The Rip Van Wrinkler, Volume XVI, Issue 4, August 2012

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We're Talking Rally

by Marcia Woodard, reprinted with permission, first printed in the AKC GAZETTE "Breed Columns" 10 August 2012. 

On the certificate of achievement that Kona (my 8-year-old male) and I received at the end of our first “Rally Fundamentals” course, the name of the course was simplified to reflect our lack of skills: “Class” was all it said.

No modifier. That was it. Just “Class.” They didn’t know how to label us. Kona and I continued to push on for the last four months with the goal of making our debut at the Evergreen Basenji Club Rally Specialty on June 9.

I had written about rally back in 2004, and I recently looked up that column because I wondered if current in-the-trenches-and-can’t-remember-right-foot- from-left-nor-count-to-three me would agree with former objective journalist (me). As I reflected on some of the comments in the past column, I found it necessary to give former me a hard time:

1. The first level is on-lead. This offers a good chance for you and your dog to be successful.

Response: Since half of my life has been spent at one end of a lead with a Basenji pulling on the other, I thought I

had this covered, but a loose lead felt foreign and useless. Scene in our first class: heeling practice. Instructor: “Hold the lead in your right hand, keep that hand against your stomach, and maintain a loose lead.” Already confused, I looked at Kona, said “Let’s go,” and hoped for magic. Kona charged and hit the end of the leash. I didn’t even take a full step.

Instructor: “Let’s try that again.”

2. Unlimited communication from the handler to the dog is encouraged. Positive hand signals, praise, cajoling, pleading, and even singing are fine.

Response: Like a professional auctioneer, I’ve learned to passionately hawk the rally course to Kona using a soprano sing-song delivery and all of my bodily functions, but I haven’t gone as far as the guy who assumed the “down” position to get his Basenji to follow suit. It didn’t work.

3. An opportunity to demonstrate a partnership with your dog that allows for creativity. You can discover, and work with your dog’s style.

Response: Kona’s style is to avoid looking at me directly, because that would acknowledge his loss of free will. “Watch me” is our creative shorthand for “Please glance at me out of the corner of your eye.”

4. Basenjis are able to “demonstrate willingnessand enjoyment while they are working” in this fun setting.

Response: W-o-r-k is never said. Because as long as nothing more interesting is going on for a Basenji than working at obedience, with no bait … well, you see the potential problem.

5. There is more variety in rally courses as opposed to traditional obedience. Basenjis bore easily—better to surprise them.

Response: I have watched the development of my bored Basenji’s decision to ignore me: the glance at the ceiling, the 360-degree head-roll, and finally the prey-stalking stare at anybody or anything. It’s hilarious if it’s not your dog doing it.

6. [Rally is] more fast-paced than traditional obedience, which makes for fewer Basenji sniffing opportunities.

Response: “Fast-paced” seems like a good thing, until you complete three spiraling laps around cones, eject out of the last turn, and look up to find you’re so dizzy that the rest of the course has become a sobriety test.

7. 70 out of 100 is a qualifying score.

Response: Oh, God, I hope we get a 70. Please.

Laurie Gregory photo

Update, June 9: We got a 75!