Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Dakota's first agility run

Dakota's first Agility Q, in Standard!  This was taken last spring.
She's still very green here, but so happy and willing to work.  I love her attitude.


AKC Rally Explained, Part 3


Back to the Rally signs.  This should get more interesting, since most of these remaining signs are not so self-explanatory as the first signs.  These are all signs that can be found at the Novice level, as well as in Advanced and Excellent.

I've added notes about the training origin of the Rally exercises, since Rally is based on training "doodles" that have been used for generations to help teach dogs better heeling and to improve other obedience exercises - as well as to make training interesting!  You don't want to drill the same thing over and over or you'll both get bored!  I think it helps to understand the exercises, if you know something about what they are supposed to DO.
----------------------
The "Finish" signs - as you recall from the first post in this series, the term "Finish" in obedience refers to the method by which the dog moves from being in  front of you (as if he had just come toward you) to your Left side, in heel position.  There are two ways: the Right finish, where the dog moves toward the handler's right and around behind the handler, and up on the left; and the Left finish where the dog swings to the handler's left, and turns in to line up with the handler's left side.

Training origin: The finish is a traditional obedience exercise.  In regular obedience, there is nowhere that the dog is required to finish on one side or the other - the regs just state that when directed to Finish, the dog must move promptly from Front to Heel position.  Most dogs will have a favorite way to Finish, one that is easier for them.  If you are doing traditional obedience, there is nothing preventing you from just teaching that one finish and leaving it at that.   However - since dogs are smart, most of them eventually figure out that when you call them to Front, you are going to ask them to Finish.  And they start to anticipate it, and do the Finish without sitting in Front first.  You lose big point for that - so if you teach both finishes and randomize when you use them, that helps cut down on the anticipation.  It also helps to practice the Finish without calling the dog to you first.
The Rally Finish exercises are based on exercises used to teach the Finish - so some require a Left finish, some require a Right.  Some have the dog complete the exercise and sit in Heel position, some don't.
-----------------------

#13 Call Dog Front - Finish Right - Forward


"While heeling, the handler stops forward motion and calls the dog to the front position (dog sits in front and faces the handler).  The handler may take several steps backward as the dog turns and moves to sit in the front position.  Second part of the exercise directs the handler to command and/or signal the dog to change from the front position by moving to the handler's right, around behind the handler, toward heel position.  As the dog clears the handler's path, the handler moves forward before the dog has completely returned to the heel position.
The dog does not sit before moving forward in heel position with the handler.  Handler must not step forward or backward to aid the dog as the dog moves toward the heel position. (Stationary exercise)."

For this exercise, and also for #14, note that the Handler MAY step back to help the dog come to front position.  The only time the dog sits in this exercise - and, again the same is true for #14 - is in FRONT of the handler, the dog does NOT sit in Heel position either before or after the Finish.  The Bold phrases in the exercise description above are the essential elements of the exercise - if you don't do those parts, you will be hit 10 points for an Incorrect Performance.
--------------------------
#14 Call Dog Front - Finish Left - Forward



"While heeling, the handler stops forward motion and calls the dog to the front position (dog sits in front and faces the handler).  The handler may take several steps backward as the dog turns and moves to sit in the front position.  Second part of the exercise directs the handler to command and/or signal the dog to change from the front position by moving to the handler's left, toward heel position.  As the dog clears the handler's path, the handler moves forward before the dog has completely returned to the heel position.
The dog does not sit before moving forward in heel position with the handler.  Handler must not step forward or backward to aid the dog as the dog moves toward the heel position. (Stationary exercise)."

Very similar to #13, except the dog will finish by moving to the handler's Left.  Remember that the dog does NOT sit in Heel position at all for these two exercises.  The best strategy - to avoid confusing the dog and having him think he's supposed to sit in Heel position here - is to start forward as soon as the dog is out of your way.  Don't wait for him!  You don't have to dash forward, but go on ahead and encourage the dog to catch up.

Training origin: Actually, that is the reason for these exercises - by moving forward before the dog has completed the turn, you are teaching the dog to move promptly.  It's a good training game, since if you do a lot of stationary Finish drills the dog is likely to slow down.

Also: remember that even though the Handler can step backward a few steps to help the dog come around in front, after that you must NOT move your feet until you're ready to heel forward.

