Rally-going! What’s that all about?

I first saw Rally O a few years ago in the United States, during one of my many visits to meet up with Spinone enthusiasts and enjoy a week of activities. I wasn’t convinced that it was the discipline for the Spinone (or for me) at the time, but the competitors were having such a great time and were unusually supportive of each other. The great sportsmanship stuck in my mind and was definitely an important factor in my growing interest in Rally over the past couple of years.

Three years ago I stepped into the abyss of a new breed - the Lagotto Romagnolo. I had been waiting for many years for the right opportunity and it arrived in the form of ‘Tango’, bred by a friend, who offered me a pick of seven bitch puppies. Raising her was exciting! She learned so quickly and we took no time in forging a great relationship. With a clicker and pile of scrumptious morsels, together we explored tricks, core skills and gundog work in a flash. 

With a developing heel positioning and her confidence in accepting stillness in the form of sits, stands and downs, I wondered about trying our hand at Obedience; then I remembered my American friends and the laughter around the Rally O Ring. The Kennel Club website provided more information than I could take in immediately, but I couldn’t resist printing off the Rally Signs and dutifully laminated them ready for our next training session. I also searched on FaceBook and found a group of Rally-goers, who gave advice freely and were encouraging to everyone from the completely new owner/trainer to those that came into Rally from other disciplines.  

Tango and I set about the static positions, using a platform for most of the signs that incorporated a ‘sit’. With SIT, SIT/WALK AROUND YOUR DOG, SIT/DOWN, SIT/STAND under our belt, we moved on to explore the signs that used cones. 

I had never been drawn to try Agility, but thankfully I was able to read the information with each sign and quickly establish what was required. So… with SERPENTINES, FIGURE OF 8s and even SPIRALS, within a few weeks, we were almost to the point of putting together a whole round of twelve or fourteen signs without stopping for a retry or tidy up. 

My early Obedience training as a twenty-something was clearly still there in a small way, with LEFT, RIGHT and ABOUT TURNS (and their corresponding footwork) coming to hand fairly easily. Luckily, Tango is driven by visual cueing and so learning hand positions, leg, body and head movements was not a major challenge. When I also realised that verbal cueing, as long as it is synced carefully with the visual cues, was permitted and that lots of verbal banter between the signs was actively encouraged in the lower levels, I decided that we were ready to enter our first competition.

A year on, I look back on the six trials we entered and the one that I helped organise through my regional Club that runs Conformation Shows and am delighted that I now play a small part in a growing and positive canine sport. I have enjoyed the challenge of the trials and the mixed and friendly company of partnerships that like to compete and have fun in the process. I have also loved the learning curve.  Developing the skills to ‘keep my dog connected with me’, while I ‘read the signs’ and ‘prepare myself and my dog for the next sign’ is different from anything else I’ve tried in the canine world and the beauty of Rally is that anyone can have a go. 

You don’t need to be a great trainer, or commit every weekend throughout the year to your sport. You can find a Club (try searching RALLY in FaceBook to find the Groups we refer to), gradually develop a working relationship, which you cannot fail to enjoy and then head out to the local trials when you are good and ready. The competitive spirit comes with your own partnership; working towards qualifying in each level and in training the new signs as you progress. All you need is a desire to learn, a canine companion and a will to try something new. The rest will unfold in front of you as you become entrenched in this great hobby. Best of luck! 
Carolyn Fry

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