Rally: Teach Yourself or Take a Class?

If you want to learn the sport of K9 Rally, there are so many great resources out there! I see this question all the time: "I want to learn rally, where can I start?" There are YouTube videos, phone apps, free blogs and articles, and so much more. So why consider taking a rally class or working with a coach? 

 Do You Really Need A Rally Instructor?

Chances are that you'll qualify more and get better scores if you work with an experienced rally instructor. Sure, instructors teach us the same things that we can learn on our own, but they offer so much more. Having a second set of eyes on your training is priceless.

I've been successfully competing in Rally since it was first offered in AKC, and am also a very experienced obedience competitor, and I still do monthly lessons with a coach! One of the great things about dog sports is we are never done learning. My coach can offer different ideas, she can see things that I don't notice, and give me ideas when I'm stuck. I really value her time and experience and both me and my dogs are better because of it.

So you've decided you want some help with your rally journey. Now what?

 How Do You Find the Right Coach?

I can't emphasize enough the importance of quality dog training. It is so much easier to start with a good foundation, rather than having to go back and retrain your dog later. Doing it right the first time is so much better! So above all else, find yourself a good coach.

First, an instructor should be experienced. How do you teach something if you've never done it? Sometime who teaches competitive rally to others should have shown successfully in the highest levels of the sport. Watch some videos of your potential instructor competing with their dogs. Do you like what you see? Are their dogs happy and animated? Is your instructor a good handler? How do they interact with their dogs in the ring?

Next, you want to make sure your teaching styles are compatible. There are a lot of different training methods, so make sure the instructor uses one that you agree with. I have a lot of students that tried to do in person local classes, but they weren't comfortable with some of the things happening at class. Dog training is supposed to be fun, so if there's something going on that makes you feel icky, you have other options!

In addition to training methods, you want to make sure you like the teaching style and that your personalities match up. I've taken classes or seminars with people that are excellent trainers, but the way they taught didn't quite work for me. This is not at all a reflection on their training, but simply a matter of styles not matching up.

 Online or Local?

Nowadays, it's amazing what we can do online. We can see doctors, take tests, have meetings, and so much more. Dog training is something that can absolutely be done online! I've been taking online dog training classes since 2013 and my dogs are so much better because of it! I have many students who have only taken online classes and have gone on to earn perfect scores, placements, and more. Depending on the setup, online classes can be done whenever you're available, rather than at a set time each week, which allows for greater flexibility for busy schedules. You can learn SO much by watching videos of your dog! This is a very valuable training tool. Finally, you can re-read your feedback and tips as many times as you need. I don't know about you, but after a 2 hour lesson with my coach, if I haven't written things down I don't remember half the things she's said! Having that feedback typed out on my computer screen allows me to better understand and implement it.

Local classes can also be a great value, but do have drawbacks. First, local classes will be a set time each week, which may or may not work for your schedule. You may have to drive a distance to get to class. Your dog may be overwhelmed at local classes when he or she is first learning due to the potential large number of participants. Also, the instructor is dealing with multiple students and can only give you so much time.

 Benefits of Having a Good Coach

Regardless of what route you choose, getting in a class or working with a coach is worth it! Here are some of the benefits to working with an experienced instructor.


Having a set class time or video deadline is a great motivator for you to train! Most people in classes are more consistent with their training then those without the structure/schedule of a class.


Having a second set of eyes on your work is so important! Coaches will see things that you can't see. They will notice things that you're doing that may be contributing to your dog's behavior, both good and bad. They'll notice when you're stepping into your dog on the halt and causing your dog to sit away from you, or when you always feed from your left pocket and your fronts are getting crooked!


Sometimes what you're trying to teach your dog just isn't going to click. An experienced instructor should have many ways to teach the same behavior. Each dog is different, and what works for one might not work for the other. Your coach can help you try other ways of teaching so that your dog can be successful. A good instructor will have the ability to try something else if the current method isn't working.

 Teaching Signs

A good instructor will know those rally signs like the back of their hand. They will have seen the mistakes that people commonly make and will be able to point those out to you. Did you know one of the most common reasons for an IP is forgetting to pause after you've walked around your dog in AKC Rally? Your coach should be able to immediately point out if you're performing the sign wrong.

 Confidence Builder

 Some of my most treasured feedback from my students is when they talk about how I've helped their confidence. A good coach will absolutely give you constructive criticism, but they should also regularly point out what you're doing correctly. You should never feel like you're a failure or doing things poorly. You should walk away from your session or the computer feeling accomplished and excited about the new ideas that you can implement.

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