Schutzhund Training | The Importance of Laying a Good Foundation

Schutzhund Training | Laying a Good Foundation

One of the most common errors made by handlers in schutzhund training is failing to recognize the importance of establishing the dog’s attention on the handler before commencing an exercise.

The handler can determine where the dog’s attention is by checking where the dog’s eyes are focused. If the dog’s eyes are not looking at the handler, it is most likely the dog is not concentrating on what the handler is going to do next. Good handlers recognize the importance of being able to command the dog to pay attention and to remain attentive until told to relax. These handlers understand that complete attention is the basis of all exercises.

Handlers who begin exercises, such as heeling, while the dog is busy watching anything else are ignoring a vital step in training that will cause continuous difficulty throughout their whole training career.

Handlers who take care to ensure their dogs can remain attentive during the sit exercise, which is the start position, will find maintaining attention during the heeling exercise a more natural progression. A great deal less severe correction is required to secure the dog’s attention in new exercises.  Taking the time to do this foundation exercise correctly reduces the necessity of using tools like the e-collar.

It is very important to note that if this exercise is executed for food or toys, the handlers are only fooling themselves into a false sense of accomplishment. Top handlers expect their dogs to work for them.  Dogs thrive in this kind of black and white communication.

That is not to say food should not be used in training. It is very important to note that any food or toys for the dog are used as reward for good work completed. Food and toys must never be used as the exclusive attraction to work.

A handler who uses a squeaky toy or food constantly visible throughout their heeling exercise must recognize where the dog’s attention is directed. Handlers must anticipate the problems of “attention” that will arise when the toys are removed from sight.

Handlers who establish themselves as the main focus of their dog’s attention from the very beginning of the training will find the progression in training much easier. It will result in substantially less pronounced problems in control, as well as a much higher scoring and consistent finished product. Handlers who do not, will have to go back and retrain the dog later when the gimmicks are taken away.

The foundation of obedience under distraction is essential for success in the protection phase of schutzhund training.

Handlers who use gimmicks in obedience training will find they are no longer in control when the distractions generated by protection training come into play. Inexperienced handlers will try to establish control in protection by introducing compulsion.

The stresses brought on by the compulsion from the handler and the stress from the confrontation with the helper place the dog in a situation where it must divide its attention to handle the stress. This division of attention can really destroy the dog’s ability to function comfortably in front of the helper.

Handlers must accept the fact that establishing a relationship with their dog that ensures the dog understands it must obey the handler the first time it hears the command, is critical for exercises such as the “out” command in the protection phase.

Dogs which do not understand this relationship and dogs which have naturally strong fight drives, will want to set their own agenda in the protection phases. The dog should focus actively and comfortably on the helper during the protection phase and it must not be more concerned about the handler’s activities than the helper.

Having the dog comfortable with the handler begins months before the protection starts. Comfort in protection begins with the very basic obedience concepts introduced by the handler at the beginning of formal training.

Handlers can always go back to basics and establish an understanding between the dog and themselves, however it is difficult to go forward when you are continually going back to fix your foundation work.

Schutzhund training is: prompt, willing, compliance to the first command under the highest form of distraction we can artificially create.

For more top level schutzhund training tips and techniques visit our web site HERE.

Source: Laying a Good Foundation , article by Lance Collins, GSSCC judge

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