Get in the Rally Ring - How to Enter a Rally Trial and What to Expect When You Get There

If you've never entered a rally trial before, it can be a bit overwhelming! In this blog I'll lay out the steps for entering a trial and knowing what to expect when you walk in the door.

Register Your Dog​ for Rally 

First, your dog must be registered in the organization in which they are going to compete. Many purebred dogs comes with AKC papers, so those must be sent in. If your dog is not purebred, you can still register them through AKC. The other venues require your dog to be registered before you can enter a trial. Here are some helpful links for you:





If you compete in other organizations, just google the organization name and how to register, and you should be able to find the information.

Find a Rally Trial!

Second, you need to find a trial! Event calendars are on each venue's website. Let's use AKC as an example, since it's most common.

Here's the link to the AKC Event Calendar:

Once you arrive, select the drop down menus. First under Select Event Type you choose Rally trials and hit apply. Then you can select your state(s). Finally choose your month that you are interested in.

That will bring up a calendar, and you can click on days for information. Once you do that, you will see this screen:

Find Specific Information, Including the Premium List 

This will tell you the date of the trial and the club that's putting it on. It will also tell you the location of the trial. Finally, on the right it will list the opening date and closing date. These dates are important. You cannot have the entry to the trial secretary before the opening date, and you must enter by the closing date or you won't get into the trial.

If I'm interested in this show, I will click on the link for Twin Cities Obedience Training Club and this screen will appear:

This screen shows me the event info, reminding me of the opening and closing date, and most importantly, it lists the trial secretary. My goal is to find the premium list. This is how I get specific information for the show, including the entry for so I can enter. The trial secretary will have this information.

Often times the hosting club will link to the premium list on their website as well. Let's check that out. When I click on the link for TCOTC, it takes me to their website. From there I look for a calendar or trial calendar link and that took me here:

You can see that the second trial down is the obedience and rally trial that I'm looking for. In this case they do provide information about the trial but no link to down the premium list, which you'll often find. However, I know who the secretary is, so I can either email her or go to her website.

Once I went to the Dog Shows By Design website I was able to find and click on the show that I am interested in.

This screen shows me that the premium list is still pending, which is why we couldn't find it on the club's website. However, I know the dates of the show, the opening/closing dates, and where I can find the premium so I can be all ready to enter when the time comes.

A Closer Look at a Premium List 

Let's take a look at a Premium list that is available.

Page one shows us information about the show, including location, date of the trial, trial secretary information, and the closing date.

Page 2 shows us the club officers, classes offered, and judges for each class. In this trial both obedience and rally is being offered, so I look for the rally information. There's also some information about when the building will be open for setup and prizes.

Page 3 contains some important information about parking, rules, and local veterinarian information.

The next page gives information on classes offered, entry fees, catalogs, and local accommodations. There is also some information about a Run Through before the trial and directions to the show site.

This page is your entry form. This is what you'll fill out and mail to the event secretary in order to enter the trial.

The last page is just another copy of the entry form, in case you have two dogs.

The Rally Trial Entry Form

Let's look a little more closely at the entry form.

First, you will make check marks for what you'd like to enter. In this case, you can look at the Rally part and check the days you'd like to enter.

Once you figure out how much your entry fees are, you can put that number on the line provided.

Then you fill out your dog's breed and sex. You will also need your dog's AKC registration number, place of birth, sire and dam information, including registered names and numbers, the breeder name, and the owner information. You will also fill out which classes you'd like to enter. Be sure you know what class you are eligible for. If you've never shown a dog in obedience or rally, and your dog has never been shown, you can enter Rally Novice A. Be sure you read the rules to make sure you're entering the right class, because if you enter the wrong one you'll get a letter from the AKC explaining why they had to take your qualifying scores away!

At the bottom of the entry you must sign your name, or your entry will not be valid. Once you have filled this form out, you can send it with a check to the address listed towards the top of the form, the trial secretary's address. Be sure you send it soon enough so that the entry will get there before the closing date.

