Natural-Laws-Dog-in-MotionI’m an instructor of rally performance skills. When I first began teaching rally AKC had just picked up the sport with rules, regulations, qualifying legs and titling opportunities. The classes I offered focused on AKC signs and rules. Then I discovered APDT rally, a venue that permits mixed-heritage dogs and treats in the ring, and enthusiastically switched my signs and began teaching according to APDT rules.

When C-Wags was created by Shirley Ottmer I saw it as a venue open to all dogs, one which offered rally and traditional obedience, as well as permitting treats in the ring. I was excited at the prospect of teaching this new venue to my 4H students and local AKC-only exhibitors.

In the midst of all this venue switching I though about what a hassle it was to keep changing sign sets, from AKC to APDT to C-Wags. I kept running out of colored printer ink, couldn’t afford to laminate all the signs, and was generally dissatisfied with the concept of training a specific venue to the exclusion of all others.

During my classes I’d sometimes find myself telling students, “If you’re doing APDT these signs would be married, if you’re doing AKC work each of them separately.” It was really annoying, so I asked myself, “How do we address the differences between venues in agility class?” The answer is, we don’t.

I realized that our agility classes focused on agility skills, and that our students taught their dogs performance skills and learned the venue rules as a separate task. This realization changed the way I present rally obedience. I no longer teach AKC rally, APDT rally, or C-Wags rally.

Rather than focusing on any particular venue’s signs and rules, I train students to perform rally skills. When we’ve completed skill exercises we can show how each venue applies that skill to their signs. In my classes I focus on about 35 rally skills, training with no reference to venue.

Putting the skill to use in sequencing means creating chains of skills. For this I rely on the Natural Laws of a Rally Dog in Motion. After years of observing Bud Houston’s “Laws of a Dog in Motion,” as applied to dog agility, I realized that similar laws applied to rally obedience.

A rally performance becomes a dance with your dog. You enter the ring with your partner, a toolbox of conditioned behaviors and skills, and a sure knowledge of how your dog moves.

LAW #1: A dog will move in a path parallel to the handler so long as both are moving with the same energy and at the same pace.

Apply this rule to all heeling, whether on the left os the right of the handler, and all pace changes. Additionally, energy and pace change can be used as the only cues, even pre-cues, for turns to the left or right. Making and assumption that your dog wants to move with you will empower you to be a strong, consistent leader to your rally dog.

LAW #2: If the handler slows or the dog moves ahead, the dog will turn toward the handler.

Especially handy for call fronts, the dog’s natural tendency to turn toward the handler after surpassing the handler’s position can make serpentines and spirals considerably easier as well. The downside of this rule, however, is that the dog that forges will often end up losing points for being out of position as well as they curl into front position.

LAW #3: The dog turns when the handler turns, not where the handler turns.

Apply this rule to establish the proper moment on the sequence to initiate the cues, which turn the dog. Especially critical in rally, turns must be started and completed without ticking cones or signs, so timing of the turn is as important as its precision.

LAW #4: The dog gets her directional cue from the set of the handler’s shoulders and feet.

By simply shifting the set of your shoulders you can pre-cue a turn, enabling you to quickly and simply perform cone exercises and turn sequences. A heeling dog is checking the set of your shoulders and feet every second or two.

LAW #5: The dog gets her speed cue from the posture and pace of the handler.

Apply this rule to your pace changes, by leaning forward into a fast pace, leaning backward for a slow pace, with a straight upright stance telling the dog to continue at a normal pace.

LAW #6: The dog with a sure understanding of the mission, or well-conditioned responses, will assume a straighter line.

A confident dog moves out smartly, safe in the sure knowledge that she’s doing the right thing.

LAW #7: The dog upon whom responsibility and blame are heaped, and who is only partially trained, will make slower progress.

This rule is the flip side of Rule #6. A dog constantly corrected hesitates to move out and will wait to be sure she’s made the right choice.

Authored by: Marsha Houston
Marsha Houston began training dogs in 1990, focusing on the rehabilitation of adolescent dogs in the shelter system, fostering throw-away dogs and rehoming them. After several years of competition obedience and agility with her aussie, Banner, and a long line of rescued aussies and mixed-breed dogs, Marsha now focuses on showcasing the rehabilitation and skills of shelter mutts. Marsha write training manuals for basic obedience, rally obedience, and essential agility skills, and helps her local shelters. The Houstons own Country Dream dog training resort in southeastern Ohio, where they offer group camps for agility and rally-o, as well as private vacation experiences. They sell electronic training books on their website. This article was originally published in the May/June 2009 issue of DogSport Magazine and is used with permission.

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