Kennel Club Regulations applicable: S
Rally is one of the newest and fastest growing activities in the UK and was first featured at Crufts in 2017. Its’ heelwork elements are based on those found in Competitive Obedience.
Unlike Obedience where the handler follows directions from the steward, in Rally the handler follows a predetermined course of exercises Iike Agility. There can be up to 18 stations at which the dog and handler perform an exercise.
The judge has around 80 KC approved exercises which they can select to create the course at any competition. There is therefore amazing scope for variation in the course competed and handlers never know exactly what to expect until the day of the competition when they get to walk through the course.
Like Obedience dogs can compete at 6 months old but only in Levels 1 and 2.
Further information can be found at www.rallynews.co.uk
For me it’s the variety both within the exercises and within the courses, there are over 80 exercises that the judge can use within the highest-level courses and this means that each competition brings a new challenge. The exercises that you start with at Level 1 are still in use at Level 6 (the highest Level) – there are many a Level 6 competitor thrown by a Judge using one of the simpler Level 1 exercises such as “Stop-Sit” which they haven’t seen since their Level 1 days. New exercises are added as you progress up through the Levels and each new Level introduces a new challenge in course design.
I love the fact that I am competing against myself, I’m not competing against my fellow Competitors but rather it’s me and my dog against the course. I also enjoy the element of tactics within the sport, the point losses are defined and so competitors can choose to lose points to help prevent a larger point loss on an exercise. The easiest example of this would be the walk-around exercises. If your dog doesn’t maintain the position you leave them in then you lose five points, however, if you re-command your dog that’s just one point lost. The Bonus Exercise also adds to the tactics – the bonus is attempted after the round is completed and can add up to ten extra points to your score. It’s a gamble as although a zero score on a Bonus Exercise does not affect your finishing score from the round, it is still possible to commit a Non-Qualifying offence such as your dog leaving the ring during the Bonus Exercise which wipes out your score from the round.
Perfection is not the primary aim. If you want to strive for a perfect score every time you enter the ring then there is the flexibility to do that, however, Rally is much more about consistency and about being within parameters, this differs from the level of precision and accuracy required in competitive obedience. In both sports we are aiming to present the best picture of ourselves and our dogs but how we approach this is different.
Rally Competitions have a very friendly atmosphere, and this has been maintained as the sport has grown. Some of this remains from the early days when the same set of people headed north for those first competitions, however, the nature of the sport where one person’s performance does not impact on the success of another helps to foster a supportive atmosphere. Yes, Rally has placings but these are viewed as the icing on the cake with the main emphasis on Qualifying. We are all competing for that magic bit of card saying that we earned a Qualifying score, we may be secretly hoping that it’s going to be an Excellent, but the Qualifying Certificate is the main aim.
In Rally every competitor enters the ring with a perfect score of 200 and then points are lost as the handler and dog tackle the round. At the lower levels, 1 to 4, 175 is the Qualifying score raising to 180 for Levels 5 and 6. At all Levels a score of 190 or above is an Excellent score. The Bonus Exercise comes into its own where you are a few points short – with the potential to add up to 10 additional points the Bonus can turn your round into a Qualifier or make it up to an Excellent.
Progression is based on Qualifying scores and is linked to Rally Level titles. Competitors earn a Rally Level title by gaining 6 Qualifying scores under 4 different judges at that Level. Competitors can earn a Rally Level Excellent title by gaining 3 Excellent scores under 3 different judges and once they have an Excellent title at a Level it automatically progresses them to the next Level.
One of the first things people notice at their first Rally Competition is the variety of breeds entered and that this variety is maintained up into the higher levels. Some of the earliest dogs to gain their RL6-Ex titles, currently the highest in Rally, were a Rottweiler and a Cocker Spaniel. What other dog sport can a St Bernard and a Chihuahua compete against each other on a level playing field? Yes, you can still do Rally with a Border Collie but you can also compete with a Laekenois, a Hungarian Puli, a Small Munsterlander, a Stabyhund, a Maltese, a Crossbreed or a Rescue. Any dog of any breed can, and do, compete in Rally.
Rally is also extremely inclusive; Exercise Modification Requests enable handlers with disabilities to compete without disadvantage. The sport appeals to all ages and also to handlers with a wide variety of experience. Rally provides an ideal introduction for those taking their first steps into the world of competitive dog sports. Any handler who has attended KCCGDS or companion dog classes should be able to attempt a Level 1 course, but it also appeals to existing competitors from other sports whether they are looking for an additional challenge, for a way to extend their ring time with a much-loved Veteran or as a good introduction for their youngster. Rally is growing in popularity among the showing fraternity looking for something to enjoy with their dogs while showcasing the versatility of their breed. The Ladies Kennel Association is to be commended for their foresight in adding Rally to their popular December Breed Championship show which has done a lot to bring Rally to a wider audience
Rally is an accessible sport and the exercises at the lower levels may give a false impression that Rally could be a soft option. Do not be fooled! Rally has its own challenges. Rally is not stewarded, the only instruction a competitor receives is when to start and usually that is “In your own time” or “watch for my signal”. The handler then navigates their own way around the course and, apart from a short pause to ensure that the Judge or Scribe have the Retrieve article at the higher levels, move to the Bonus from the Finish themselves. This can be a huge culture shock for established Obedience competitors. The ability to walk a course and see lines, recognise areas where you may have an issue - maybe the Off-set Figure of 8 with the food bowls is in the next ring and retain a route in your head gives Agility handlers a huge advantage when they first start out in Rally. I have already mentioned the tactical element of Rally – the ability to quickly run through various “what if” scenarios as you are competing to decide what points you may need to sacrifice to protect your Qualifier. Rally courses are quite condensed with exercises flowing directly from one exercise into the next and it can be overwhelming to start with as they can all seem to come on top of each other.
I have heard Rally referred to as the next step after Good Citizens or as a stepping stone into Competitive Obedience Rally. Yes, one of the beauties of Rally is that it complements so many other activities, however, it is a sport in its own right and I believe it a sport with the potential to keep on growing.
(The above is an extract first published in Dog Training Weekly (DTW) in 2018.)