Virtual Titling in Rally: A Fun Opportunity!

The days of cancelled dog shows due to COVID-19 have led to several opportunities for virtual titling in various sports, including Rally.

Virtual trials can have so many advantages, so this is a really exciting opportunity! Some dogs can't compete at normal dog shows, and this is a great way to show off their skills. For dogs that struggle with reactivity, or severe ring stress, or ones who find the dog show atmosphere too distracting or scary, the virtual titling program is perfect. 

Another group of dogs that can benefit from virtual titling are the young dogs that are getting close to beginning their show careers.

Taking a young dog to a show is really tough! There are so many distractions, no treats in the ring, plus the dog is having to perform many behaviors in a row. Wouldn't it be great to find a way to break some of that down to help your dog be successful the first few times in the ring?

There is – Virtual titling! It takes all the bits of being in the ring – no treats and having to perform long chains of behaviors – and removes some of the distractions of a show like other dogs and a judge in the ring.

Another advantage of virtual shows is that you likely don't have to travel far to video your run, and the dog doesn't spend the majority of the day in the crate. What a great introduction to dog shows for your young dog, and also a great way to find out if the dog is ready, without having to go to a dog show!

Learning Opportunities from Virtual Titling

Don't get me wrong — virtual titling is a lot more difficult than people think. It is not a walk in the park. You will still be surrounded by distractions, but different ones than at a show. You likely won't be in tight quarters with many other dogs, and you won't have a judge in the ring with you.

However, being under that pressure to get it right on the video can cause the handler to act differently than he or she does in training. And, of course, doing the entire course without reinforcement is going to be pretty tough if you haven't trained for it. Getting a virtual title isn't necessarily easier, just different. Whether you earn your titles in person or virtually, you should be proud!

I recently set up four of the AKC Novice virtual titling courses for my young dog Excel, who will be 3 years old in August. I learned so much about Excel and what he needs while videoing those four courses. I learned that he has a ton of great skills, and that he needs a *lot* of connection and support from me right now.

I saw a couple problem areas that I need to work on. I discovered that I need to walk faster! I learned that my boy is amazing and we had so much fun together, in a very low-pressure environment. I sent the first three courses to the AKC and have received two scores back, both perfect 100's. I expect that Excel will be sporting a new Rally Novice title very soon!

Here is a video of our very first rally run! This was Excel's first-ever time doing an entire course and he earned 100 points on this run.

Considerations for Virtual Titling 

If you are interested in virtual titling, there are a few things to consider!

  • Don't drill the course over and over trying to get it perfect. Redos are allowed, just like in a real trial. Have fun with your dog and don't push him or her. Video the course once, maybe twice, then submit it! Remember that the dog's performance is a reflection of your training. If your dog struggles with certain skills or signs, break the skill down and train it better, and you'll see higher scores throughout your dog's entire career.
  • Set up the entire course, turn the video camera on, and record your walkthrough. Then watch the whole thing to ensure that you are in the view of the camera at all times. Also check for any lighting problems. If the sun is behind you, it will be very difficult to see you and your dog. As you review your video, ensure that the camera was in focus. I've had to trash a couple runs because my iPad never focused on me and the entire video was blurry. Last, check that your microphone isn't picking up wind noise. The judge will need to be able to hear you while you and your dog are doing the course. If wind noise is all the judge can hear, you will not qualify. Doing this run through with the camera before the run with your dog can prevent a lot of problems and wasted time!
  • Know the rules for your venue. Are leashes required? Can you have treats on your body? Is it alright if dog tags are on your dog's collar?
  • When you return to in-person shows, remember that your dog still has very little show experience. If your dog earns the AKC RN virtually, consider showing in Novice or Intermediate your first weekend in-person, to make sure the dog can handle the distracting environment before taking him or her off leash. I would not recommend going from virtual novice to the advanced class at an in-person dog show.

Equipment for Filming Virtual Runs

In order to submit a virtual rally run, there are a few things that you'll need.

  • You'll need a device capable of taking video. Most smart phones and tablets can do this. You can also use a video camera. If you don't have anything that can record video, it's easy to find a friend or family member with a smart phone!
  • A tripod isn't required, but can be very helpful. Even if you have a person to video for you, having the device on a tripod will help your video be much less shaky. For my runs that wouldn't fit in the view, I put my iPad on the tripod and had my daughter just move it back and forth, keeping me and my dog in the middle of the frame. You can get a super cheap tripod for your phone or tablet on Amazon.
  • You'll have to set up a free YouTube account. This is not a difficult process. Many phones will upload directly to YouTube from your camera app, and if not it's easy to use the YouTube app to upload a video.
  • Signs are important! Rally is all about the signs. These can be signs that you've purchased, printed out, or even hand drawn. They can be propped up or laid flat on the ground, but the sign must be visible to the judge so he or she can see how close you're performing to the sign. The judge does not need to be able to read the signs, but he or she needs to see where it is.
  • If you are working in a limited-area space, a wide-angle lens can really be a lifesaver. This will allow your device to record a wider view, which hopefully includes the entire course!
  • A large space is essential. There aren't requirements about how far apart the signs need to be, but your dog needs to be able to comfortably navigate the course. A bigger course with more space is going to be easier for you and your dog, especially if your dog is on the large side. This space can be a training building, a parking lot, or a big grassy area. 40 feet by 50 feet should give you and your dog plenty of room. If you're outside on grass, make sure it's fairly level and that there aren't holes for you or your dog to trip in. There are lots of options, just make sure it's a safe space for you and your dog!
  • Last, you need decent weather if you're outside. If it's 95 degrees and sunny outside, neither you or your dog will feel and perform your best. Try to record in the morning or evening, keeping in mind that the light will be more difficult to work if it's a sunny day. Be sure the sun is behind the camera. Windy days aren't so great because the wind can blow away your signs. A cloudy cool day is perfect.

I hope that you will consider taking advantage of this fun opportunity. It's a great way to support the organizations that are sponsoring virtual titling and to have fun with your dog.

E174: Helene Lawler - "Training Sensitive Dogs"
E173: Petra Ford - "Keeping Heeling Fun + New Pupp...