AKC Rally-O

Heel, sit, come around, stop, sit, heel, stop, sit, down... Good Boy Kirby!

We all know the American Kennel Club (AKC) from their various high-profile shows which include the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, The National Dog Show, and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. They are the official registry for purebred dog pedigrees in the United States.

About a year ago Kirby was allowed into the hallowed halls of the American Kennel Club.  He isn't a mutt because we know his parentage but he is a hybrid, a mix of two pure breed lines, Dachshund and Yorkie.  He is registered with the Continental Kennel Club but could never be registered with the AKC since they only allow purebreds.

Finally, after 125 years of existence, the American Kennel Club began letting mixed breeds join and register as “Canine Partners” which lets them compete in AKC shows. They can't be judged on breed standards of course but instead are judged on agility, rally and obedience. The significance of this for us is that we live in a rural area which means limited to no availability of any training classes for dogs.  (We did just get a PetSmart an hour away with basic training classes.)

Rally obedience, or "Rally-O" as it's commonly called, is a fun obedience activity that combines elements of obedience and agility. It is more relaxed focusing on attitude and enthusiasm while the variety of exercises and courses allows you to show off your versatility and teamwork.

The courses are designed by a judge and are different in every trial since judges can design their courses by choosing from more than four dozen signs that direct handlers and dogs to perform specific exercises. 

A sign at each station or stop gives instructions each dog/handler team must execute such as go fast or slow, halt (dog must sit at heel), make turns and circles, reverse direction, or a sit-stay-recall.  Once the judge gives the command "forward" the dog and handler complete the course on their own without further commands from the judge.  Handlers can use treats or toys in the ring to encourage their dogs at the novice and advanced levels. Encouragement is also allowed at the excellent level but handlers can’t pat their legs or clap their hands.  

There are three levels of Rally:

  • Novice – on leash exercises that demonstrate the dog's understanding of basic commands such assit, stay, down, come and heel.
  • Advanced - a setof exercises performed off-leash that includes at least one jump.
  • Excellent - amore difficult off-leash course that includes at least one jump anddemonstrates more precise skill and coordination between the dog and handler.

The Golden Triangle Kennel Club of Mississippi headquartered here in Starkville began allowing mixed breeds to attend rally and agility training alongside the purebreds last year.  January, 2012 will mark their first dog show allowing Canine Partners to actually compete with the purebreds.

Kirby and I have been attending classes off and on over the past year with great success.  He picks up really fast.  We work on his tricks almost every night anyway so I think rally to him is a game comprised of a variety of tricks.  One important thing we learned is Kirby has a specific collar and leash he wears only during class or when we are practicing.  This signals to him that we are “working”which helps him stay focused in a calm watchful manner.  Hopefully this will work when he does his first competition.

Our classes alternate between obedience training and rally training.  A funny incident happened one night at class not too long ago. All the dogs were waiting in the down position at one end of the room witheach of us standing directly across the room from them. Two dogs next to Kirby got into a ruckus growling at each other.  Kirby was frightened but staying in the downposition, he began crawling across the floor toward me as quickly aspossible.  I met him halfway scooping upa very relieved pup!

Each class lasts roughly an hour.  Kirby pays attention doing everything I ask of him.  The problem is when he is done HE IS DONE.  He has gotten to where he will cooperate almost the entire hour but still has days when he stops before the hour is quite up.  His signal to me that he is done?  He starts jumping at my legs, and if that doesn’t work, he sits and no amount of pulling his leash or pleading will make him cooperate.  As far as he is concerned class is over.

What I also like is that the dogs aren't really competing against each other so there is a lot of camaraderie and encouragement among everyone.  The dogs can place but mostly it's all about the individual scores received from the judge during the competition.  I understand Kirby and I must score at least a 70 to qualify.  I'm not sure yet what we are qualifying for other than letters which I don't understand.  It's just a lot of fun and Kirby seems to love showing me just how smart he is so why not!  Any activities we can do together only makes our bond stronger.

Is your dog a Canine Partner? Does he/she participate in rally or obedience?  I would love to hear your experiences!