Tips for Remembering Courses!
For some, remembering the course is the most difficult skill in rally, especially when having to pay attention to the dog while navigating the sequences. I’ve put together a few tips to help you remember the course!
Know The Signs!
If you want to be confident and stay connected to your dog and remember the course, knowing the signs at first glance is critical. If you have to study the sign as you’re approaching it, thinking “is this the one where I can back up or do my feet need to stay still?” you’ve already used too much brain power trying to figure out the sign, and you have less to focus on the flow of the course. You can make flashcards of all the signs and study them until you can immediately visualize you and the dog completing the sign perfectly.
Study the Map!
Shortly before the class is to start, the judge will either hand out course maps or post a picture on the wall. If there are no copies of the map for you to study, I recommend taking a picture of the posted map with your phone. Study this map well before the ring opens for walkthroughs. When you walk into the ring for walkthroughs, you should already have a very good idea of what the course is.
Go Through the Actions!
You are going to have 10 minutes to walk your course. This is a long time if you utilize your time well. The first time through the course look at the signs. Pay attention to the dog’s path and where things might get tight for your dog. Look for places where it would be easy to miss a sign. When you start the next walkthrough, go through all the motions. Pretend like your dog is there with you. Do the heeling, the halts, the turns. Walk around your invisible dog and pause next to the dog before you continue forward. Adjust your pace if you have fast or slow signs. Do the entire course just as you would with your dog. After my first time through, if there is a particularly tricky spot, I will go back to that spot walk until I’m comfortable. Then I’ll repeat walking the course a few times, focusing on connecting with my (invisible) dog, reading the signs with my peripheral vision as I’m approaching, and rehearsing all the correct handling moves. When I feel really good about the course, I walk it one more time!
Lump Signs Together!
It’s much easier for our brain to remember in chunks, rather than remember the order of every sign. If you can find a way to lump signs together that makes sense to you, this can be a really effective way to memorize courses. Maybe you can split the course into thirds or fourths. Or perhaps you can memorize the straight lines with the turn added in. Figure out how many signs your brain can comfortably memorize and work on finding chunks that fit within that number.
After I’m done walking the course, I step outside the ring and visualize. First I do it while looking at the course. Can I name all the signs in order? If not I have the map (or a picture on my phone) right in my pocket. Once I can do it while looking at the course, I’ll close my eyes and go through it in my head. If there’s a spot that might give you trouble, walk through it outside the ring. Do your halts, hand signals, pauses, etc. You might feel self-conscious but I promise it’s worth it! Plus you are definitely not the only one that does this!
Because rally is a timed support, sometimes the more competitive of us might rush through the course. (I am most certainly NOT referring to myself – no way!) Don’t forget that if you miss a sign in rally, it’s an automatic NQ. You need to at least attempt every sign. So always pay particular attention to where sneaky judges might “hide” signs to add a little extra challenge. Don’t rush through the course. Keep a steady pace, but instead of focusing on going fast, concentrate on completing every sign to the best of your ability. Be there for your dog. Keep your handling as clear and clean as possible. Stay connected. Smile at your dog! And if you do happen to forget a sign or two, please don’t be mad at yourself! Your dog will sense that you’re upset and will certainly think it has something to do with him or her. Instead, concentrate on all the signs your awesome team did perfectly. Go get some ice cream for both of you, and head home with the best dog in the trial.
If you want to improve your rally performance, check out my class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, starting on June 1. From Good to GREAT! Increasing Your Rally Scores will cover all sorts of topics, including how to remember courses, staying connected with your dog, learning the most common mistakes that cause lost points, cleaning up behaviors to make them more accurate, and will include short challenges each week. In addition, we’ll be looking at the AKC Virtual Rally titling program and will discuss the courses. Find out more information here, including a sample lecture, trailer, description, and more! https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/26618