It may be confusing to watch at first: A handler and dog team move through a course of 10-20 different numbered signs, each of which indicates a skill they must perform together. It’s not about speed (though it is timed) or style, but about accuracy and control while working as a team.
This is rally, a competitive sport that joined the AKC family of performance events back in 2005. All ages and all breeds (or mixed breeds) may compete, and juniors compete alongside adults. Rally is based on beginner obedience skills, so a competing dog should know the basics before entering the sport, skills a dog needs to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test.
Learning all these signs may seem daunting, but there are video files on You Tube that instruct how to do each command correctly, and even an “old dog can learn new tricks.” “Misty,” a 12-year-old Schipperke, won the AKC’s 2019 Rally National Championship this past March by finishing the course with a score of 399 out of 400 in a time of 413.5 seconds.
One dog had to be the first, however, and that honor went to “Zorro,” a black Labrador Retriever who at six years old, became the AKC’s first Rally Champion on November 3, 2018. It was a route that owner/handler, Bob Fullum, thought he’d be taking with a different dog.
With only one leg left to complete his Utility Dog (UD) obedience title, “Hershey,” Bob’s other Labrador Retriever, was retired for his own health. It was a difficult decision, but Bob says it was the right call. Bob, however, wasn’t ready to retire. He took a look at puppies bred by Rhumbline Retrievers and took “Zorro” home. There is far more to this story and it includes a wonderful friendship made possible by a common love of the breed.
Photo of Hershey and Zorro from the AKC website and shared with consent