Rally Competitions For Dogs Provide Camaraderie and Bonding

10 minute read By Lucy Hughes
Reviewed by: Pawrade Team
September 14, 2023

A black Labrador Retriever and a yellow Labrador Retriever at a rally competition

Have you taken a puppy obedience class but feel like you could do more to bond with your puppy? Do you have time to devote to a new activity that could end up being the most rewarding experience you’ve ever had with your canine companion? If so, it sounds like Rally is right up your alley! 

Rally competition for dogs, often referred to as Rally Obedience or just Rally, is an exciting canine sport that combines elements of traditional obedience training with the fun and informal atmosphere of a rally-style course. 

In this activity, dogs and their handlers navigate a course that includes various signs or stations. At each station, a specific obedience task or behavior is required, such as heeling, sitting, or weaving between cones. 

Unlike traditional obedience, handlers are allowed to talk to and encourage their dogs throughout the course. However, they are not allowed to touch their dogs. 

Rally emphasizes teamwork, communication, and precision, making it an engaging and enjoyable way for dogs and their owners to bond while honing their obedience skills. 

Uncover what comprises a dog rally obedience competition and why you and your furry canine friend should join in on the fun. 

The History of Canine Rally Competitions

Canine rally competitions, a relatively modern dog sport, originated in the United States in 2000. Charles “Bud” Kramer, an agility and obedience trainer, thought it would be fun to turn the exercises handlers used before shows to help their dogs get focused into a stand-alone activity. Rally for dogs was also inspired by traditional rally car racing, where drivers follow a course with designated signs. 

The American Kennel Club (AKC) introduced Rally Obedience as a new discipline in 2005, and the United Kennel Club (UKC) followed suit in 2008. Rally was developed as a more interactive and less formal alternative to traditional obedience trials which has been a popular sport for many decades. 

This dynamic and engaging sport quickly gained popularity due to its focus on positive reinforcement and improved communication between dogs and handlers. Today, rally is enjoyed worldwide, promoting canine obedience in an enjoyable and accessible format.

A Brief Overview of Dog Rally Organizations

There are several dog rally organizations around the world, each offering its own unique approach to rally obedience competitions. These organizations provide platforms for dog enthusiasts to showcase their dogs' obedience skills in fun and competitive settings. 

American Kennel Club (AKC)

The American Kennel Club is one of the most well-known dog organizations in the United States. AKC Rally offers various levels of competition, including Novice, Advanced, Excellent, and Master. They provide a standardized set of rally signs and rules, ensuring consistency in competitions across the country.

United Kennel Club (UKC)

The United Kennel Club offers UKC Rally Obedience, which is similar to AKC Rally but with some differences in signs and scoring. UKC events often provide an opportunity for mixed-breed dogs to compete alongside purebreds, promoting inclusivity in the sport.

Canine Performance Events (CPE)

CPE offers a variety of dog sports, including Canine Rally. Their approach emphasizes a relaxed and positive atmosphere. CPE Rally courses often incorporate more natural elements and outdoor settings, making it an appealing choice for those looking for a less formal competition experience.

World Cynosport Rally (WCRL)

World Cynosport Rally, also known as WCRL, offers a unique approach to rally obedience. They have their own set of signs and rules, focusing on positive reinforcement and allowing more communication between handlers and dogs during courses. This organization emphasizes enjoyment and teamwork.

Canadian Kennel Club (CKC)

In Canada, the Canadian Kennel Club offers CKC Rally Obedience. This organization follows a structure similar to AKC Rally but may have some regional variations in rules and signs. CKC competitions provide opportunities for Canadian dog enthusiasts to showcase their dogs' skills.

Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI)

FCI is an international canine organization that includes rally obedience as one of its dog sports. FCI Rally incorporates elements from various national rally organizations, allowing for a global standard while still adapting to regional preferences and practices.

Each of these rally organizations aims to promote responsible dog ownership, strengthen the bond between dogs and handlers, and offer enjoyable and competitive experiences for participants. Depending on one's location and preferences, dog enthusiasts can choose the organization and level of competition that best suits their needs and the needs of their canine companions.

What Do the Levels of Achievement Mean? 

Rally obedience competitions typically consist of four levels with an extra cherry on top, each progressing in difficulty. Progressing through these levels requires dedication, consistent training, and a deep understanding of rally obedience. As dogs and handlers move up, they face increasingly complex challenges that test their communication, teamwork, and obedience skills. 

Here's an overview of the levels:

Novice (RN)

  • Novice is the entry-level category for rally obedience
  • Courses at this level are relatively straightforward and designed to test basic obedience skills
  • Handlers are allowed to use verbal commands and signals to guide their dogs through a course
  • Common elements include simple heeling patterns, sits, downs, and turns. Some examples include 270-degree turns, serpentine weave once, call front, and return to heel
  • 10-15 signs

Intermediate/Advanced (RA)

  • Advanced builds upon the skills learned in the novice level
  • Courses become more complex, incorporating additional signs and challenging sequences
  • Handlers must demonstrate better control and precision in executing tasks
  • There may be more off-leash exercises at this stage

Excellent (RE)

  • Excellent level introduces even greater complexity and precision
  • Courses often require dogs and handlers to perform more intricate patterns, including figure eights and spirals
  • Handlers are still allowed to use verbal cues and signals but must maintain a high level of accuracy

Master (RM)

  • The Master level is the pinnacle of rally obedience competition
  • Courses are highly challenging, with intricate patterns and sequences
  • Handlers are expected to demonstrate exceptional precision and control
  • This level often includes off-leash exercises and minimal use of cues

Masters (RACH)

  • Some organizations offer an advanced master's level known as the Rally Champion (RACH) title.
  • To earn this title, dogs and handlers must achieve a specified number of qualifying scores in the Master level
  • It's a testament to the dog's consistency and excellence in rally obedience

Communication between dog and handler is another huge component of rally that is necessary throughout all levels. Owners can clap, touch their legs, give hand signals, and talk – but they cannot touch their dogs. The higher up difficulty levels become, the owners can only use verbal encouragement off-leash. 

