I started competing in Rally Obedience purely and literally by accident. My beautiful, wonderful Sera and I had just begun competing in agility. Sera was two years old and ready to do most anything. She had earned her UKC Agility 2 and were ready to start showing in AKC agility. She was going to be my very first MACH dog. We were also training in obedience and preparing to earn her UD. And then " IT" happened. February was full of ice and snow as it usually is here in northern Illinois. I went out to retrieve the Sunday newspaper, when a patch of black ice reached out and grabbed me. The day Sera and I were to make her AKC debut at the huge International Kennel Club show at McCormick Place, I was having surgery to repair three broken bones in my ankle.
Now what? What I am I supposed to do with a very active, driven two year old Australian Shepherd? Our retrieve training came in handy when I dropped the remote behind the couch shortly after my daughter left for work. I told Sera to go pick it up for me and she did just as I asked. Talk about a dog who can read my mind! But we needed to get back to competing.
Some of my friends from our agility club had shown in a new sport called Rally Obedience which sounded like a combination of traditional obedience and agility. It sounded interesting, but when would I have time for that? Well, now was the time. And I had lots of it. I was pretty much confined to the couch for 6 weeks with no pressure at all on my ankle. I thought constantly about Sera's and my future together. Sera, the little dog with so much drive and bidability. I repeat: now was the time for rally.
Bryn with all her Rally Obedience ribbons.
I had never been to a rally trial. I had never actually seen anyone perform rally obedience, but I decided that Team Sera would give it a shot. I downloaded all the signs off the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) website. When my hard cast was finally removed 6 weeks later, we started to practice with me wearing my huge boot cast. In May we entered our first rally trial. I was still wearing the boot at times, but I was determined that we succeed. Team Sera. Awesome.
We walked—well maybe I hobbled—into the training building where the trial was held. There were all those signs I had downloaded on little stands, explaining what to do at each station. We could do this. We really could. I knew we could. We were Team Sera.
After walking the course and watching several other teams, it was our turn. I wasn't nervous because I had Sera beside me. We were a team. We walked into the ring and Sera was so utterly perfect, I almost cried. She got a 197 her first time out! I am always so amazed at her. She is so beautiful, not only in physical appearance, but in spirit and attitude. She loves and lives to work and please. I love her so very much. On our second run of the day we got a 194, still very good, but I am certain that it was my fault. Never Sera. She is always 100%.
Well, we were hooked. All I could think of was, when is the next trial? At the next trial, Sera earned her RL1 and with all scores over 190, she earned a RL1 MCL, or Magna Cum Laude. Sounds pretty fancy, huh? It is.
We moved on to Level 2 even though I had never seen those stations performed, either. Our Level 2 title was one I fought for, because I really didn't know what I was doing. Sometimes the signs are "married" or put together to make a continuous move. I should have asked more questions, but I will never make those mistakes again. My bad. I was learning even though I felt like I was letting my perfect Sera down. She did earn her RL2 in 4 tries. Again: handler errors. Sera was just having fun.
Even though we fought for that RL2 title, Sera went on the become one of the top 20 Level 2 dogs in APDT rally for 2005 in the US. She has two RL2 championships, an RL3 and an RL3 Award of Excellence. She has also earned her ARCH (APDT Rally Champion) and ARCHX (APDT Rally Champion Excellent). She has many other legs in APDT Rally and her RA (Rally Advanced) in AKC.
And, yes, we did go back to agility. Sera went on to earn High in Trial novice dog at McCormick Place 2 years later. But we learned that there is more to life than agility. We can have fun in other venues as well.
There have been lots of changes in rally over the past few years. There are a lot more venues in which to participate. UKC has a fine and challenging program. AKC was non-existent when I started 9 years ago and now their program is huge. APDT has now changed to Cynosport, the same organization that oversees USDAA agility. The sport is evolving and, hopefully, improving. I look forward to competing for many years to come not only with Sera, but her 2 daughters, Molly and Bryn, who have their own titles and stories to tell.
Next time I would like to go more into the background and details of rally obedience. Until then, RALLY ON!