Training for the Schutzhund Dog--Part I
By Jim and Phyllis Dobbs
and Alice Woodyard
The Electronic Training
When starting the dog on "Here" release the button the
moment the dog has turned and begun to move towards you.
Is this the piece of
training equipment that is too difficult for anyone but the pros to
master? Abusively inhumane? Useful only on the super high drive dog?
A sneaky little secret training ingredient that the public mustn't
Far from being "inherently
inhumane," hopelessly complex or "best-left-to-the-pro's," the
electronic collar, when used correctly, is an extremely humane and
effective tool for training any dog that is expected to perform
commands off leash.
Proven training techniques
developed at the Tri-Tronics Training Center in Marysville,
California, show how the electronic collar enables the dog to make
the transition from on leash to off leash work, from close to
The electronic collar
allows for precisely timed corrections which produce a reliable and
confident working dog. It does this by enabling the trainer to
communicate with the dog in a way that is easy for the dog to
understand and does not interrupt the flow of training.
Learning to use the
electronic collar also trains the trainer. The electronic collar is
not a shortcut to success, and learning its correct use discourages
shortcut solutions. The bad effects of some shortcut attempts are
magnified with collar usage.
This series of articles
will take the Schutzhund trainer step by step through the process of
applying proper techniques of electronic collar usage. By following
these procedures, every trainer can maximize a working dog's
potential for high spirited, stylish performances in all phases of
Schutzhund work--tracking, obedience and protection.
Collar Training Theory
The purpose of our methods
is to have a dog with "collar understanding." A dog with this
understanding knows that its response to a known command turns off
the electronic stimulation, and that its prompt response to a known
command avoids the stimulation altogether.
You can apply this concept
to all of the commands you will utilize in Schutzhund training. Or,
you can utilize collar understanding only to reinforce a few
This work is the foundation
for the dog's future understanding of how to react properly to its
collar when you really need it--such as when the dog is at a
distance from you and/or is in a high drive situation. Having
precisely timed, perfectly understood off-leash control is the
pay-off for the time you invest in the foundation of collar
Teach the command first.
You must teach collar
understanding to the dog for each command only after the dog has
a basic understanding of the command itself. Do not overlook
this sequence. If the dog does not really know what to do in a
situation, you cannot expect it to know it any better because you
use an electronic collar.
As a trainer, you must be
able to determine whether the dog failed to respond because it did
not know what it should have done, or because it thought it had a
choice of not responding. The role of the collar is to address the
second problem, not the first.
We have some methods we
prefer for teaching commands, and will include some of these in this
series of articles. However, in general, the effectiveness of your
training in collar understanding does not depend on which method you
have used to teach a command.
Just one word of
caution--if the methods you use to teach your dog new things are
harsh and severe, your dog's spirit and confidence will suffer, and
this poor attitude will show up in all of its work whenever it is
put into a training mode. This poor attitude won't be the fault of
the electronic collar. Avoid harsh or severe teaching methods if you
want a spirited, confident worker.
The "bilingual" dog.
Let's now assume that the
dog has a basic understanding of what a command means. You now want
to follow a carefully structured method of teaching the dog that
it can turn off low level electrical stimulation itself--by
performing the command you have given it.
Dogs don't automatically
know this when presented with electrical stimulation, no matter how
well they know their basic commands.
Try thinking of this part
of your training process as teaching your dog to be "bilingual." It
is "bilingual" because it understands corrections in "two
languages"-- mechanical and electrical. The dog will be "bilingual"
because it will know, in either case, how to stop the
correction (by complying) and how to prevent it in the future (by
After a dog has good collar
understanding of several commands, it will tend to generalize from
its experience, and its collar understanding of additional commands
will tend to come much more naturally for it.
Keeping the dog in
The first commands we
recommend to introduce your dog to collar understanding are selected
from the basic obedience ones it already knows. The particular
selection of commands is significant. They represent three distinct
"Here" and "Heel" require
the dog to come to or stay with the handler on command for
success. "Sit" requires the dog to stay in one place on
command for success. "Kennel" requires the dog to go away from
the handler on command to achieve success.