Who Can Participate In Rally Competitions?

Each club and competition has its own set of rules for competitors to abide by, so it’s important to read through them first to see if you qualify.

Some clubs allow all ages and physical limitations to compete with their dogs. All dogs must be registered with the club and given an official number. Age restrictions are common with puppies needing to be six months or older. Purebred and mixed dogs are welcome depending on the categories available and club rules. Female dogs cannot be in heat to prevent certain situations! Dogs must be in great physical shape and cannot be suffering from an injury or be blind although deaf dogs are welcome to participate. 

What Are Some Benefits of Participation in Rally? 

Participating in dog rally competitions offers numerous benefits to both dogs and their human handlers. Overall, the canine sport of dog rally is a win-win, enriching the lives of both dogs and their human companions.

For dogs, it provides mental stimulation, improves obedience, and enhances their focus on commands. The teamwork involved strengthens the bond between dogs and humans, deepening their connection and communication. It also boosts dogs' confidence and socialization skills through exposure to different environments and people. 

For humans, rally fosters patience, better handling skills, and a sense of accomplishment when achieving rally titles. It promotes an active lifestyle and provides a supportive community of fellow dog enthusiasts. 

What’s It Like To Participate in Dog Rally Competitions Near Me?

Are you convinced you’re missing out on an exciting dog sport like rally? Let’s hear firsthand from Sarah Ahland-Allen, a dog trainer with Black Cloud Obedience Training in Atwater, CA. Ahland-Allen and her two Labrador Retrievers, Sago and Ellie first got involved with rally when she purchased her first purebred Labrador Retriever. Their breeder had titles on all their dogs and invited her to a show. “I watched my first competition at the Carmel Dog Show, and the next year I was competing with my dog, said Ahland-Allen. 


Sarah Ahland-Allen and her Rally buddy, Sago the Labrador Retriever

How to get involved in rally

It’s a great idea to ask people you know how they got involved with rally if you’re considering looking for dog rally opportunities near you. Attend a rally trial event as a spectator to check it out for yourself. Dog sports enthusiasts love to talk about their passions, so ask as many questions as you can. You can see for yourself what to expect, get a look at the process, and experience the fun and camaraderie of trials. 

Once you’ve got one paw in the ring, sign up for a local rally class to learn skills, gain practical experience, and meet other people who share the same interests.

If you aren’t sure where to find a class or can’t make a class due to your schedule, you can always practice on your own. Skills are readily available online, and you don’t need special equipment to get started. Ahland-Allen notes, “We use a fun app called Pocket Rally that has all the signs and calls them out for us.” You can practice anytime and anywhere with protocols always available. 

Ahland-Allen states, “Most dogs and their people can easily train for rally without a professional trainer. I recommend going on the AKC Rally website and watching the videos showing dogs competing. There are many free resources online explaining all the signs. It is a fun event!”


Sago the Labrador Retriever, Rally Champ

Preparing for a competition

A pre-competition ritual is personal to each team and will look different for everyone. Some will run through signs up until their turn in the ring, while others tend to take it easy. “My dog and I tend to take the day off before a show for travel and relaxation. Remember always to have fun with your dog first, and it’s a bonus if you get a ribbon,” says Ahland-Allen.

Making memories

Rally isn’t always about winning and losing – it’s about the memories you make along the way. Ahland-Allen describes the most memorable and fun event she did – a team event. “My dog, Sago, competed in a team of four, and we took first place! We had three Labrador Retrievers and a Belgian Malinois on our team which we called ‘Three flops and a point’ about the way the dogs' ears looked.”

Looking ahead

Ahland-Allen has high hopes for the future. She explains, “I’m competing in two weeks with my 6-month-old Lab Ellie on October 7 and hope to complete her Rally Novice title by February. My one-year-old Lab Sago will be doing Rally Intermediate. I hope for both of them to eventually get a Rally Master. This is done completely off-leash and needs 10 qualifying runs to earn the title.”

We wish Sarah Ahland-Allen, Ellie, and Sago the best of luck!

Compete in Rally Dog Competitions With Pawrade Puppies For Sale

If Rally sounds like a blast, it is! But there’s one small detail you’re missing – a dog! At Pawrade, we partner with pre-screened, hand-selected dog breeders to provide healthy puppies backed by a comprehensive health guarantee. Several of our breeders also participate in Rally. Ask our Puppy Concierge Team for more information about our puppies for sale, and good luck at the rally trial!


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Lucy Hughes

Lucy Hughes has been teaching and writing professionally for half her life. She has a passion for helping people choose a puppy and lead an exciting life with their new furry companion. She enjoys spending quality time with her family and her beloved Golden Retriever, Bowie.

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