Just as kids learn life skills by playing team sports, dogs can learn everyday manners by practicing canine sports. If your pup struggles to walk politely on leash, it’s Rally Obedience to the rescue!
What exactly is Rally Obedience? Also called Rally-O or simply Rally, this low-impact canine sport involves a series of heelwork tasks, plus lots of sits, downs, stays, and other “obedience” type behaviors. At the higher levels, Rally-O involves elements of Agility and other sports, too. A Rally-O course is set up in a large ring with 12-18 signs, each indicating a task for you an your dog to perform. Your job is to navigate your dog through the course, accomplishing each task that is printed on the sign and then proceeding to the next sign. Signs might ask you to walk in a spiral pattern with your dog, have him do a Sit/Stay while you walk in a circle around him, or do a Sit-Down-Sit series. (See the signs here.) It’s easy to practice these exercises at home. If you choose to enter a Rally Trial through WRCL, AKC, or another venue, a judge will score your performance. As you get more and more qualifying scores, you can move up to higher levels.
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Is My Dog Ready?
Many owners assume that their dogs aren’t “ready” for Rally or other sports classes until they’ve developed perfect doggie manners. In fact, once your dog has learned just a few of the basics, namely Sit, Down, Stay, and Heel (or loose leash walking), you could consider enrolling him in a Rally Obedience class to hone his skills in a fun, no-pressure way. If there are no classes in your area, books and online courses can guide you.
Since much of Rally relies on loose leash walking, the more you practice Rally exercises, the more refined your dog’s leash walking skills will get. Consequently, the easier it will be to keep your dog’s attention in the presence of squirrels or other sidewalk distractions. Here are a few exercises to get started.
Walk as a Team
This lays the foundation for all loose leash walking skills. Here you will reward your dog whenever he looks up at you. This teaches him that checking in with you is more rewarding than the birds, fire hydrants, and other distractions on your walk.
Walking in a straight line is boring! Take unexpected turns and teach your dog to turn with you on cue. You can turn 90, 180, 270, or 360 degrees to either the left or right. The size of your circle should be roughly the diameter of a hula hoop. One hint here: when your dog is to the inside of the turn, he will have to slow down significantly to stay in line with you, but when he is to the outside of the turn, he’ll need to speed up.
Rally Obedience not only teaches your dog essential leash walking skills, but also engages his mind and builds clear lines of communication between you. What do you have to lose?
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, MS, is an accomplished author and dog trainer with Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY. Her books, articles, and videos cover everything from house-training to leash aggression.