Thursday, June 30, 2011

Handler Helper: Rally station practice

The goal of Handler Helpers is to improve my handling skills to take away some of the "variables" (i.e., handler mistakes) that are likely to contribute to a bad performance.

As I mentioned in my post introducing the thought behind Handler Helpers, I hate it when I make a stupid handler error - messing up my dog and/or losing points.  It's bound to happen, but I've tried to find ways to minimize these errors.

In Rally Obedience, this means practicing the signs.

I think one of the toughest things about Rally is the variety of exercises/signs.  In regular classes alone, the sign count is up to 50.  This means that judges have 50 ways to challenge you (aka, make you think or "trick you").

For me, just reading the signs description wasn't enough.  I needed to study and practice.  When I'm in the ring,  I want to see the sign and know what to do without having to think.  This lets me concentrate on my dog's performance.

To do this, I created Rally "flash cards."

  1. I started by printing a color pdf version of the signs and descriptions from the AKC website.  I can't seem to find them anymore on the AKC site, but I did find a site that has printable versions of the signs.  The descriptions can be found on the AKC website, in the rule book.
  2. Next, I cut out the image of each sign, and pasted it on one side of an index card.
  3. On the other side of the card, I wrote out the description.  This took some time, but it allowed me to customize that card if needed (e.g., adding the commands  I use for each exercise).  Writing the descriptions also helped me learn the signs.

Here's what the front & back look like
(note:  this is 2 diff cards - not the same exercise)

I use the cards a few ways.

Without the dog:
  • I read each card a few times, so I understand the "gist" of each exercise.
  • I use them to practice my footwork.  I grab a card, walk like I'm heeling my dog, and then perform each exercise in the deck.  
    • I use the same footwork, verbal commands, and/or hand signals I use in the ring.  
    • Between signs/stations, I take a few steps, walking with the same pace I do in the ring.
    • Most often I do this at the end of a training session, and put my dog in "Stay" while I work on each sign. Multi-tasking!
With the dog:
  • To practice Rally "courses," I mix up the cards, pull out 10-12, grab my dog, and practice those exercises all in a row.  
  • I also use them to identify and practice stuff we need to work on.  Occasionally I run through the whole deck, and pull out the exercises we're struggling with.  I'll set the rest of the deck aside, and work on these exercises during every practice session for a while, until we're performing those exercises better.

For my "with the dog" exercises, I use a bait bag as a card holder.  I got the bag from J&J Dog Supplies. It looks like they've changed the style a bit, but the one they have is only slightly smaller, so it should work.  

All of the cards fit in the bag. 
It has a velcro top to keep them from falling out.

It's got a belt clip on the back, so I have a place to store the cards while I'm training.

I know that all of this practice may seem like overkill, but it really has helped me feel more confident in the Rally ring, have smoother runs, and focus more on my dog.


  1. Wow! That's dedication! It sounds like you are studying for a "real" exam, you know, like in school. I am afraid I would never have that much willpower!

  2. Taryn - Yes, I did "study" for the Rally test. Even if you don't go as far as i did, learning the footwork for the stations w/out a dog helps a TON.

  3. Great post, you have pointed out some fantastic points. Thanks for sharing.
    dog training equipment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...