For dog owners, training your pet may seem like a daunting task. But learning obedience skills can actually be fun for both dogs and owners.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) and Dog Works in Eden Prairie both offer classes for you and your pet to train in the areas of obedience and agility, as well as a brand-new category: rally.
“AKC Rally was created to promote a positive relationship between the dog and its owner,” says Pamela Manaton, director of obedience, rally and tracking for the AKC. “It was designed with the average dog owner in mind as a way to introduce them to the world of dog sports and for people to have fun with their dogs. Rally-style dog obedience was first created by Charles ‘Bud’ Kramer, who in 1999 granted AKC full rights to develop the concept in any way.”
As a relatively new obedience class, rally takes on properties of a classic obedience class, but is a little more relaxed for both the dog and owner. In competition, the owner and dog develop companionship and trust to get through the course safely and efficiently. “Each team is judged on the execution of a single, continuous performance of numbered exercises on a course the judge has designed, uninterrupted by orders from the judge throughout the performance,” Manaton says. “Many of the exercises are derived from ‘doodles’ people use when training for obedience. The novice level is all on leash; you are allowed to use multiple hand and verbal cues and you can talk to and encourage your dog throughout the performance.”
The course itself is designed with various numbered signs telling the owner what exercises to complete and where to move their dog for the next station. With more than 60 exercises to choose from, the course can be a bit of a challenge. “You walk the course without your dog beforehand so you know what the signs are and where to go,” says Suzi Johnson, co-owner of Dog Works in Eden Prairie. “[Each course is different and] you never know until the day you show up what it is going to be, what signs they’re going to use and which exercises. You have one chance to do it and do it as well as you can.”
Johnson owns and competes with three Australian shepherds: Jesse, 11; Kiwi, 9; and Cherry, 3. Kiwi and Cherry have competed at the highest level in obedience competitions, and all three dogs have competed at the highest level in agility. “All three of these dogs are really fast, and they’ve beaten the border collies,” Johnson says.
Having put her dogs through the agility and obedience classes while also teaching others, Johnson sees Rally as an opportunity for owners to connect with their dogs and enjoy working on the behaviors and different exercises while hoping you both perform at a qualifying level. “When all is said and done, they’re your pets, they’re going to go home with you and you’re going to love them regardless of what happens in the ring,” Johnson says.