Learning to perform each of
these motions, on command, and thereby turn off electrical
stimulation helps the dog develop a strategy for success.
Therefore, you should teach
your dog to do each of these in order to turn off the collar, even
if the dog is already very good at them. This will keep the dog in
If you simply drill the dog
on, say, "Here," with the collar (on the theory that this dog's
"main problem" is failing to come quickly), you will end up with a
dog that thinks that every time it feels the collar turn on it
should respond by coming to the handler, regardless of the command.
This sort of training can produce a controllable pet or companion,
but does not lay the foundation for a working dog with proper collar
Lack of collar
understanding can catch up with you later. For example, you might
try to use the collar for "Out" in protection work. The dog without
proper collar understanding will "Out" and then leave the helper
entirely to return to you, simply because it thinks that this is
what it is supposed to do whenever it feels electrical stimulation.
At this stage, you will have a hard time convincing the dog
Escape training--the first
"Escape training" is the
first step we take in teaching the dog to be "bilingual." During
escape training, the dog learns to turn off low level electrical
stimulation ("escape" from it) by performing the command.
As with anything else you
teach the dog, you introduce escape training step-by-step,
progressing from a simple distraction-free situation to one that is
full of distractions and excitement. Your goal will be to have a dog
that has learned that it can control the stimulation by "escaping"
The next step--let the dog
After it understands escape
training, the dog is then ready to make the transition to
understanding how to prevent the correction altogether through
Here at the Training
Center, we call this step "avoidance training." "Avoidance training"
is a technical term used to refer to the fact that the dog has
learned to avoid the correction entirely by prompt
compliance. It has nothing to do with undesirable avoidance behavior
on the protection field.
During this phase of the
training in collar understanding, you can build speed and style into
the dog's performance.
When to quit--progress
toward a goal.
Keep the session for the
dog short, and quit when you see the dog make definite
progress (which is not necessarily all the progress you
ever want to see!)
When the dog has clearly
learned something, it has gained all the benefit that it will from
that particular session, so quit at this point. You can start
another session later in the day.
Fitting the collar on the
Buckle the collar snugly on the dog. Do not put any fingers
under the collar while tightening it.
To fit the collar on the
dog, select contact points that will reach through the dog's
undercoat so that they will be in contact with the dog's skin. The
contact points will be on the underside of the dog's neck. Position
the collar so that the external flexible antenna is on the left side
of the dog's head.
Buckle the collar snugly
on the dog. A snug fit ensures consistent contact which is essential
for consistent training.
Finding the dog's
After the collar is fitted
on the dog, you will need to learn what level of intensity to use
when you start training.
The dog's early escape
training is done with low level stimulation. This means a
level that is high enough to induce the dog to act in a distraction
free environment, but not high enough to produce pain or fear.
Individual dogs have
different sensitivity levels. Our discovery through experience with
many dogs may come as a surprise to you. The sensitivity level of a
dog for purposes of doing escape training does not depend on that
dog's particular breed or on its courage and hardness, or on its
level of desire to work.
To find your dog's
sensitivity level start with the number 1 intensity plug. This is
the lowest level. Allow the dog to move around naturally while not
under any training command.
When the dog is relaxed and
ignoring you and the collar, press and hold the button for the
lowest level of stimulation. Observe the dog's expression for a
reaction. You want to see it cock its ears, turn its head away or
This level will represent
the level of electrical stimulation that will get the dog's
attention with mild discomfort that the dog would like to
turn off. If you do not see this reaction, change the plug in the
collar to the next highest one, and try again with the transmitter
"low" button. If the dog vocalizes, you have probably tried too high
of an intensity level.
No benefit is gained by
trying to teach the dog escape training with a level that is too
high. Later, you may need a higher level to work the dog while it is
in full drive. But do not introduce electricity to the dog at this
level. With nothing distracting the dog, the stimulation will cause
discomfort that will interfere with the dog's learning process.
Understanding of "Here"
Teaching the dog to make
the initial connection.