Many of us train the dogs to do the Left and Right finish by stepping back with that particular leg, to help the dogs understand that they should move in that direction.  But by the time you're ready to show in Rally, you need to be past that and able to stand still while the dog finishes.
---------------------------
#15 Call Dog Front - Finish Right - HALT



 "While heeling, the handler stops forward motion and calls the dog to the front position (dog sits in front and faces the handler).  The handler may take several steps backward as the dog turns and moves to sit in the front position.  Second part is the finish to the right, where the dog must return to heel position by moving around the right side of the handler.  Dog must sit in heel position before moving forward with the handler.  Handler must not step forward or backward to aid the dog as the dog moves toward heel position. (Stationary exercise)."
-----------------------------
#16 Call Dog Front - Finish Left - HALT

 

 "While heeling, the handler stops forward motion and calls the dog to the front position (dog sits in front and faces the handler).  The handler may take several steps backward as the dog turns and moves to sit in the front position.  Second part is the finish to the left, where the dog must return to heel position by moving around the left side of the handler.  Dog must sit in heel position before moving forward with the handler.  Handler must not step forward or backward to aid the dog as the dog moves toward heel position. (Stationary exercise)."

These two exercises are very similar to #13 and 14, except that the dog DOES sit in Heel position after the Finish.  See the little Stop sign next to the big arrow?  That big upright arrow is supposed to indicate the Handler's path, that you are moving forward then step back to help the dog sit straight in Front.  The smaller arrow is to indicate the dog's movement.  So for #15 and #16, you will stand still from the time your dog sits in front, until the dog finishes and sits in Heel position.

I have had some students who had some trouble remembering the difference between #13 and #15; and between #14 and #16.  Remember to look for that little stop sign next to the big arrow, to tell you the dog is supposed to sit in Heel position after the Finish:
                    
#13 - no sit in Heel position   

  
   #15 - dog sits in Heel position after the finish.

If you have trouble with this, a very good strategy is to go to the AKC website and print out full-size copies of just the signs you have trouble with.  You don't have to print them in color, to save your ink.  Put one or two signs up somewhere in your house where you see them often.  Several times a day, stop and do the footwork for that exercise without your dog - just pretend your dog is with you.  After a day or two, you'll know that sign by heart!

------------------------------
#20 Moving Sidestep Right


"While heeling, the handler takes one step to the right, leading with the right foot, and continues moving forward  along the newly established line.  The dog moves with the handler.  The exercise shall be  performed just before the exercise sign.  (This exercise shall be considered a change of direction and the sign shall be placed directly in line with the handler's path requiring the handler and dog to sidestep to the right to pass the sign).

In AKC, Rally, since this sign is considered to be a change of direction, it will be placed in your path.  You and your dog will sidestep diagonally to the right to move around the sign.  This is one of the few times that you will pass to the right of a Rally sign.  In effect, the sign itself will help the dog move over next to you.

Training origin: This exercise is designed to teach the dog to stay close by your left side, even if you drift to the right.
------------------------------
#21 Spiral Right - Dog Outside



"This exercise requires three pylons or posts placed in a straight line with spaces between them of approximately 6-8 feet.  Spiral Right indicates the handler must turn to the right when moving around each pylon or post.  This places the dog on the outside of the turns .  The exercise sign is placed near or on the first pylon or post where the spiral is started."

The trick when doing a Spiral exercise in Rally is to remember: "3,2,1".  This means you must circle all 3 posts first; then just the first two (counting from the one with the sign); then finally one circle just around that first post.  Depending on the course, you may enter or exit the Spiral in different directions.

Here are some drawings of two common ways to do the Spiral Right:



You notice that in example 1A, after completing the Spiral you continue on in your original direction, whereas in 1B you have gone back in the direction you came from - done a 180 degree turn.

Here is a link to a video showing the Spiral right, this one results in the team going off at 90 degrees from the original direction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD5vPUgAylQ

If you search You Tube, you can find lots of videos showing how to do the various Rally exercises.
----------------------------
#22 Spiral Left - Dog Inside



"This exercise requires three pylons or posts placed in a straight line with spaces between them of approximately 6-8 feet.  Spiral Left indicates the handler must turn to the left when moving around each pylon or post.  This places the dog on the inside of the turns .  The exercise sign is placed near or on the first pylon or post where the spiral is started."

This is just like the Spiral Right, in that you do all 3 posts, then the first 2, then just the first one - but you are constantly turning to the left.  And like the Spiral Right, you may enter and leave this in different directions, depending on the layout of the course.  Here is a drawing of one way to do the Spiral Left:


Training origin: Spirals, like circles, help teach the dog to speed up when the handler is turning right, and to slow down when the handler is turning left.

One final word on Spirals: these exercises can be a big cause of handlers losing their sense of direction on a course - in essence, you get lost!  When walking a course with a spiral, be sure to notice which way you are supposed to go after the spiral.  If you get dizzy when doing the spiral, look UP, either focus on the next cone or look across the room and take a deep breath!  Many handlers look down, and often hold their breath because they are concentrating.  Remember to Breathe! :-)
Blogger is getting weird on me, so I'll stop here for now.