A Look at A Rally Trial Judging Program

A week or so before the show, you will either get an emailed Judging program or one in the mail. This important piece of paper will tell you which exhibitor number you are, plus will list out all the classes, the approximate times, and how many are in each class.

Here is an example of a Judging program. In addition to the judging program, you will get a separate piece of paper (or email) saying what number you are. For this show, let's say you entered Rally Novice B and you're number 721.

First, there is information about where the show is and a summary of the club policies, including refund policies. If your dog is injured before the show, or comes into season, check here to see what the club policy is for refunds. The rest of the pages are the schedule. For this trial, Rally was only offered on Thursday so I deleted the obedience schedule on the following pages.

Looking at this schedule, you can see the show starts at 9 AM with the Rally Master class. The Novice B class starts at 11:15 AM. Because there is a time listed, they cannot start before 11:15 AM unless all exhibitors agree to start early. Regardless, make sure you get there in plenty of time to get your crate set up and your dog comfortable. I would recommend being there at least an hour before your show time.

At 11:15 or thereabouts, the Rally Novice walkthrough will begin, and number 721 will be the first dog in the ring. There are 9 total entries in the Rally Novice B Class. Please note that often trials will run later than the printed schedule, so don't be surprised if the classes are behind.

This show has 2 Rally trials in one day, so you get to show in the afternoon too. The afternoon trial will start at 1:00 PM and after that, no times are listed. This means the classes can start as soon as the previous one finishes, and is a way to make sure nobody is waiting for start times in the afternoon. You need to check out how many classes/exhibitors are showing before you and estimate a time that you will be showing.

The Day of Your Rally Trial!

You sent in your entries, received your judging program, and you just walked in the door of your first trial. There are crates and dogs everywhere and you are at a loss. Let's talk a little bit about what to expect.

Most Rally trials are combined with Obedience. Sometimes there will be a conformation show going on at the same time. If there is, the show will likely be very busy with lots of commotion and dogs. If the trial is only Rally/Obedience, it will likely be smaller and quieter.

Set Up Your Crate(s)

When I get to a show, the first thing I do is grab my ground cover to go under my crates/chairs. I use my ground cover at trials to signify my space and protect the matting underneath the chairs and crates. You can use heavy duty plastic, a blanket or sheet, or a ground cover. Here is an example of something similar to what I use:

When I'm looking for a crating spot, I'm thinking about how high traffic the area will be. I like to put my dogs in quiet places without a lot of traffic, so I tend to look for back walls and corners. I also keep in mind which ring I'll be in so I can be closer to that, if possible. I pick my spot then haul in my crates. Once I have everything set up, I bring my dogs in last.

I find many dogs relax more when they are covered or have some sort of visual block, so they don't have to stare at all the activity. I find that covering a dog can make the kennel pretty warm, so I tend to use cardboard walls in front of their crates. This blocks my dog's sight and also keeps other dogs from sticking their noses into my dogs' crates. Unfortunately I find that many handlers don't pay attention to their dogs as they are moving throughout the crating area and dogs often stick their noses where they don't belong, and my dogs don't particularly appreciate that. By using a cardboard wall, it keeps the dogs away from my crates. I buy foam board used for presentations and duct tape them together to create foldable walls. Here are a couple pictures of my typical setup.

Most of our rally trials are inside. If you are showing outdoors, still think about how to block your dog visually from seeing all the commotion. I usually set up an EZ Up and attach the back wall. Depending on the weather, I may have side walls as well. My dogs are always along the back, so other dogs don't tend to come close. Here's a picture of my crates at an outdoor setup.

Check In at the Ring

Once you get your dogs settled, go check in at your ring. You'll need to pick up your number. Be sure to check in before your class starts. The judge will probably have course maps at the check in table, or at the least he or she will have posted the courses on a nearby wall. Pick up your number, map, and spend some time looking at your map. The stewards at the table would be good people to ask if you have any questions.


