Not many people can claim to have the #1 dog in the country in rally once, let alone twice. Charlie MacMillan, owner/handler/trainer of Ace the #1 Rally Dog for 2018 can lay claim to this title a staggering five times!
Since the start of Rally in CKC, Charlie has been featured in the Top Rally Dogs Top 10 list every single year. He held the #1 spot four times with his dog Fly’R, and this year claimed the #1 spot with his current dog Ace for the young dog’s first time. Charlie has also held spots on the Obedience Top Dogs list with his dogs Mac and Fly’R. In 2011, Charlie and Fly’R held both the #1 rally and #1 obedience spots, a feat no one has ever accomplished before.
We wanted to know Charlie’s secrets to success. In an interview with the famed handler and trainer, Charlie gave us some insight into how he trains his dogs, and others at his training classes, for rally and obedience work.
You’ve mentioned before that “rally is an event made for you”, can you explain this a little?
When we were competing with Fly’R, we also had two other dogs that didn’t really like obedience anymore. They just didn’t have that drive or desire to compete. And so when we were travelling to compete with Fly’R we didn’t want to have to leave them at home. In the states if you’re dog isn’t entered into a show they can’t be on the site, and so we were running out of events we could enter all of our dogs in. But then we discovered rally and the girls really liked rally. They liked it because I could talk to them and I could keep their interest up, and they started to have fun again.
In terms of your general training philosophy, you talk a lot about play training and working with a dog’s drive and naturally ability, keeping things fun. Can you expand on this?
What I’ve found is if you teach dogs while playing, and teach them where they should be properly and what they should be doing properly in order to compete in the sport, the dog will learn fast, and you won’t lose any of his drive. You can train certain things into a dog, but you can’t train abilities like drive into a dog. If you want to compete, you’d better have a dog with some drive.
Dogs are different. Some dogs you need a lot of repetition training them, some dogs you don’t, but the big thing is you’ve got to teach something right the first time. If you don’t teach it right the first time, the dog learns it wrong, and now you have a problem to work through. Don’t be sloppy in your teaching.
For example, when you are heeling with your dog initially, teach him where heel position is, don’t let him be wandering all over the place in the initial train. Break it off, and play when he is in the right spot. Never treat a dog or play with a dog if he is in the wrong spot. Because that is what he will remember.
I always say to my class, the hardest part about training dogs is not training the dogs, it’s training the owners.
Where should you start when you're training a dog for rally competitions?
A lot of people go to a show and they see a dog perform and they say that’s what I want to teach my dog. But what they don’t see is that to train a dog you have to train it in steps.
I’ll give you an example. In the novice level, one of your exercises is “Call Front – Finish Right or Finish Left – Forward”. You have to know your description, and you have to know how a judge may be scoring. So on the ‘call front’, you have to have a good front. The description says you can take several steps backwards while the dog comes to the front. Everybody wants that dog coming to the front with one step or no steps backwards, and the trouble is a young dog doesn’t know how to get out straight in front with no steps backwards. So when you’ve got a young dog, you take those several steps backwards until you see that dog is coming in nice and straight, then you stop and make him sit.
If he’s a slow sitter, he will more than likely sit crooked. If you teach him to sit quickly, by making him do random sits and giving treats after each sit (which will speed up his sits so he gets his treat faster), he’ll come in and he’ll sit straight. But if you don’t take enough steps backwards, the dog is going to be on an angle in front of you when you stop and he’s going to sit on that angle.
When people go to a show they see somebody like Fly’r or Ace. Dogs that are at the point where when I call a front and take half a step backwards or no steps backwards the dog flips out in front in a straight position. And they think, that’s how you do it. But that’s not how he was taught. He was taught by backing up to get him straight first, then making him sit.
What are some other aspects that you should focus on?
You want a fast sitting or fast returning dog to the heel position. When you go back to the original concept of rally, rally was exercises put together from top trainers to improve their dogs. How do you get a dog to be fast going around you? You walk off. You make them keep up. And you make them keep up from a young age. If you sit there and wait for the dog to come around he’s going to come around in his own good time. When you move the dog says, “you’re not going to leave me here!”, and works to catch up with you. The goal is you want to keep a fast dog fast. And you want to teach a slow dog to be faster.
CKC’s Top Dogs program celebrates the best competitors in Canadian dog sport. Tallying points earned throughout the calendar year at each CKC sanctioned event, the Top Dogs winners represent the most dedicated and successful dog-handler teams in each discipline. It is with great pride that CKC releases the official Top Dogs Results each year. Congratulations to our Top Dogs winners and to all competitors as you challenge and inspire each other to the Top. Thank you to our sponsors for theirgenerous support of the Top Dogs program.