of the obedience sports, you do need them to do agility, if for nothing else than to get to and from the ring with a modicum of control. You may think “rigid,” or “too formal” when someone mentions obedience sports. Perhaps you moved into agility because certain portions of competition obedience didn’t appeal to you and stayed because agility is more fun.
With the right attitude, Rally is also fun—so much so that Rally is growing faster than agility did! At this time, there are two registries for Rally; the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) sanctioned Rally in 2001 and the AKC (American Kennel Club) sanctioned Rally in 2006. ACSA and UKC are also now offering Rally. There are many skills in Rally that will help you in the agility ring;
- An intimate connection and trust between you and your dog. This translates into less off courses and more focus on both sides.
- At the very least, a recall amidst distractions. You all have seen (or have) dogs that get so aroused at a trial that they won’t come when called.
- Heeling on and off the course. I have seen people carry their dogs onto the ring because their dog has no idea how to walk on a loose leash and they can’t get past the crowd waiting at the gate any other way.
- Fast downs. Moving down in Rally and down on the table for agility.
- Sit and down stays. Sit and down and walk-around in Rally. Your dog downs on the table and while the judge is counting, you move into a better position for the next obstacle. Your dog pops up and there goes your entry fee.
- And don’t forget start line stays (the bane of my existence)!
- Rally also rewards the dog (and handler) for quick direction changes.
With Rally, you get to talk to and interact with your dog at a nice even stride and don’t have to try to catch your breath. Teaching your dog Rally doesn’t have to be a chore—the moves are fun, challenging and can give you a real sense of accomplishment—just like agility does. You don’t need expensive equipment or even a great deal of room. You train Rally the same way you train agility—some luring, some free-shaping, no leash (when appropriate), all positive.
Many people are turned off by heeling, thinking that it looks too militaristic. Or that it will create a dog that won’t work on your right. It isn’t and it won’t. To see a dog and handler moving in perfect tandem is a beautiful dance.
Just about every sign in Rally can better your performance in agility and enrich your dog’s life. And who knows, you may, just may end up being a Rally fanatic!