Compare Differences Between Dog Agility and Rally (Obedience)

It’s a known fact that the bond between a dog and its owner is something remarkable. But there’s something even more amazing about seeing that connection taken to the next level and showcased in a companion dog sport like Agility or Rally.

But what are the differences between Agility and Rally? Both are classified by AKC as companion sports, with the primary goal being to display the impressive connection of a highly-trained dog and their owner. In Agility, the owner leads the dog through a timed course filled with obstacles including a tunnel, weave poles, A-frame, see-saw and more. Agility trials are about speed and communication. In Rally, the owner and their dog navigate a course with 10-20 signs with various commands or movements to complete, such as down, stay, 360 right, or walk around. Rally is an excellent introduction to other dog sports.

If any of that piqued your interest, you probably want to learn more about these two popular sports. So to help you understand if Agility or Rally (or even both) is right for you and your dog, we’ll share some info on:

  • The history of Agility and Rally
  • A basic overview of each sport
  • Getting started with Agility and Rally
  • Competing in Agility and Rally

Brief History Of Agility

Agility made its debut to the world in the late 1970s when it was included as ‘intermission’ entertainment during the famous Crufts dog show in the UK. It grabbed the attention of the audience and dog owners immediately because of its entertaining way of demonstrating a dogs agility and human bond. Today, Agility competitions and training can be readily found and participated in across the US.

The Sport Of Dog Agility

Agility will put your dog’s physical and mental capabilities to the test and challenge the communication the two of you have. It also has some physical demands for the handler as well since it’s a fast-paced sport with many quick movements and redirections.

Not sure if you’re ready to commit to Agility? That’s not a problem! You can approach Agility as a novice or hobbyist…taking classes here and there as you’d like. You might even add a few backyard obstacles for your pup to learn on. But talk to anyone who’s spent time around the sport, and they’ll likely laugh. Most find Agility quite addicting and usually end up competing on some level at some point.

How Agility Works

Your dog will navigate the course without a leash (off-leash) with your guidance completing each obstacle in the order outlined by the judge. You are allowed to speak and give signals to your dog to help with guiding them, but you’re not allowed to touch the dog during your run.

In competition, you’re allowed time in advance to walk the course and plan your strategy. The agility course layout can vary but the kinds of obstacles you and your pup will encounter remain reasonably consistent. The course will consist of 14-20 obstacles, depending on the class and level of competition. Some obstacles have a ‘contact zone’ which is an area your dog must touch with their paw at the end of the obstacle to mark that obstacle as complete — failing to hit that contact zone results in a ‘fault.’

Scoring is based on the dog completing the course in the allotted amount, with minimal faults, and no disqualifying deductions.

Getting Started With Agility

When considering if Agility is right for you and your dog, one of the first things you should look at is your dog. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does your dog have boundless amounts of energy?
  • Does she like to run around?
  • Does she respond well to commands and direction?
  • How is she around other dogs? Does she get along with other dogs?

If your pup checks these boxes, that’s a great start! You need to make sure you’re up for the challenge. Agility will test your physical quickness and endurance a bit, but more importantly, it will test your patience and communication skills.

If your dog has already completed basic obedience classes, the next step would be to find a beginner-level agility class to enroll them in. Here are a few resources to help get you on your way:

Competing In Agility

So you’ve taken some beginner classes for Agility, and you’ve officially caught the bug! One of the best ways to start competing in Agility is to take the Agility Coursing Test (ACT) put on by the AKC. This class is an excellent way for you and your pup to get exposed to the sport of Agility and get acquainted with the various obstacles. These are only open to dogs 15 months and older, so if you start young, you have some time to prepare before attending one.

What’s Covered At An ACT Event?

  • Instructors will help you understand what to expect at an actual Agility trial
  • How to complete an AKC event entry form
  • How to read a course map
  • Properly check-in for your trial run
  • Correctly entering and exiting the course ring

These classes are offered at (2) Levels, ACT 1 & ACT 2. ACT 2 requires more skill on the part of the dog and owner and is a good gauge of whether you’re ready for a Novice competition or not.

Ready to start? You can check the AKC’s calendar of ACT events here.

Brief History Of Rally

Rally (often referred to as Rally Obedience) was really popularized by the AKC in 2005 when they began their first AKC Rally competitions. Since the late-80s, they’d been offering a dog certification course focuses on obedience, called Canine Good Citizen (CGC). Many of the commands and behaviors taught in CGC are included in and built upon in Rally competitions. By 2009, Rally events were open to all breeds, including mixed-breed dogs, thanks to their launch of the AKC Canine Partners program.

The Sport Of Dog Rally (Obedience)

Rally, as with any team sport, tests the connection and communication of the team, as well as their skill set. Even though competitive Rally is timed, but the primary goal is to complete the course in a controlled fashion with little or no mistakes. When compared to Agility, Rally is much slower-paced.

How Rally Works

The course for Rally is filled with signs, rather than physical obstacles like those you’d find in Agility. You and your dog navigate the course (leash requirements depend on the level) approaching each sign in the sequence that’s been determined by the judge. The number of signs in each course varies depending on the class level you’re competing in. There will be between 10 and 20 signs.

Each sign depicts a different exercise you and your dog must perform together. You’re not allowed to touch your dog while completing the course but you are allowed to use verbal and hand commands, clap your hands, pat your leg, and give verbal praise/encouragement.

Scoring isn’t as strict as what you’ll see competing in Agility or more formal Obedience trials. You and your pup will start the course with 100 points and have points deducted as you go for not completing or improperly completing the required exercises.

Rally Sign Examples

Dog Rally Sign Examples

Getting Started With Rally

If what you’ve read so far interests you and you want to try your hand (and paws) at Rally, the best place to start is by checking out an event in-person. You can search for local events or contact a local AKC Club here and see what events and info they might be able to share with you.

From there, if you’re still interested, you’ll want to attend a class or course of classes. The instructor will help you with the various exercises and commands, showing you how to work with your dog to perform each. Like anything new, it will take some time and patience on your part. And the younger the pup, the shorter the training sessions should be. So, shorter but frequent sessions.

Competing In Rally

Looking to take your Rally skills to the next level and begin competing? Ask your instructor if they think your pup is ready for competition. The AKC requires that they be at least six months old to compete. They can also give you tips on what will be expected of them come competition time. Check with a local club for more information on upcoming competitions.

AKC Competition Class Levels

  • Novice: 10-15 signs, On-Leash, No Jumps
  • Novice-Intermediate: 12-17 signs, On-Leash, No Jumps
  • Novice-Advanced: 12-17 signs, Off-Leash, 1 Jump
  • Excellent: 15-20 signs, Off-Leash, 2 Jumps
  • Master: 15-20 signs, Off-Leash, 2 Jumps

That’s A Wrap!

You’ve not been officially exposed to two of the more popular sports for dogs. And whether you think either is right for you and your pup or not, you’ve made the first moves to getting involved in positive training and exercise. Keeping your dog active and engaged in life will lead them (and you) to a much more meaningful life!