So far in 2014

Hello again!  Sorry I've dropped the ball on posting again.  We've been busy!

Teddy and I finished his Rally Advanced Excellent title earlier this year - this is the highest title available in AKC Rally, and requires that the dog qualify in BOTH the Advanced B AND Excellent B classes, at the same trial (same day) for one  leg... and you need 10 legs for the title!  So that's 20 Rally courses and 20 qualifying runs.  Teddy did it perfectly, with some very nice scores.

Also, Dakota and I have been competing in Agility this year, and she's already finished both her Novice Agility preferred and Novice Jumpers preferred titles!  I've started doing more Preferred classes with my Danes in Agility, just so the jump heights are a bit lower - easier on their joints, and hopefully they will be able to continue to play in agility for a long, long time.

Monday, January 20, 2014

AKC Rally Explained, Part 2

In this post we'll start to talk about the Rally signs.

Overview:
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.

I've added notes about the training origin of the Rally exercises, since Rally is based on training "doodles" that have been used for generations to help teach dogs better heeling and to improve other obedience exercises - as well as to make training interesting!  You don't want to drill the same thing over and over or you'll both get bored!  I think it helps to understand the exercises, if you know something about what they are supposed to DO.
-----------------------

#1 START
All Rally courses will have a Start sign to show the handler where the beginning of the course is.  The dog does not have to be sitting, but should be in Heel position.  The handler and dog should wait by that sign until the judge says "Forward".  Rally courses are timed, and the time starts when the judge says "Forward", not necessarily when the team passes the Start sign.  There is no minimum time in Rally, nor are there time penalties.  The time is ONLY used to break ties for placements in the class.

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.

For these posts, I've grouped the Rally signs based on similarities: either in the type of exercise or in how they look, so you can start to learn to tell the differences.  So we aren't going to go through them all in strictly numerical order.
 ----------------------

#2 FINISH
 
The Finish sign indicates the end of the course.  The time will stop when the team passes by the Finish sign.
----------------------
Before we continue, a word about how Rally is scored in AKC.  A perfect score is 100, and a 70 or better is required in order to qualify.  One qualifying score = one "leg" toward a Rally title.  Novice, Advanced, and Excellent each require 3 "legs" to earn the title.  You must complete the Novice title before you can compete in Advanced, and you must finish the Advanced title before you compete in Excellent.  After Excellent, there is an additional title called the Rally Advanced Excellent title.  This requires the dog and handler to qualify in BOTH the Advanced AND the Excellent class, in one trial, to equal one "leg".  And for the RAE you have to get 10 legs!  But for all of these titles, class placements are not necessary.  Theoretically, every dog in every class could qualify - and in fact, the qualifying rate in Rally is usually pretty high.  Rally is not super easy, but it is very doable for most dog and handler teams.  Which makes it less stressful, and a GREAT event for handlers who are new to dog shows!

Anyway, back to the scoring.  For each exercise sign, there are certain essential elements, and other elements that are desired but not essential.  If the dog and handler fail to perform an essential element, then they are deducted 10 points for an Incorrect Performance (IP).  Otherwise, they are deducted anything from 1 to 10 points for other errors.  "Do -Overs" (called a Re-try) are allowed in Rally, you may try any exercise again if you didn't do it right the first time.  Just one re-try per exercise is allowed, and you get a 3 point deduction for the re-try.  So it's not something you want to do unless you've made a major mistake. You will want to read the Rules and Regulations for details on scoring, but as I talk about the signs I'll point out the essential elements.  They will be written in Bold.  You can find the Regs here: http://www.akc.org/rules/index.cfm

*One of the biggest causes of lost points in Novice, is a tight leash.  The dog is on leash for the entire course in Novice, but the leash must be LOOSE.  Every time the leash gets tight, you'll get a deduction.  In Advanced and Excellent, the dog is off leash the whole time.  In Rally, the handler can talk to the dog and use hand signals pretty much as often as desired.
---------------------------

First, we'll talk about some of the basic change of direction signs.  These are self explanatory, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
  • If the sign is for a change in direction, it will be in front of you - i.e. in your path.  Instead of on your right like most signs.
  • You still want to do the change of direction fairly close to the sign - don't cut corners or you can get a penalty.  You want to keep your turns smooth, so allow just enough room or make the turn comfortably.
  • Remember that as you make turns, the dog should be moving with you and staying in Heel position.  This means that when you are turning to the Right, the dog will have to speed up to stay with you.  When you are turning Left, the dog will have to slow down.
------------------------------
 #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.
*Note - this should be a fairly tight turn but does NOT have to be a pivot, or an in-place turn.  It's fine to walk forward through the turn.