Before you run the course, your class will have a walkthrough for around 10 min. Be aware that walkthroughs are usually combined for A & B classes, so if you're in Novice A you will likely be walking with the Novice B dogs, and vice versa. The entire Novice class will do the same course, but the placements will be separate.

Give Yourself Enough Time

Be sure you make time for your dog to acclimate to the environment and to go to the bathroom. I usually walk my dogs around a bit and then put them in a relaxed down in a corner where they can watch the rings for a little bit. Once I feel they are comfortable I might do a few minutes of fun training, but I'm careful not to get too close to the rings or other dogs.

Warm Up! 

When it's our turn, I have a routine for warming up my dogs. All dogs need something different so pay attention to what works best for your dog. Some dogs need to be out of the crate for a little while and then warm up when they feel comfortable. Some are fine coming out of the crate, doing a quick warm up, and going in the ring. One comment I will make is that many people warm up their dogs for too long. You don't need to do 10 minutes of heeling before you go into the ring. Keep your warm ups short and fun.

Video Your Run!

It's helpful to have video of your run, because the runs almost always feel worse than they look! I like to line someone up to video me well before I'm ready to go in. You can ask just about anyone at a rally trial and most will be super happy to accommodate. Just make sure you pick something that's not showing within a few dogs of you. Offer to video their run in return.

After Your Rally Run 

After your run, pay attention to your dog! Regardless of how your performance went, you are going home with the best dog in the trial, and make sure your dog knows it! Don't come out of the ring and immediately start talking to your trainer about how it went. Come out connected to your dog, tell him or her how brilliant they are, and go get some rewards. After you've rewarded the dog and spent a few minutes with him or her, feel free to stick your dog in the crate and go check your score. Rally scores will typically be posted pretty fast so you'll know what your score is before you go in for placements. If you didn't qualify, you won't go back in the ring. If you did, be sure to stick around to go get your ribbon! If there are ties, for example if 2 people get a 95, the faster team will get the higher placement. You won't know who that is until you go in for ribbons.

Awards at a Rally Trial

When you go into the ring for ribbons, you can choose to bring your dog or not. Be sure you think this through. One of my dogs doesn't appreciate other dogs in her face, and when getting ribbons handlers are notorious for not paying attention to their dogs, so I don't bring her back in unless it's for High in Trial or something similar, when she's the only one in the ring. I don't want to put her in any situation in the ring during which she might feel uncomfortable.

Once you've received your ribbon, congratulate the others in your class, especially the placements. If you get a placement, be sure to congratulate the other placements. Smile and be gracious if someone congratulates you, even if you didn't have the best run. It's very disheartening to congratulate someone and have them say "well I wish we would have done better" or "his heeling was awful" or something along those lines.

Regardless of what happens at your trial, it's one day, and you get to take your awesome dog home. The most experienced competitors have had amazing days and awful days. Just like we are sometimes amazing and sometimes not on our game, our dogs are the same. There are a million reasons why dogs don't perform as we expect them to. Perhaps they weren't feeling well. Maybe they didn't have enough generalization training. Or maybe you didn't do a good job reducing reinforcement and just went in the ring with no treats. I find that many people enter trials before their dogs are truly ready, and then they are disappointed when the dog doesn't do well. If you have a bad day, go home, cuddle your dog, and figure out a training plan. If you have a great day, go home, cuddle your dog, and keep working towards your next goal.

I have two bits of final advice. 

First, be sure your dog is ready for the ring. Have you reduced reinforcement? Have you trained in busy environments with other dogs? Does your dog understand the skills? Are you both prepared? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, send in that entry! My second piece of advice is to just do it. Showing is intimidating, but you have to just jump in. People at rally trials are super nice, and it'll be easy to make friends. You can do this!!

E183: Amy Cook - "Teaching Your Dog How to Feel"
E182: Deb Jones - "New Virtual Titling Program for...

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