I'm itching to get competing in Rally Obedience with Romeo! In preparation for competing, I needed to find some drop-in classes where we could perform some practice courses with other dogs around. Either there are not many out there, or I just can't find them. I found a Rally drop-in class on Friday mornings. Perfect for my schedule. (March 2011)

I was a bit nervous going. Up to this point, I had not had Romeo in any classes other than my own. Going somewhere else, I wasn't sure what the people would be like, how many other dogs would be there, how I would do in a new setting, or whether or not Romeo would be on his best behavior. Part of the challenge with adolescent dogs is never knowing what kind of behavior you're going to see until you get in the situation!

Here are the lessons I learned:

1. I try to be very positive with my students, giving positive feedback and encouragement along with constructive pointers to make improvements. After this drop-in session, I feel the need to work harder at that. Although this was a drop-in and not a formal class, the atmosphere to me did not feel as friendly and encouraging as I'd hoped. While I like constructive criticism, I also want to know what I did well! I want to work harder to make sure my clients feel that from me.

2. I wanted to cheer others on, but not being the instructor, and it being my first time there, I tried to sit back and observe without overstepping my bounds. I wish I'd been more encouraging anyway. Instructors should be encouraging, but I like feeling support from the rest of the group too. That's one of the reasons I love it when one of my classes decides to continue with classes together. They support and encourage each other which helps everyone.

3. If you're not having any fun, consider making some changes. Rally's emphasis is on precision but also having fun with your dog. It seemed we were the only ones having any fun. The closest thing I heard to a compliment was when the instructor made a comment about Romeo's furiously wagging tail. That's sad when the instructor comments on a wagging tail because it's unusual to see. Many of the dogs and handlers did not seem to be having any fun. Some looked downright miserable.

4. While you want to focus on what you're teaching your dog, and certainly to improve on the things that aren't quite what you expect, don't forget to praise your dog for the good things! I didn't see much praise or encouragement of the dogs. I heard plenty of scolding, but very little encouragement. Even if I wasn't paying as close attention to the signs as I should have been, I tried to make sure I really kept up my connection with Romeo with lots of praise for what he was doing well.

5. It takes teamwork. Lots of blame went to the dogs. The first run I was obviously nervous, because I screwed up several times. Romeo messed up far less than I did, and his mess-ups were really mine too. They were not his mistakes, but my lack of training with him. Our second run through was awesome – Romeo was awesome. I still have lots of work to do. It's a team effort, and I was the weak link on our team.

6. Celebrate success – even if everything wasn't perfect. When we completed our course runs, Romeo and I celebrated! I cheered him on and told him what a good job he'd done. Not one other single person did anything to celebrate or encourage their dog when they finished their runs. How depressing!

I am more energized now to get out competing with Romeo. I want to get out there and show people what it should look like! I want them to see how much fun they could be having and want to find that for themselves.