Downeast Dog News

Rally – A Great Way to Start with Your Dog

By Carolyn Fuhrer | Sep 01, 2019

Training Your Performance Dog

Agility, Obedience, Tracking

Rally has become a very popular dog sport. AKC Rally involves working with your dog and performing a series of different exercises at signs along the way. Like agility, handlers get a map before their class starts and are allowed to walk the actual course without their dogs before their class begins.

There is a start and a finish sign and depending upon the level of performance, 10 to 20 signs along the way. The novice and intermediate levels are performed with the dog on lead. In the advanced, excellent, and masters classes the dog works off lead. In all cases, the dog enters and exits the ring on lead and sets up at the start sign. The judge will welcome the team into the ring and ask if there are any questions. Then, if they are “ready” ask if there are any questions and then give the command “forward” for the team to start. Once they start, the team is on their own to complete the exercise at each sign in numerical order and finish the course.

Rally is a wonderful way to introduce yourself and your dog to dog sports. In the rally ring you are allowed to praise and encourage your dog. This helps build relationships and confidence in both dog and handler. If you are going to consider trying rally, it is fun to join a class and learn with others. The exercises and rules are available on line at

The signs range in difficulty from very simple ones like “sit”,“left turn”, “about turn”, “slow”, “normal”, etc. to quite complex command exercises in the higher levels. Novice and intermediate classes do not involve any jumps. Advanced, excellent, and masters do include jumps. Jump heights range from 4 inches to 16 inches depending upon the height of the dog at the withers, with 16 inches being the highest jump. This allows for sound older dogs to participate for many years.

One of the most common things I see at rally trials with inexperienced handlers is that while rally is a fun and somewhat more relaxed atmosphere than obedience (because the judge only starts you and then you are on your own), there is a lack of awareness that there still are rules and requirements on proper performance of the exercises and basic ringside manners.

It is important to know the rules and how each exercise is to be performed. You should check in early and be ready when it is your turn. You should make sure the judge invites you into the ring, your dog should always be under control, and you should always be considerate of others and show good sportsmanship.

A good instructor should provide you with more than just rally skills. You should also learn how to enter a trial and what that commitment means. Rally is a great sport and it is worth the time to learn how to do it correctly.


Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 100 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. She has recently become an AKC Tracking Judge.

Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing