Kirby's First Rally Trial

The local AKC Club sponsors a yearly AKC Show at the horse park each January.  This year they allowed mixed breeds (Canine Partners) to compete in the rally and obedience trials. We have been taking rally and obedience training classes off and on for about a year now so we decided it was time to test Kirby in his first trial.

Our boy had a 'can do' mentality even though he held his ears back most of the time we were at the dog show, a sign he is intimidated.  The vast majority of dogs were quite large so he kept his eyes and body pretty much glued to me the entire time.  Whenever we were sitting he insisted on sitting in my lap turning his head to nuzzle me now and then for reassurance.  His demeanor showed he was on alert except the times we took him outside for potty breaks.

He loves to play with the big dogs but at class and at this dog show, the dogs seem to know it's time to work.  Kirby gets to play with the large dogs at the end of class.  Here, he seemed to understand these dogs didn't play.

Kirby at Rally_01.JPG

First, what is AKC Rally? 

Rally is a sport in which the dog and handler complete a course of designated stations (10 - 20, depending on the level) with a sign providing instructions for the required skill to be performed.  The team of dog and handler move at a brisk but normal pace to complete the entire sequence of numbered signs correctly.

Handlers are permitted to talk, praise, encourage, clap their hands, pat their legs, or use any verbal means of encouragement. Multiple commands and/or signals using one or both arms and hands are allowed, however the handler may not touch the dog or make physical corrections.

Second, what is a rally trial?

The official announcement of a club's event is called a premium list which contains all relevant information regarding the trial, including date, location, classes offered, and judges – as well as an entry form. 

A qualifying performance indicates that the dog has performed the required exercises according to the AKC Rally Regulations. Each performance is timed but times are only counted if two dogs earn the same score. All dogs and handlers begin with a perfect 100 with deductions made for errors or incomplete stations.  A team can be disqualified if Fido decides to soil the ring, a Handler appears to be intimidating to the dog, or a dog is determined to be aggressive.  The team is awarded a qualifying score with a green ribbon if it scores at least 70 points after the course has been completed. 

There are three levels of competition in AKC Rally:

Novice is the first level for those just getting started in competition.

  • All exercises are performed with the dog on leash.
  • There is a requirement of 10-15 stations to complete with no more than five stationary exercises.
  • The exercises performed vary from turning 360 degrees to changing paces during the course.
  • Exhibitors at this level may clap their hands and pat their legs through the course.

Advanced is the second level with more difficult exercises throughout the course.

  • All exercises are performed off-leash.
  • There is a requirement of 12-17 stations with no more than seven stationary exercises.
  • Exercises include a jump as well as calling your dog to the front of you instead of to a heel position.

Excellent is the third and highest level of AKC Rally and is the most challenging.

  • Exercises are performed off-leash except for the honor exercise.
  • There is a requirement of 15-20 stations, with no more than 7 stationary exercises.
  • Handlers are only allowed to encourage their dogs verbally. Physical encouragement is not allowed at this level.
  • The Excellent-level exercises include backing up three steps, while the dog stays in the heel position and a moving stand, while the handler walks around the dog.

Besides earning the Green Qualifying Ribbons, teams also win placement ribbons in each level.

First Place – Blue

Second Place – Red

Third Place – Yellow

Fourth Place – White

Finally, how did Kirby do? 

He was fantastic!  Me, I was terrified.  I felt a lot of pressure to do well since our trainer and several class mates were there.  We arrived early to get a feel for everything and watch some of the breed competitions.  Our trainer was there and really scared me with, "I don't want to scare you but Kirby is registered in the Obedience Trial".  OMG!  That would mean he has to do a trial with no leash and only words.  Total panic has set in so we decide we have to go talk to the Superintendent who pulls our entry form and rectifies the problem since I did, thank God, enter him corrrectly in rally.

By the time Kirby competed that afternoon he had become comfortable with the noises and activities going on around him.  He finally had a chance for some quiet playtime with one of his friends, Heaven, the little Havanese he fell in love with at our agility classes this past summer.  Her mom was helping with the activities and had brought her to get her used to the hustle and bustle of a show.

Kirby & Heaven_01.JPG
Kirby ^ Heaven2_01.JPG

We ran our very first trial on Saturday, January 14, 2012, earning a score of 88.  It was a bittersweet moment.  When the judge announced our score I almost cried tears of joy.  We did it!  Kirby received his first Green Qualifying Ribbon, or leg as it’s called, and a red Second Place Ribbon.  Then I was so disappointed with myself when the judge asked if I wanted to know how I reduced the score from a 98 to an 88.  The very first station was a “Move Forward from a Sit”.  I walked fast causing Kirby to run but I should have been running.  It doesn’t seem fair to me since Kirby would have to run extremely fast compared to larger dogs but it is what it is.  My little heart dog gave his all and I, the human, cost us 10 whole points!

We went back to run our second trial on Sunday, January 15, 2012, where Kirby and I earned a score of 89 to receive his second Green Qualifying Ribbon and a red Second Place Ribbon.  This time it was a different judge with a different layout.  One more Green Qualifying Ribbon will give Kirby the necessary three ribbons to earn his Novice Rally title.

I really enjoy rally.  Kirby just thinks he's doing lots of different tricks like we always do.  I did get tickled teaching him a new hand signal for DOWN.  I have always pointed my first finger touching the ground but that's difficult in Rally when there will be times I have to give him that command from across the room.  Our new hand signal is I raise my right arm palm facing down straight out in front of me and then lower it while saying "down". For a while everytime I gave the new hand signal Kirby would wave his paw 'back' at me before going into a down.   

I had just purchased my new camera so we had a lot of problems with pictures - seems we had it on the video setting!  So most of the amazing pictures we thought we had turned out to be little second long videos but we do have a video taken of the rally trial on Sunday with the old camera.

I have to say rally is a great way to bond and teach, both dog and owner.  I’m learning how to better communicate with Kirby so he understands exactly what I want from him which pays off on so many levels.