Discover the Fun of the Master Rally Class!

Are you a little intimidated by the master signs, with all those spins and sends?

There's no reason to be! Although some of the signs seem intimidating, most of the master signs are just building off skills that you already know from advanced and excellent. Many signs are simply chaining multiple advanced or excellent signs together, or adding some distance or speed. 

The rally master class is a blast for you and your dog. The sport of rally is quickly gaining popularity and the addition of the master class, plus the championship titles and the national competitions, makes it a great sport for those wanting to compete at higher levels.

One major difference in master from excellent is that re-dos are not allowed. If your dog makes a mistake on the principal part of the sign, you will receive an IP (incorrectly performed) for that sign and lose 10 points. Just like in excellent, you are not allowed to pat your leg or clap your hands during your run.

Although many of the signs are variations on the skills you've already learned, there are a few new skills that you will need to teach your dog in order to compete in master rally. These skills lead very nicely into obedience exercises and add fun and variety to your training. Let's briefly discuss some of them here! 

Spins

I regularly use spins away from me during heeling to help counter rear-out behavior. Most dogs catch onto the left spin very quickly. Here's an example:

Spinning toward the handler can be a little more tricky. When I spin my dog toward me, I make sure my left leg is forward so she doesn't crash into my leg, but instead ends up spinning right behind it. I've ended up with some very nasty bruises while I was figuring this trick out!

Once your dog understands the spins, then you can start spinning with them! The trick here is to cue the dog to start the spin then spin yourself.

The Dog Circles Right Handler Circles Left sign is not nearly as complicated as it sounds! It's simply two Left About Turns in place.

Sends

Several signs involve sending to a cone or pylon then cuing a sit at the cone. One easy way to train this behavior is to teach a target touch, then work on moving that target further away from you. Eventually you can put the target on the cone. Here are the steps.

Transferring the target behavior to a post-it note:

Putting the post-it note on the cone:

Now that you have the send, you can add the sit. I break this down by teaching the dog to sit at a distance without forward movement. Eventually I put the send and sit together.

Lateral Fronts

Lateral fronts seem to be everyone's favorite skill! Just kidding! These are tough for your dog. Fronts are hard enough, and maintaining a front while you're moving sideways is hard for your dog. There are several ways to train lateral fronts, but here's how I break it down.

First, I teach the dog lateral movement in front of me by using two mats. I teach the dog to go back and forth from mat to mat. I do this by clicking and rewarding on one mat several times, then I start feeding the dog just off the mat, and clicking when the dog goes back to the mat. When my dog will go back to the mat in both directions, I bring in a second mat and teach the dog to go back and forth.

Then, I bring in props. This is when I add the sit. I teach the dog to go back and forth between sit platforms. When they are doing well I start moving with them more formally and start cuing front.

Finally, I get rid of the props. I start by doing pivots in front, as these are easier for the dog.

The next step is to start adding some lateral movement. I use a couple tricks here to make it a bit easier for the dog. First, I back up and move laterally slightly. Backing up helps the dog. Second, I move laterally and follow with a pivot, to help the dog think about the rear end.

Notice in this video that I am marking Excel's rear end movement, not the sit. This was Excel's first session with lateral movement without props, so I wasn't too worried about perfect straight sits.

Turns While Backing Up

In the master class, you have to back up three steps, turn right or left 90 degrees, then back up 1-2 more steps. This requires a dog that really understands heel position and how to stay in it. It's actually a pretty fun sign if your dog is good at staying in heel!

If your dog knows how to do a proper left turn, he/she will already understand how to back up in heel position, so you can just build on that. Here's how I broke down the backup left turn.

The right turn is a bit more difficult because the dog has to back up, come forward as you turn, then switch to backing up again! Here's me working on the right backup.

If you want to see what master rally is all about, check out this video of me and Strive in a recent rally master class. We earned a perfect score of 100 and 1st place with this run.

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