How to Train Your Dog to Do Rally Obedience

Hard
3-12 Months
Fun

Introduction

Has your dog mastered every trick you’ve thrown at him? Is he an expert at the 'sit' and 'stay' and stares at you longingly for something more challenging? Have you found yourself considering getting him involved in competition more than once?

There are many options out there for dog owners who feel as though their pup may excel in something more than general obedience. However, while sports like agility may be ideal for younger dogs and an athletic handler, an alternative known as Rally Obedience - or Rally-O - can be a fun and active sport for just about any dog!

Defining Tasks

Rally Obedience is different from traditional obedience, relying on signs throughout a course that designate different tasks for the dog, who is in a heel at their handler's side, to complete. The tasks can range from simple to difficult as the sport invites both novice and advanced handlers to compete with their dog using teamwork.

The sport involves fifty different signs that can be used, depending on the difficulty level of the course and the experience level of the dog and handler team. Training for each of these signs is important and adds to your dog’s obedience “resume” with each new one that you learn. This sport is especially great for dogs who require frequent exercise and mental stimulation to stay busy and happy and can help form a fantastic bond between dog and owner. It may take some time to learn each of the tasks, but teams can begin competing at the novice level in just a few short months.

Getting Started

To begin training for Rally-O with your dog, make sure that they have the basics of obedience including 'sit', 'stay', 'down', 'come', and especially 'heel'. You should also have a leash to use at the beginning of your training to guide your dog through each task, as well as a reward such as some yummy treats or a favorite toy. Creating your own small rally course at home using small traffic cones and paper signs is also recommended, but not necessary. The room or yard you choose to work in should be free of other distractions to keep your dog’s focus on you.

The Mastery Method

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Step
1
Training time
Set aside a specific time for rally training. This training should be separate from other basic obedience training and should involve the tasks that are generally used in rally competitions.
Step
2
Choose a task
Choose one task from a rally sign list to work on at a time. The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers a list of signs used in rally and their descriptions. Start from the easier tasks to ensure that you’re not asking too much from your dog too soon.
Step
3
Start on-leash
Keeping your dog on a leash will give you a better means of guiding her through the task.
Step
4
Reward to reinforce
Use a reward such as a treat or a toy to reinforce progress. Keep offering this reward when your dog makes any progress towards the task. For example: if you’re teaching 'halt', which requires your dog to sit in a heel whenever you stop walking, ask her to sit immediately after you stop, then reward. Reward whenever she does it without you even asking until she gets the gist of what you want from her each time.
Step
5
Wean your dog off of the reward
Start rewarding your dog for the right behavior every time, then every other time, then every third time, then randomly, and eventually stop rewarding altogether. Be sure that she has a good grasp on the task with the reward before you do this. Taking it away too soon may move you back a step.
Step
6
Try it off-leash
If you think your dog may do well off-leash, remove it and start again at the beginning with the reward. It may take some time for her to understand that she’s expected to do the task even without the leash. Bring the leash back into it if she’s having trouble progressing. Rally competitions at the novice level will sometimes allow teams to use leashes, so if you feel more comfortable with it, you can use it until you’re ready to progress.
Step
7
Master one task at a time
Continue training the single task until your dog masters it. Don’t move on to another task until your dog can accomplish the task with or without the reward. This method can allow you to move on to a completely new task knowing that when you come back to the first one, your dog will have an easier time recalling the behavior.
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The Multi-Task Method

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Step
1
Training time
Plan training sessions specifically for practicing tasks that are used in rally competitions.
Step
2
Schedule tasks
Schedule a different task to work on each training session. Making progress on multiple tasks at once can provide a new, fun thing for your dog to focus on each time you have training and can keep you from feeling burned out by focusing too long on one thing. Try to keep the tasks you’re working on at the same difficulty level to prevent asking too much from your dog or yourself.
Step
3
Keep things interesting
Switch up the rewards as you go along. Offer a variety of treats or different types of toys. If you do more than one training session a day, choose a different task for each one.
Step
4
Gradually withdraw treats
Because you’ll be working on multiple tasks at once, it may take your dog longer to perform without treats. Don’t worry about weaning off of them too soon. It can be a few weeks before he’s ready to go without them.
Step
5
Mix on-leash and off-leash tasks
Some dogs do well regardless if they’re on or off leash. If you think he can handle the task in either scenario, mix it up! Otherwise, you can opt for just sticking to using the leash or not. It’s up to what you think your dog can reasonably handle.
Step
6
Practice
If competing at the novice level, there are generally ten to fifteen stations in a course. The advanced class may be twelve to seventeen stations and the excellent level may include anywhere between fifteen and twenty stations. Look over the regulations for the competition you are considering entering to determine which tasks your dog should know for each level.
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The Working Method

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Step
1
Mix it up
Mix your rally training in with regular obedience tasks. This method involves using rally tasks inside and outside the home during your dog’s everyday life as a part of her “job”.
Step
2
Create purposes for each task
Many rally tasks can be used for practical purposes. For example, learning 'halt' can be used to keep your dog from running out and into the street when she is off leash, while the various turns can be used to navigate obstacles inside and outside of your house while on walks. Feel free to write these down to remember the ultimate goal for each task.
Step
3
Use frequent rewards
Learning practical tasks may prove to be more difficult than learning rally just for fun. Be prepared to reward often and for longer than you might expect to use them using the other methods.
Step
4
Train in a variety of environments
If you want a task to be valuable outdoors or in public, train in a safe public setting. Be sure that the area you’re training in allows dogs and never force your dog into a hazardous situation. Keep your dog on a leash at all times if the area is not fenced in.
Step
5
Continue to train
Practical tasks may need constant reinforcement throughout your dog’s training. Even after a successful competition, be sure to continue to go back to the tasks she already knows and have her perform them during day to day life. This can ensure that she gets the mental stimulation she needs, with or without a competition in her future.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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