So, last year, Czar and I had a major breakthrough and got two passes in Rally Obedience, Novice Class, which qualifies Czar for his first title. It was an awesome day, made better by having some great friends there with us, a group of ladies who've encouraged, supported, congratulated and commiserated us for several years now. My friends and I all went a bit social media nuts afterwards, posting each other's successes to our various clubs and groups.
At work during the week afterwards, a colleague was asking me about what it was all about. It's a bit hard to explain, but here goes...
Everyone wants to have a well trained dog, but most of are happy if our dog will listen to us in the privacy of our own homes, while we're holding their breakfast bowl. This scenario (low distraction/familiar environment, high quality/quantity reward in view) is a pretty good one - our chance of success is pretty high, which makes training your dog to sit and/or wait while you put the bowl on the ground relatively enjoyable. When you take your dog outside it's familiar space, and surround it with other dogs, such as at a dog Obedience class, most dogs are easily distracted and their compliance drops. When the food rewards stop, many dogs are less motivated to cooperate. So, to have a dog that works with you to heel, sit, drop, stand, stay, regardless of the distractions or rewards, is a huge challenge and a huge achievement.
But, the next biggest challenge, and therefore next biggest achievement, is when you and the dog perform so well as a team that you can work through a heeling pattern or a series of tasks, in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar dogs, without treats, with the stress of having a judge score your performance. This is basically an Obedience trial. An Obedience Club advertises a date, sets up a series of rings on their grounds, and people bring their dogs to be tested on various tasks, for which they are scored and can gain certificates, ribbons and trophies.
Finally, many dogs will work well with their owner, but not every single time. (We had a successful trial at Berwick earlier in the year, and then failed miserably at KCC Park a few months later.) So, its agreed that each dog needs to achieve a passing score, not once, but three times, to gain a title and move up to the next level.
In a pure Obedience trial, each team is asked to complete a heelwork pattern, to stand while the judge physically examines the dog, to have the dog "recall" to the handler, and to complete two stays - one sitting and one lying down. These tasks are all verbally controlled by the judge and are very formal - there are lots of rules even about something as basic ad when and how you can speak to your dog!
In Rally O or Rally Obedience, the judge is pretty silent. Each task the team must complete is written and drawn out on a sign, and the handler controls the pace at which the team completes a circuit of tasks or stations. The handler is allowed to speak to the dog continuously. It's a great way to get started in Obedience. And it starts out nice and simple in Novice - see the little N in the top corner of the signs?
Some of my friends prefer to have the verbal commands from the judge. I prefer to read the signs myself. It takes a bit of practice, especially as we move up to the Rally Advanced Level.
In the last few weeks, I've had to make a decision about whether to continue competing in Rally O. Now that I've achieved Czar's Novice title, I have to up the ante to successfully work at towards the Advanced title. We have to work off lead (gulp!) and add some more complicated stations to our repertoire. Some of the minor errors that are overlooked at Novice will need to be fixed. It's going to take some work. But I've decided to keep going.
The major reason for this is my awesome trialling friends. It means a lot to have people who will sympathise and support you when you're trialling. When things go wrong (your dog urinates in the ring, runs off, pretends to be deaf, you forget how to turn left... the list goes on and on and on.) it is very easy to be embarrassed. You know you've found great people when you volunteer to embarrass yourself in front of them, and a bunch of strangers, and a judge! And now, we're not just embarrassing ourselves at trials, we're also sharing our terrible training videos at home. It takes a great friend to ignore your pyjamas and tell you about your floppy hands! With that kind of love, how can I say no to more trials and tribulations with these ladies?
Look forward to more training videos and updates on my Facebook page!