Training origin: The Right Turn, Left Turn, and About Turn are traditional elements of the Obedience heeling pattern.  They test the dog's ability to stay in Heel position by the handler's left leg: when turning to the left, the dog must slow down a bit or she will be forging ahead... when turning Right or doing a traditional About Turn, the dog must speed up stay in position.
----------------------

#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.
*Note: again, this should be a fairly tight turn but does not have to be in-place: the team should keep moving forward.

Training origin: the "U" turn is a frequently used training exercise, once the dog has started to understand that he must slow down on Left turns, to REALLY get him to slow down, even step backward, in order to stay in Heel position.
----------------------

#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 the 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.  In this case, you turn to the left but it works like a Right turn.
The thing that helps me keep it straight is to think of following the yellow arrow's path.  As long as you know which way you should be going when you've completed this turn, it will help keep you from getting lost.

The 270 degree turns are MAJOR cause of handlers getting lost on Rally courses!  If you have trouble with this, go to http://www.akc.org/dog_shows_trials/rally/index.cfm and at the bottom of the page you can see a link to print a set of Rally signs.  You just need to print the ones you have trouble with, or want to practice.  Print a full-sized copy and put it up somewhere in your house where you'll see it several times a day.  Practice the footwork without your dog.  In a day or two you'll know that sign by heart!  This is also a very effective strategy for signs that are easily confused with each other.

Training origin: Again, these are exercises to help the dog learn to speed up on Right turns, and slow down on Left turns in order to stay in Heel position.
------------------------------
Some basic Stationary exercises:  After the description for some Rally signs, you'll see the notation
(Stationary Exercise).  The number of Stationary exercises is limited in Rally, because the courses are supposed to have some flow and that won't happen if you are constantly stopping.

In Novice level - and all the signs we're talking about now can be used on Novice courses - the total number of exercises on a course should be between 10 to 15 signs.  At least 3 but no more than 5 of those should be Stationary exercises.

#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.
(Stationary exercise)
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.  As soon as your dog is sitting, you can go on.

Training origin: this is the basic Halt, with the dog sitting in Heel position, used throughout traditional obedience.
----------------------
Remember the bit about "essential elements"?  That's the phrase in Bold.  That means that if you don't do that part, you won't get credit for any other part of the exercise.
----------------------
#4 HALT - Sit - Down
4. HALT–Down Dog: While heeling, the handler halts and the dog sits. The handler then commands and/or signals the dog to down, followed by the command to heel forward from the down position. (Stationary exercise)
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. The dog should not sit before he moves forward.

Training origin: this exercise will never be used in traditional obedience, but is often used in training just to change things up, and keep it interesting.
----------------------
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.
----------------------
Here are two signs that involve turns, but are NOT changes of direction:
----------------------
#11 360 degree Right Turn: 
  and #12 360 degree Left Turn:  
 













Each of these exercises are  performed as a tight circle, with the dog staying by the Handler's left side in Heel position.  The circle is to be performed near the sign, but NOT around the sign.
Be sure to notice which way the circle turns!  If you do the circle in the wrong direction, that is 10 points off for an Incorrect Performance!

Training origin: circles have long been used to start to teach the dog the Figure 8, which is a traditional exercise.  Like the turns - but more so! - when making a circle the dog must speed up when going to the Right, and slow down when going to the Left.
----------------------
Finally, there are signs that indicate a change of pace, or speed.  Normally, heeling should be done a a brisk walk.  It doesn't matter much what size your dog is, since pretty much any dog can easily move faster than a walking human.  I tell my students that your Normal heeling pace should be the kind of walk you do when you are wanting to get somewhere, but aren't in a terrible hurry.  It should be a comfortable, brisk pace. 
----------------------
#17 Slow Pace, and #18 Fast Pace. 

                                                 

Either of these must be followed by #19 Normal Pace, except that the Slow may be the last sign on the course.



The change of speed must be noticeable, and should happen near the sign (usually slightly in front and to the left of the sign) just like any of the other exercises.  I tell my students that the Slow Pace is a stroll, like if you were window shopping.  For the Fast Pace, the handler should break into a jog.

Training origin: changes of pace are traditional obedience exercises: the dog should learn to stay in Heel position as the handler moves freely about, turning, slowing down, speeding up, stopping.

That is enough for this post!  With these basic signs, you could design yourself a simple, practice Rally course.  Try it!  Print out a few signs, and you can even just lay them on the ground to start with.  Try making a little course in your back yard.  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.

