As a rally judge I have often observed that for some dog and handler teams, not having one skill can result in a number of point deductions and even disqualification.
For example, when a dog and handler team has trouble with left pivots, then they almost always have difficulty with left turns, about “U” turns, left circles and left finishes. When all of these exercises appear in the same course in a trial situation, this can result in a number of deductions because the dog lacks one technical skill – turning to the left.
Another example that comes to mind is the dog that is otherwise perfect but has crooked sits. I once unintentionally designed a CARO Novice Level (Which was approved) course that contained 15 sits! 15 crooked sits at 1-2 points each means that a team could lose 15-30 points. Depending on your dog, 15-30 points could be the difference between a qualifying score and a non-qualifying score. It could also be the different between a perfect score of 200 or a 180 because the dog lacks one important skill – Sit at Heel.
From a training perspective, I believe it is easier for our dogs if we teach our dogs the fundamental skills and before trying to attempt specific rally exercises.
Let’s think about that for a minute using left turns as an example. Your dog cannot read signs. He doesn’t know if you are going to turn 90 degrees, 180 degrees, 270 degrees or a full 360 degrees to the left. From his perspective you are just turning left and his job is to pivot on his front feet and tuck his rear to the right until you move forward. You only need to teach him a 360 pivot to the left, and you only really need to use one cue for all of the left turning exercises.
Now that I’ve got you thinking about rally in terms of skills instead of exercises, I know you are dying to know which skills your dog needs to learn. At the novice level in CARO, I break the 29 exercises into things down into 9 technical skills (with variations). 9 is easier than 29, don’t you think?
9 Skills for the Novice Rally Dog
- Heeling (Slow/Normal/Fast)
- Sit (Heel/Front)
- Stand (Heel)
- Turn left
- Turn right
- Right finish (Go around)
- Left Finish (Swing)
- Stay (Sit/Down)
The good news is, most of these skills can be learned and perfected at home, in your living room. Once your dog understands the technical skills, and you can perform the exercises, your next step is to teach your dog the skills she will need to perform a full course, in public, at a trial or fun match with randomised rewards!