Start with the dog on a
long line and allow it to move around naturally until it is 15-20
feet away and facing away from you. (Do not put it on any kind of
stay.) When it is looking or walking away from you, press the low
button on the control unit just before you give the command
Continue to hold the button
down until the dog to turns towards you. Release the button the
moment that the dog has turned and begun to move towards you.
If necessary, repeat the
command to get the dog's attention, and help guide it with the long
line and/or some "body English" (drop to one knee, back away from
the dog, etc.).
Praise the dog when
it begins to move towards you, and do not require that it do any
kind of sit in front or return to heel at this stage of training.
If the dog runs past you.
Press the button again the
moment it passes you, then immediately repeat your command,
and encourage the dog back to you. Release the button when the dog
is close enough to touch. Praise.
If the dog deviates while
If the dog starts to come,
but then decides to go somewhere else, immediately press the button.
Repeat the "Here" command. Help the dog if necessary with body
English. Release the button immediately when the dog heads toward
you, and praise the dog.
Phase out the help.
As soon as you can, start
to put the responsibility on the dog to figure out what it needs to
do in order to turn off the stimulation.
Stop guiding the dog with
the long line (although the dog should still wear the long line at
this stage). Phase out the body English, and start to delay your
praise from the time of the dog's first movement to you until the
dog is halfway to you. Then delay the praise until the dog has
almost reached you. Otherwise, with repetition the dog may start to
rely on the praise as a crutch.
When the dog shows you by
its willingness to comply that it understands that turning towards
you is what shuts off the stimulation, start introducing mild
distractions. (Keep the dog on a long line for now; you may still
As an initial distraction,
allow the dog to investigate an interesting smell. Repeat the
sequence described above--
low button down,
immediately follow with
release the button when
the dog turns and starts to come,
praise when the
dog reaches you.
Repeat the lessons on
"Here" with distractions in at least four different locations over a
period of several sessions, so that the dog can generalize from its
When to use higher
If your dog is ready for
work with distractions, and it fails to respond to the "Here"
command, repeat the command and push the medium
button. If it still does not respond, repeat the command and
press the high buttons.
The general rule of thumb
is this--after the dog has made the initial connection that it can
turn off the stimulation by moving its body, if you find that you
must repeat the command, you should increase the intensity level by
using the next button up on the transmitter control.
If you find it necessary to
use the high buttons very often, you should change to the next
higher intensity plug.
All "rules of thumb" are
modified by what you "read" in your own dog. If you see your dog
becoming apprehensive, do not increase the level. Rather, give this
dog more repetitions at low levels and more simple successes with
lots of praise.
Dealing with anticipation.
At some point, usually
within one or two sessions, your dog will begin to anticipate the
sequence, and come even before it is called. Do not try to
correct it for anticipating at this point.
This anticipation is
positive. It demonstrates that the dog has developed comprehension
of what it did that "worked." You should actually praise the
learning dog for anticipation at this point in order to help it
Introduce the avoidance
One of your objectives in
every training session will be to give the dog the opportunity to
make the avoidance training transition. The dog makes this
transition by making a comparison and discovering that if it
responds promptly, the electrical stimulation doesn't turn on
Once your dog's initial
response to the command is confident, introduce the avoidance
training transition by giving the dog some "Here" commands with
no electrical stimulation at all.
If, however, it fails to
come on the first command, push the button and repeat the command
"Here." The dog will quickly learn not to wait for a second command.
A Note About Timing
When you introduce escape
training to the dog, it is important that the electrical stimulation
not start after the dog has heard and is trying to respond to
the command. If this happens, the dog will believe that trying to
comply with the command leads to displeasure, instead of just
the opposite. Therefore, during the escape training phase,
concentrate on pressing the control unit button just before
you give a command. Timing will become second nature to you after a
It will seem odd to you to
use the collar to "correct" the dog even before you give the
command, and especially if you know perfectly well that the dog is
going to try to comply.
However, in escape training
you are not "correcting" the dog. By using low level
stimulation that the dog does not perceive as pain, you are teaching
it how to control the unpleasant sensation through its own
responses. These "escape trials" are an essential which you cannot
skip, if future corrections are to be understood by the dog and not
upset it while it is working.
