You have a 2' area around the sign in which to perform the sign.* Generally you will want to perform the exercise in front of or beside the sign. Some judges will specify where they want something performed but most won't.
I prefer in front of because then I can always see the sign to refer to it. You won't believe how quickly you can forget "was that call front finish right forward or halt?"* 'Was I supposed to walk around the dog or not?"* ;D* *Also, when performing the exercise in back of the sign you run the risk of you or the dog accidentally knocking it over.
You won't necessarily lose points for being too far away but the judge may think you are practicing before approaching the sign and not give you credit for the performance if you are too far away (which of course is an NQ). Really with the courses I've seen, there isn't much more than 5' between signs anyway so you almost have to be in the general area of the sign.
What I have heard is that a "change of direction" sign should be performed in front of the sign (make sure you leave enough room for the dog to get between you and the sign if you are turning right) and other stations, where you will just be going forward, should be done on the left side of the sign. I do try to make sure I can still see the sign, so I can tell what it said in case I forget.
Something I have had to watch is any left turns mostly 360s. When Rowdy swings his butt he has a little jump in his back end and I make sure to give him plenty of room. If he were to knock down a sign he would probably go flying out of the ring thinking something was after him. :
I usually do the exercise right in front and to the left, unless it's a moving exercise...
So do I since the very first time I was in the Rally ring I had Caleb finish to the incorrect side (I did realize it before I got to the next sign though!). Now I always stop so I can double check myself.
Susan UCDX GRCH Dunn's Marsh Caleb of Waltona UDX3, OM3, RAE Canadian UD, RE FallRiver's Micah of Waltona GN RAE, Canadian CD, RN