Since the dog will be heeling on your left, in most cases the handler should follow a path that will keep the Rally signs on his or her right side. Makes sense when you think of it: it makes the Rally signs easier for the handler to see, and you don't have to worry about the dog tripping over a sign. The signs used on a particular course will be numbered in the order that they should be performed.
All Rally courses will have a Start sign to show the handler where the beginning of the course is. The handler and dog should wait by that sign until the judge says "Forward". The dog does not have to be sitting, but should be in Heel position. The Start sign looks like this:
Let me take a break here before we get into any more signs and talk about the Reference numbers.
See the "N, A, X-#1" in the upper right corner? That sort of thing will be in the corner of all Rally signs,
The "N" means that this sign may be used on a Novice course. The "A" means this sign may be used on an Advanced course. The "X" means this sign may be used on an Excellent level course.
In other words, when you see "N, A, X" that is a sign that may be used at all levels.
The "#1" is the Reference number for the Start sign. That means this is the first sign listed among the AKC Rally signs. The reference number makes it more convenient for course designers to find the sign they want to use in the stack - there are a lot of signs! It can also be useful for competitors if you want to look up a sign to be sure how to perform that exercise. The signs that are allowed in the different classes are grouped together. Signs that may be used in Novice courses will all have Reference numbers less than 100. Signs that may be used in Advanced and Excellent, but NOT Novice, will have Reference numbers between 100 and 199. Signs that may ONLY be used on Excellent courses will have Reference numbers in the 200s.
The Finish sign indicates the end of the course.
#3 HALT - Sit
3. HALT–Sit: While heeling, the handler halts and the dog sits in heel position. The team then moves forward, with the dog in heel position.
Note: as with all Rally exercises, the handler may talk to the dog and/or give hand signals. In other words, as you walk up to this sign and prepare to halt, you may tell your dog to "Sit" and use a hand signal if you want.
#4 HALT - Sit - Down
After the dog sits, he shouldn't stand up before lying down in this exercise. As soon as the dog is all the way down, the handler and dog may heel forward to the next sign.
NOTE: See the big red "Halt" stop signs in the upper left corner of these signs? That tells you that this exercise starts with the handler standing still and the dog sitting in Heel position. In the case of sign #3, that's the whole exercise. But for many Rally signs, that sit in Heel position is just the starting point. So to save space on the signs, later on you won't see the word "Sit" on the sign in reference to that first Halt and Sit. But if you see that big red stop sign, you'll know that the first thing you do when you get to that sign is halt, and have your dog sit.
#5 Right Turn
5. Right Turn: The handler and dog make a smooth 90 degree turn to the Right without stopping. This sign may be used more than once in a Rally course.
#6 Left Turn
6. Left Turn: the team makes a smooth 90 degree turn to the Left without stopping. This sign also may be used more than once.
#7 About Turn Right
7. About Turn–Right: While heeling, the team makes a 180° about turn to the handler’s right. This sign may be used more than once.
#8 About "U" Turn
8. About “U” Turn: While heeling, the team makes a 180° turn to the handler’s left. This sign also may be used more than once.
#9 270 Right Turn
9. *270° Right Turn: While heeling, the team makes a 270° turn to the handler’s right. 270° turns are performed as a tight circle, but not around the exercise sign.
This sign may be used more than once.
NOTE: The yellow arrow shows you the path you will take as you make this turn. Can you see that, even though you are turning to your right to make this turn, you will end up going to your left? From a course building standpoint, this sign works the same as a left turn.
#10 270 Left Turn
10. 270° Left Turn: While heeling, the team makes a 270° turn to the handler’s left. 270° turns are performed as a tight circle, but not around the exercise sign. This sign may be used more than once.
NOTE: as with #9, this sign will have you turning in one direction, but ultimately changing your direction to go the other way. The thing that helps me keep it straight is to think of following the yellow arrow's path.
But it also helps me keep from getting lost if I remember which direction I should be going in when I'm done with the turn!
That is enough for this post - if you want to read more about the AKC Rally signs here are more resources:
The official AKC Obedience and Rally rules, with Rally signs and descriptions
Color images of the signs with annotations regarding their definitions.
One final tip: as we go through all the signs, you will find at least some that are confusing for you. And you'll find signs that are hard to tell apart. The best tip I've ever had for dealing with these signs is to print out a full page copy of the sign (black & white is fine) and post it somewhere in your house where you will see it several times a day. In a hallway, on your refrigerator, etc. Every time you walk up to that sign, stop and perform the action as if you had your dog with you. You do NOT need to fetch your dog every time! In fact, it's best if you get the exercise firmly in your mind, and get comfortable with any footwork, BEFORE you try it with your dog. After a few days you will know it by heart.