Downeast Dog News

Training Your Performance Dog

Agility, Obedience, Tracking
By Carolyn Fuhrer | Jun 01, 2021

Obedience and Rally – What’s the Difference?

Rally trials demonstrate that the dog has been trained to behave in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs in a manner that will reflect credit on the sport of rally at all times and under all conditions.

All contestants in a class are required to perform the same signs in substantially the same way so that the relative quality of the various performances may be compared and scored. The judge tells the handler to begin, and the dog and handler proceed at a brisk pace through a course designed by the rally judge of designated signs. Each of these signs provides instructions regarding the next skill that is to be performed. The dog and handler move continuously throughout the course with the dog under control at the handler’s left side. There is a clear sense of teamwork between the dog and handler both during and between the numbered signs.

Rally provides an excellent introduction to AKC Companion Events for new dogs and handlers and can provide a challenging opportunity for competitors in other events to strengthen their skills. AKC Rally is a companion sport to AKC Obedience. Both require teamwork between dog and handler along with similar performance skills.

Obedience trials demonstrate the dog’s ability to follow specified routines in the obedience ring and emphasize the usefulness of the dog as a companion to man. All contestants in a class are required to perform the same exercises in substantially the same way so that the relative quality of the various performances may be compared and scored. The performance of the dog and handler in the ring must be accurate and correct according to these regulations. It is also essential that the dog demonstrate willingness and enjoyment while it is working and that a smooth and natural handling complements the dog’s work.

In Rally, the judge welcomes the team into the ring and asks if the team is ready and tells it to begin with the word “forward”. After that the team is on its own to complete the course. Handlers may talk to encourage the dog; he or she may not pet the dog or look like he or she is luring them. In the lower-level classes, handlers can even clap their hands or pat his side to encourage the dog.

Obedience takes dog and handler skills to a higher level. In these classes, the judge gives required orders to the handler, and the handler in turn commands the dog to work and perform the exercise as ordered by the judge. The handler cannot talk to the dog during the exercise except for giving the commands. In the higher-level classes, sometimes commands are silent – signals only. The handler may talk and pet the dog between exercises as he or she move to set up for the next exercise.

The dog and handler must achieve an incredible bond of respect, communication, and attention. A well-trained obedience dog reflects the work that has gone into this wonderful partnership.

There are three main levels of obedience competition: Novice, Open, and Utility, but there are several optional titling classes and non-regular classes if you are just getting started. You can find a complete list of obedience classes in the AKC Obedience Regulations.

If you are interested in Rally or Obedience, find a trainer who understands and competes in these events or find a club that offers instruction or fun runs so that you can experience what it is all about.

Watch the Downeast Dog News calendar for club offerings in Maine.


Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 125 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 2 Champion Tracker titles. She is also an AKC Tracking Judge. You can contact her with questions, suggestions and ideas for her column by e-mailing