Rally Club of LowCountry members have fun while teaching dogs new tricks

abredeson@islandpacket.comApril 15, 2012 

Rally obedience might not teach your dog to obey, but participants of the sport say it's a lot of fun.

Bluffton resident Martha McGrath has competed in rally with her two Dalmatians for six years. Although the sport can improve a dog's behavior, she said that's not always the case.

"My dog would just take off, running all over the place," McGrath said about one competition. "Twelve times I got nonqualifying scores for this dog running all over. It got to be a joke."

But if the dogs are cooperative, she said, they can learn tricks that come in handy in everyday life. Maneuvers such as sitting, turning, weaving and jumping, are all part of rally obedience. The fast-paced sport involves a dog and handler team that navigate through a course, performing 15 or 20 exercises. The handler and dog must follow numbered signs indicating the different exercises to perform.

President of the Rally Club of the LowCountry, McGrath encourages other dog lovers to join in the fun or just stop by and watch the group practice. They meet at 9:30 a.m. Sundays in Woodbridge in Bluffton.

"I think it's one of the most fun things that AKC does as far as the dog and the handler together," McGrath said. "You really kind of bond with your dog."

She said there are three levels to rally -- novice, advanced and excellent. A team has to have three qualifying scores to move from novice to advanced and then from advanced to excellent.

The local group practices with a novice course, an advanced/excellent course and a third course in case anyone wants to practice regular obedience, which is a step up from rally obedience.

The club has about 20 members, and seven of their dogs were featured in the December 2011 issue of Front & Finish magazine for ranking as the top dogs in the country in rally, McGrath said. In 2010 eight of the dogs were nationally ranked.

"That's what we're so proud of -- a small club with huge accomplishments," member Lee Brewer said. "It all comes because we work together."

Brewer said the members help each other out when someone is struggling with the maneuvers. But she said the best thing about the group is the camaraderie.

"We're like one big family," Brewer said. "It's been a completely heartwarming experience for us."

McGrath said the only requirements to join the club are that the dog is not aggressive and stays on a leash, and that the handler does not speak too harshly to the dog.

"We tell anybody that just wants to get to know their dog better and have a fun time with their dog to come and join us," McGrath said. "They don't have to compete. Just come and play with your dog."

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