Everyone would like to get better scores in the ring! It might be surprising to learn that many points are lost to preventable things, like completing the sign incorrectly. Handler errors are by far the most common reason for deductions in rally. Read on to learn five of the most common handler errors that I see in AKC Rally.
1. Walk around PAUSE
This is one of the most common errors that I see handlers make. They are nervous and get flustered as they walk around the dog, and they forget to pause. Forgetting to pause is a 10 point deduction for an incorrectly performed sign! Remember that every time you walk around your dog, you MUST pause in heel position!
2. Cone Signs
There are so many signs with cones, that it's no wonder people get confused! I see a lot of mistakes with the different cone exercises, which include spirals, figure 8's, weaves, etc. Some of the more common errors that I see are not crossing the center line three times during the Figure 8 and doing the spirals incorrectly. On the spirals, it's always 3-2-1. Circle all three cones, then the first two cones, then the first cone. Pay attention to which way you enter on the Straight Figure 8 and Serpentine Weave Twice. The cone needs to be to your and your dog's left. Be sure to review the various rules for the cone exercises before you go into the ring.
For the Halt 1, 2, and 3 steps sign, you halt and your dog sits. THEN you take one step, halt, and dog sits. Then you take 2 steps, halt, and the dog sits. Finally you take three steps, halt, and the dog sits. You then continue forward.
There are a couple of reasons handlers struggle with this sign. First, they forget to count the steps. When I'm doing this sign I am saying in my head, heel, 1 sit. Heel 1…2…sit. Heel 1…2…3…sit. Judges will also deduct points if you take varying size steps. Be sure all of your steps are about the same size.
For the Call Front, 1, 2, 3, steps back, deductions are taken for similar reasons. While you're heeling, you cue front and step back 1-2 steps, and the dog sits. At that point, you start your 1 step back, your dog sits in front. Then you do 2 steps, dog sits, and finally 3 steps, and your dog sits. At that point you signal your dog to go to heel position and as the dog clears your path, you heel forward. Be sure your steps are about the same size and that you count as you do it.
4. Pivots Versus Turns
As you work your way through the levels, you'll need to know the difference between pivots and turns. With a turn, you step out as you heel away. Your feet should not stay together. With a pivot, your feet stay together through the turn. Pretend that you're turning on a dinner plate. Complete your turn before you step out.
5. Sit or No Sit?
This is tough because there are SO many signs that include going to heel, and you need to know whether or not a sit at heel is required. In the Novice class, the signs are Call Front Finish (either Right or Left) Halt OR Forward.
If the sign has a stop sign and says halt, the dog sits at heel. If the sign does not have a stop sign and says forward, you heel forward before the dog sits, as the dog clears your path. For the call fronts in advanced, you stop and your dog sits at heel. You call to front (without moving your feet!) and the dog sits in front. You cue heel and the dog moves to heel position and sits.
Most of the time, the sign will say "Forward" if the dog should not sit, like with sign number 121: Halt Step in Front Finish Right Forward. You halt and the dog sits, you step in front, then the dog finishes. Because it says forward, you heel forward as the dog clears your path and before he or she sits. On the Excellent Stand Leave Your Dog signs, each sign ends with the word sit, so your dog would sit at heel. For the Master Recall Over Jumps signs, the dog moves to heel but does not sit. For the Master Call Front signs, which end with forward, the dog is cued to finish and the handler moves forward as the dog clears the handler's path. The Halt Leave Recall Finish signs in Master require the dog finish the correct way and sit in heel position before the handler moves forward.
When in doubt...
I've been showing in Rally for many years, having earned several RAE's on different dogs and am currently working on a Master title, and I still refer back to the sign descriptions when I'm looking at a course.
I have the K9 Rally app on my phone, and I also have the Rally Regulations book in my training bag. Once I look at the course, if I have any questions about the signs, I refer to either the app or my book. Sometimes I'll even write on the course maps if a sit is required or not, or any other special instructions. My goal is to never lose handler points for performing a sign incorrectly.
So far, I've only failed my goal once when I accidently turned the wrong way on the 360, realized my mistake, and redid it. The judge hadn't even noticed I did it incorrectly!
There are other ways you can help improve your score, like polishing heel, halts, and fronts. Sometimes a little bit of work on a skill can add up to a lot of points not lost over the long term. Occasionally simple things, like walking faster or staying connected to your dog, can do a lot to improve your score!
If your rally scores need a boost, I am running RA310 From Good to GREAT! Improving Your Rally Score at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy for the June session. We're going to cover everything I mentioned in this blog plus a whole lot more. In addition, we'll be looking at and talking about the 5 AKC Rally Novice courses. I'll be talking about the tricky parts of those courses and giving tips for getting the best score possible! Join me for this super fun class and watch those scores go up!