Many service dogs compete in other dog activities such as agility and Rally-O; however, since many service dogs are without papers or crossbreeds they have been unable to compete in AKC sponsored events. Today's news brought the announcement of a new AKC Mixed Breed program that will begin in October of this year.
AKC is a little late to the game, but I am glad to see them realizing that people with mixed breed companions enjoy a variety of dog sports. The American Mixed Breed Obedience Registration began offering formal obedience trials for mixed breed dogs in 1983. The American Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the United States Dog Agility Association, Inc also accept mixed breed and non-papered competitors.
Competing in sports like agility, Rally-O and formal obedience trials can not only enhance the bond between handler and dog, but allow them to learn new behaviors that may benefit their working partnership and fine tune the foundation skills upon which many other behaviors are built. Participating in dog sports also gives handler and dog and additional social outlets. My first service dog, Bastien, and I took a Rally-O class together through a local dog obedience club. We were lucky to find an instructor their who had scene people competing using wheelchairs. She was very enthusiastic in problem solving with us ways to navigate the obstacles. Bastien and I even managed to impress the other competitors with some of our service dog behaviors and skills such as out leash retrievals, and come rounds (a back and turn) that were very helpful in that course. Bastien loved the class and would leave every class completely happy. Rally-O focuses on the partnership as well as the obedience. You can pet your dog, talk to your dog, repeat a cue, but you cannot use harsh correction or physically force your dog to do the behavior in any way. I tell you people (myself included) make absolute fools out of themselves to encourage their dogs and the dogs just love every minute!
I think Rally-O is an excellent idea for new handlers or people looking to have some fun with their service dogs because it meets you where you are at and many of the obstacles transfer to situations service dogs encounter in their working lives. The weave cones, the stay and walk around, the about face turns and many others are all transferable. These moves when practice can lead to the image I treasure of the symmetrical ballet that is a well matched, well established service dog team.