If you follow us on our Facebook page, you know that most every Sunday afternoon we pack up the pups and head to a rally class with other members of Canine Hope for Diabetics for their weekly hosted training session. So what exactly is rally? And what purpose does it serve?
For us, rally is a way to practice and enjoy obedience training, and provides real world, practical skills. It is a course that has between 10-20 stations, each with a different obedience skill that needs to be performed. Some stations cover the basics of sit, stay, down, etc. We also get some new or more advanced stations thrown in that give us things to work on, or see what needs to be improved or tightened up. Like the images above for example. Stella and Raven are working on backing up. This tends to be a little more advanced then you might cover at your local Petco obedience class. Here is some more info from the AKC: Getting Started In Rally
Each dog and handler takes their dog through the course multiple times. There is a trainer on the course that assists in skills that are new to us, or that we are struggling with. It is a great way to bond with your dog, as they need to be focused in on you waiting for the next command, and you need to be focused on them too. Some of the commands may seem strange, but you soon realize how practical they become with just a quick trip through the mall or grocery store as you weave your way through crowds and try to avoid food on the floor.
While we get together for rally, we are also working several other things with the dogs. We are constantly working on place training (“stay” on a Kuranda cot). Place training can seem pretty simple in your living room, but surrounded by 15 other dogs with kids running around and playing, with bumpers being thrown and all kinds of distractions, this becomes an amazing place to work this skill.
I find that the Place skill becomes one of the most important skills the dog can learn. It requires self control, and we use it to build a tremendous amount of structure into a service dogs daily life. If they are not training, working, or playing, they are on their place. And they need to develop the confidence to learn when to break place to alert us to a diabetic event that we need to fix.
We also work on socialization skills. Service dogs live a little bit different life than a pet dog. Service dogs spend a lot of time with humans, and only a little time with other dogs. We don’t take our service dogs to dog parks for fear of injury, a fight, or some other issue with a misbehaving dog. So this is the perfect time for our dogs to interact.
We also use this time for scent work and training. There are a lot of diabetics around, so when someone starts to go low (providing it is a safe, workable low) we gather up all the dogs and run them through the alert behavior chain. The majority of the dogs at rally are in training, so it’s wonderful to give them an opportunity to do some real time alert training.
We use rally to work fetch and retrieve exercises with them. Again, working on self control, and utilizing commands for stay, release, and recall in a large field. The benefits to this are many, including practicing off leash work in a safe environment, strengthening the recall, and exercise to just name a few.
And perhaps the most important? We use it as an opportunity to talk with friends and families that we share a common bond with. We get the opportunity to talk about struggles and successes, both with the dogs, and with diabetes. Surrounded by people that fight the same fight. That understand the dark circles under the eyes. That know the difference between MDI’s and pumps. No judging. It’s hugs and a shoulder and empathy and compassion. Lot’s of experience and knowledge that gets shared. Game plans are developed. Myths are smashed. People become empowered. Kids are “normal”. For most of us, it is the only time we are surrounded by people that “get It”. THAT is what rally is for us. In all honesty, Major and Raven have probably already forgotten more than I could ever teach them. But for us? Rally is family time. Laughter and tears. Frustrations and anticipations. We get to brag about successes. We get to ask about issues we have problems with. We question things. And again, we laugh. A lot. There is more diabetic experience and knowledge here than you will ever find in a book, a class, or at your endo’s office. We share it all. And I relish that. And after rally? We take our type 1 kids out for ice cream and milkshakes. Cause we can.