Trouble knows that old dogs can learn new tricks. Whether she really wants to is another question, but she is prepared to humour Human, that reliable source of food, walks, and belly rubs. Human thinks that a Rally Obedience title would be a nice addition to Trouble’s name.
Rally-O is to formal obedience as ice-dancing is to the skating of figures. The figures are still there – a sit is a sit is a sit – but how you combine those moves is a different thing altogether. Trouble likes the challenge: the rally course is never the same twice, so she has to pay attention to Human.
And Human has to pay attention to the course.
A rally course is a complex layout of a number of moves –serpentines, figure eights, turns and pivots and jumps. You don’t know until you get there how many, which ones, or in what order. Each exercise station has a sign card indicating what move is to be performed.
In the competition, the dog and handler have to follow the course, perform the exercises accurately, and look as if they are having fun. That last part is easy for Trouble: her exuberant tail has more than once rocked a pylon as she weaves past. Human, meanwhile, is reading and interpreting the signs, making decisions, encouraging the dog, and trying to look unpressured. Did we mention that it’s timed, too? “Handler error” is a real possibility, and can result in lost points or even a non-qualifying score, something also given when a dog relieves itself in the ring. They’re equally mortifying occurrences.
The rally ring brings to mind the old adage that “easy writing makes damn’ hard reading.” A good rally team goes through the exercises from start to finish, flawlessly, making it look easy and fun, no matter how convoluted the path or complex the individual step. A lot of work goes into each competition, however: the judge selects the exercises and designs the route. There has to be adequate room for every exercise – nothing too cramped or too crowded. The handler has to study the signs and know the peculiar language of the sport. The dog has to know the commands and pay attention through every move. And when everyone has done the necessary work, there is pleasure, pride, and satisfaction in the result.
An academic essay is surprisingly like a rally trial. It has to be as carefully laid out as the rally course, with a clear direction, though not necessarily a straight line, from start to finish. The individual parts of the course must be expressed in the right language – the discourse of the discipline – and laid out in such a way that an attentive reader can readily follow and get the point. It’s a collaboration between writer and reader.
It can’t be done right the first time. It’s laborious, even for those with experience. But when it works, it’s a beautiful thing, even if there aren’t many ribbons given.