Monday, January 06, 2014

AKC Rally Explained, Part 1

I don't know if I have any readers left since it's been so long since I updated this poor neglected blog... but in case there is anyone out there searching for help with Rally I thought I'd start a series based on Rally classes I have taught.

Intro: "Rally" refers to Rally Obedience, which is sort of a hybrid of regular Obedience and Agility.  The Agility influence is seen in the structure: Rally classes consist of unique courses designed by the judge.  But instead of lots of jumps, tunnels and other obstacles, the elements of the course consist of different Obedience exercises.  Some of these exercises are identical (or nearly identical) to required movements in regular Obedience.  Many of them however, are based on training exercises (sometimes referred to as "doodles") used by trainers to help polish a team's Obedience performance.  These training exercises may be designed to help perfect a dog's Heeling position, or Finishes, or Fronts or some other required performance.

In Rally competition, signs are used to tell the handler what exercise to perform.  The handler follows the signs in order around the course.  In Rally, the judge only gives the team one command: After asking "Are you ready?" (and getting an affirmative answer from the handler) the judge says "Forward".  After that, the handler is on her own, and must rely on an understanding of all the Rally signs to know what to do.

In AKC Rally (which is what this series will focus on) there are 3 classes:
  1. Novice.  The dog is shown on lead for the entire course.  The course will consist of 10 to 15 exercise stations (not counting START and FINISH).  There are no jumps in Novice.
  2. Advanced.  After the dog has earned the Rally Novice title (done by earning at least 3 qualifying scores) you may show in Advanced.  In Advanced, the dog is shown off lead for the entire course, and the course will consist of between 12 to 17 exercise stations.  This will also include some exercise signs that cannot be used on a Novice course.  (more about that in the next installment).  There is one jump on every Advanced course.
  3. Excellent.  After you've completed a Rally Advanced title, you may enter Excellent.  This is also done off lead, and will consist of between 15 to 20 exercise stations.  There are two jumps in every Excellent course.

Since it is so important for the handler to have a really good understanding of the Rally signs, this series is going to focus on explaining what the different Rally signs mean.  Some of them are really quite self-explanatory, but many are quite confusing.

However, since this is the very start I'm going to explain some basic Obedience terms to be sure everyone knows what I'm talking about.  Part 2 will start talking about specific Rally signs, so if you are already experienced with basic Obedience you can skip forward now :-)

Heel position: 
Officially, the AKC Rules state that "The heel position as defined in these regulations applies whether the dog is sitting, standing, lying down or moving at heel.  The dog should be at the handler's left side straight in line with the direction the handler is facing.  The area from the dog's head to shoulder is to be in line with the handler's left hip.  The dog should be close to, but not crowding, its handler so that the handler has freedom of motion at all times."
Sounds simple, doesn't it?  But it takes a lot of practice to get it right.  While it is true that the same level of perfection is not required in Rally as in regular Obedience, the dog and handler MUST still be able to work together as a team, and the dog should be able to stay reasonably close to the handler's left side throughout all the exercises (except when the handler is required to leave the dog's side to complete the exercise).
A good obedience class is the best way to learn how to teach your dog to Heel, but there are also many articles and videos online about teaching Heel position (Google "Heel position dog obedience").  One good one about how to start teaching this basic skill is here:
http://www.onlinedogcoach.com/index/lessons/competition-obedience-fundamentals/heel-on-left-obed

Front:
 From the AKC Rules: the dog should "sit straight, centered in front of the the handler.  The dog must be close enough to its handler so that the handler could touch its head without excessive bending, stretching or moving either foot."  The Front is the position the dog should usually take after being called by the handler.


Finish:
This term describes the movement the dog must make to get from "Front" back to "Heel position".  There are two ways the dog may do this: either by going to the handler's Right, around behind the handler and to the handler's left side; or by swinging around on the handler's Left and then sitting on the handler's left side.  Ideally, the Finish movement should be performed "briskly" by the dog.


More about getting started in Rally is here:
http://classic.akc.org/events/rally/getting_started.cfm

The full Obedience and Rally regulations are here:
https://images.akc.org/pdf/rulebooks/RO2999.pdf

Here is a picture of Teddy and me doing an Advanced Rally course, which is why he's off lead - in Novice the dog stays on lead the whole time.  You can't read any of the signs in this photo,  but you can see the back of one in front of my right foot, and another next to the orange cone on the far left in the photo.  Rally signs may be held up by anything that works - sticking them to a cone is pretty common in my area, but for this course sections of PVC pipe was used (with slots cut in to fit the signs).  Wire holders are often used too.  As long as the handler can see the signs, it will work.