Once again we spent an amazing weekend at a rally competition with some of our Canine Hope friends, competing for our second title, RA (Rally Advanced) and once we got that on Friday, we moved up to Rally Excellent and got 2 of the 3 required legs towards that. My daughter and her dog Raven had a very successful weekend, racking up a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in her 3 events.
Aside from the obvious benefits of rally, which are building a strong bond between dog and handler, creating a well behaved, obedient dog, exercise for both dog and handler, competing to realize the fruits of your labor and/or determine where the holes are, and being recognized for your hard work and dedication, we are seeing another benefit.
My daughter was diagnosed a couple of years ago with Aspergers, an Autism Spectrum disorder. While most would never guess, and just assume she was shy, my daughter has always struggled with social interactions, nonverbal communication, and eye contact. She generally deals better with children her age or younger and animals, and at times doesn’t appear to have much of a filter. She can have a very strong personality, and is really well suited to animal type activities, which was initially what led us to horseback riding for her.
But a funny thing has happened along our way to competing in rally. When my daughter is with her dog, either at a competition or at practice, she has become down right chatty. I have had multiple people come up to me and say they couldn’t believe they just had a conversation with her. She was engaging, relevant, and if they had a question, she was helpful and insightful. She has ALWAYS struggled with conversations that involve adults, and this has taken me by surprise.
As for the non verbal communication, working with dogs has a way of helping to sort that out. While I won’t compare a nuanced human body language example with working with dogs, I will say that much of what takes place between handler and dog (or Stella and her horse when horseback riding) is non verbal communication. Subtle cues to what comes next, either with a blatant hand gesture, a slightly angled shoulder, the eyes and head looking forward to the next sign, there is always some sort of non verbal cues going on.
One of the best compliments I have started hearing is how confident and determined she looks in the ring, how poised and collected she is. This is new territory for our family. Before diagnosis, those aren’t words I’d suggest described her or I. But since diagnosis, Stella has been forced to fight, kick, and claw her way to get things she wants. She has learned that there is no competition on the weekend with out hard work put in during the week. I am so thankful to all of the Canine Hope family that has helped get Stella up and running. We have always known that she is better at solo endeavors than she is at team sports. That is initially what drew us to horseback riding. Just her, a horse, and an arena.
So rally will continue on for us for a little while. We still need 1 more leg to complete the Rally Excellent title, and our daughter has shown an interest in continuing to compete in Obedience to try to also get that title. It has provided us so much more that just a great blood sugar sniffing Labrador. Once again, these dogs not only save lives, but are proving to improve them in so many ways.