In each session, you should
follow up successful escape trials with some avoidance transitions,
as described above. In this way, the dog will come to feel that it
is in control of the stimulation, and its confidence will be
Features of the Basic
The procedures described
for escape training assume that you are using an electronic collar
with certain features. These features are as follows.
(1) Variable intensity--The
electrical intensity is varied by plugging various intensity plugs
into the dog's collar,
stimulation--The handler has the ability to decide when to turn
the electrical stimulation off by releasing the button(s) on the
(3) Selectable intensity
at the control unit--Once an intensity plug has been inserted
into the collar, there are different levels of stimulation within
that intensity range which the handler selects using buttons on the
control transmitter, without changing the plug that is in the
All three of these features
are available on the Tri-Tronics 100A Basic Trainer and the
Tri-Tronics 500/LR series Basic/Field Trainers (described below).
The 100A and the 500/LR series are the models that we recommend for
all basic training procedures. They are the models we recommend for
any trainer who plans to own only one collar.
The LR Correction Trainer.
The first two features, but
not the third, are also available on collars such as the Tri-Tronics
A1-70LR and A1-80LR Correction Trainers.
You can do basic escape
training with these collars, but their disadvantage will appear when
you seek to apply the dog's basic collar training in the working
situation. These models do not allow you to increase or decrease the
level of electrical stimulation when need arises without first
catching the dog and making the intensity adjustment at its collar.
This interruption severely
interferes with--usually destroys--the flow of your training effort.
Therefore, models without selectable intensity at the control
unit are not as useful for dogs--such as Schutzhund dogs--which
are subject to widely varying levels of drive and excitement in
The pre-set duration
models for the advanced dog.
The Tri-Tronics model 300
Attention Getter produces very brief stimulation of preset
durations. This type of stimulation is referred to as "momentary"
stimulation by Tri-Tronics. The model 300 Attention Getter is a
small unit designed to be inconspicuous, and has no external flex
The Tri-Tronics model 200
Field Trainer is similar to the model 300 in that it produces
momentary stimulation. However, this unit is a full size, field-type
unit, which also features a "reserve high" button to give the
handler the option of high level continuous stimulation.
Both the Attention Getter
and the Field Trainer offer selectable intensity at the control
unit, although not with continuous stimulation. It is impossible to
do effective escape training with these models. However, they both
are excellent for reinforcing a quick response in the dog that
already knows, through escape training, the commands that you plan
to reinforce with your collar.
The type of higher level,
but very brief, stimulation they produce is superior to continuous
stimulation for eliciting a quick response without upsetting the
dog. Momentary stimulation can help you produce the quickest, most
spirited response that your dog can achieve.
The combination model for
The Model 500/LR and 500T/LR
Basic/Field Trainers are combination units. They combine the
features of the 100A Basic Trainer and the 200/LR Field Trainer by
offering both continuous and momentary types of stimulation. The
type of stimulation is selectable at the transmitter with a switch.
The five variable intensity plugs work in either mode, a feature not
otherwise available in any Tri-Tronics momentary type collar. The
500/LR Series also has selectable intensity at the transmitter.
The Model 500/LR and 500T/LR
are the most complete and versatile remote trainers Tri-Tronics
currently offers. They give the trainer the ability to use either
mode as need be throughout a training session.
The difference between the
500/LR and the 500T/LR is a praise tone. With the 500T/LR, the dog
can be conditioned to understand this tone as the same as praise, so
you can signal him at a distance when his actions are correct.
Coming in Future
In Part II, we will
describe how to build speed in the dog's recall after the foundation
for it has been laid by following the procedures described in Part
I. We will also describe how to capitalize on the dog's
understanding of the escape trained "Here" command and improve its
performance of the heel command. We will cover the introduction to
the sit and the "kennel" ("go away from me") commands, and discuss
answers to some common questions.
Future articles will cover
procedures for other obedience commands such as the down, stand,
send out, retrieve and retrieve combined with the brush jump and the
wall. We also will discuss when and how to use the collar properly
during protection work, including the "Out" and the blind search,
and when to use the collar during tracking.