A very special party

Dixie Little LurcherI’m going to a special party on Thursday night, with Callie, one of our greyhounds, and Dixie, our new lurcher. We’re having a celebration at our dog training barn of one year of Rally classes.

A year ago, like many dog owners, I’d taken our dogs regularly to basic training classes. Shaun is our regular trainer, and uses only positive methods, mostly based around clicker work. Doing training has been shown to be one of the factors that prevents dog adoptions breaking down, plus a well trained dog is simply much nicer to be around, both for us and those we come into contact with on a daily basis. With one of our previous greyhounds, Boola, I did my Bronze, Silver and Gold Canine Good Citizen Award, something I’d recommend to any dog owner. Shaun mentioned that Rally classes would be starting with a new tutor, Jane and I was intrigued.

Here’s a video of an American greyhound doing an Advanced Rally course.

I’d never heard of it before and I was a bit sceptical – competitive obedience is to me as exciting as watching paint dry and I couldn’t initially see how it would benefit our day to day life. In the same way though that dressage for horses is an extension of the basic schooling that underpins all riding, Rally is about developing a very close bond between you and your dog and working with them on a course that actually mimics many situations you’ll find in real life where you need to change direction, stop, wait or turn, all with a loose lead at the lower levels and completely off lead at the higher levels.

What I like about Rally is that you are encouraged to talk to and praise your dog while you are working and the quality of the relationship between you is absolutely fundamental to it working. At the lower levels particularly, the basic exercises are simple and straightforward and I especially enjoy the discipline of always ensuring a loose lead (points are deducted for tight leads) and it’s really made me think about the clarity and consistency of the cues I give to my dogs when training them or asking them for a behaviour.

Initially, I was also uncertain about the whole issue of doing a Sit. Callie, like many greyhounds doesn’t naturally exhibit this posture, however we began using clickers to reward her when she exhibited a Sit as part of getting up. Callie’s accident last year meant that we reluctantly decided to stop training for a Sit, however she resumed classes when she recovered, as essentially part of her ongoing Occupational Therapy, but simply replacing this element of exercises with a Stand. She loves the social side of going to class, the heelwork and doing the various exercises, and we felt the regular turns and changes of directions (at walking pace, so beautifully gentle) would be helpful in strengthening muscles and rebuilding her back end co-ordination. Fortunately, Jane our tutor is highly experienced with sighthounds, having previously worked in an Irish greyhound sanctuary, and has been really supportive to our learning together.

When Dixie arrived, she joined Shaun for training, and flew through her Level 1 course – she’s a really responsive dog, who loves working and has a comfortable natural sit. I’ve decided that she’ll do Rally so I’ve got her registered on the Activity Register and she’ll be doing her first Rally Trial later this year, probably in the autumn.

Have a Go at Rally classes are now popping up (rather like fun agility courses) at more and more local dog shows, and the number of dog training clubs offering courses and events being held is increasing all the time. It’s a lovely sport, as neither dog nor handler need to be super athletic (we have a lady in her eighties in our class), and courses are walked gently with the emphasis on the relationship and technique rather than speed.

There’s an active and very friendly Rally community on Facebook, and I was delighted when I started to find that other pointies were also doing it. Too often, there’s a casual assumption (and I used to be guilty of it myself) that greyhounds are a bit dim and can’t be trained. What I’ve learned is that in fact, they may not always learn as quickly as some other breeds (often because they’ve not been exposed to training when pups) but they are just as capable as any dog at enjoying working with you, their human companion. One of the things that still staggers me is how much training together strengthens and deepens the bond between us and our dogs – it’s such an utter joy to look at a wagging tail and bright eyes, eager and responsive. I also find that as a multi dog household, training is brilliant as it essentially forces you to have one on one time with your dogs individually, both for class and for practice during the week.

I’ve really enjoyed our first year of classes and am looking forward to many more; I hope this article has encouraged you to enjoy training with your dog, and help spread the word about Rally. 

Published: 9th July 2015