Electronic Training for the
Schutzhund Dog, Part III
By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs, and
In the last two articles, we
covered selection of equipment and fitting the collar to the
dog, and we listed some basics to guide the trainer whenever
using electronic collars. We then completed the teaching of
the "three action introduction" with the electronic collar.
The goal of this method of
introduction-which we recommend for every working dog if the
electronic collar will be used in its training-is to
introduce the dog to a strategy: obedience to a known
command "turns off" mild electrical stimulation.
The "three action introduction"
keeps the dog in behavioral balance by teaching it to
perform three distinctly different motions on command in
order to "turn off" the collar. These motions are come to
the handler ("Here"), go away from the handler ("Kennel"),
and remain stationary ("Sit"). We have found that even
dogs that have no problem obeying these three commands
should start their collar work by learning how to turn off
mild stimulation by performing each of these three commands.
Dogs introduced to the collar this
way are confident and enthusiastic when in training with the
collar because they understand that they are in control of
whether the collar is on or off. They can "turn it off"
simply by obeying a known command.
Each element of training with the
electronic collar builds off earlier elements. You should
not skip steps. If you didn't have a chance to read Parts II
and I review them before proceeding into Part III.
Once the dog has been introduced to
the collar by learning the "three action introduction," we
are ready to start using it in the dog's advanced work. We
start with the command to retrieve because this is so
important for the Obedience phase, and is critically
important for training the Send Out and the Blind Search.
Your time spent on laying a good foundation to produce an
effective retrieve will pay dividends all down the line for
the Schutzhund dog.
The Trained Retrieve
Remember what we have said many
times in this series: The dog must already know what a
command means before you begin teaching it to understand the
collar reinforcement of that command. This advice is as
true for the retrieve as any other. There are many methods
of teaching the retrieve command. We strongly prefer our
method, because it flows smoothly into using the collar to
reinforce the command, so we will start this article by
describing this method from the beginning.
We do rely on negative
reinforcement to teach the retrieve command because we have
found that this is the only way to produce a reliable
retrieving dog. However, we do not use those "force fetch"
methods that rely on producing fear and panic in the dog to
make it retrieve. We call our method the "trained retrieve"
rather than the "force retrieve" because we base it on
training the dog to "turn off" mild discomfort by
retrieving, rather than making the dog over react to a
sudden sharp pain by opening its mouth. By using negative
reinforcement in the way we describe, we can train the dog
to retrieve reliably but still maintain its spirit.
The Training Table
the retrieve we use a table with a collar attached
to a pole on the end. A flank strap and Velcro
hobbles are used to keep the dog from pawing and
We always start the trained
retrieve on a retrieve table, rather than on the ground.
Why is this so important? It's
important because an attitude of compliance in the dog is
important in teaching the retrieve. A retrieve table gives
you passive control of the dog. When a dog is up on a table,
it feels a little "out of its element" and more compliant.
Retrieve lessons will go much more calmly and rapidly. The
dog on the ground has far too many options open to it other
than compliance and you can get into some unnecessary and
Designing A Training Table For The
A retrieve table provides a surface
for the dog to walk back and forth on which is raised off
the ground. It should be of a height that is comfortable for
you, so you can reach the dog's body without bending over.
It must have an upright post at the
end that you can firmly tie the dog to during the
early stages of training. By "firmly," we mean the dog's
neck is in a snugly fitting flat collar that is fastened to
the post. The collar must be tight enough that the dog
cannot pull its head out.
A snugly fitting collar is very
important. To introduce the retrieve, you need to be able to
concentrate on what the dog is doing with its mouth; you
cannot be struggling to control its body. Also, the dog
needs to be concentrating on the task at hand instead of
putting its energy into fighting your efforts or trying to
The retrieve table should also have
a cable running the length of it. This allows you to walk
the dog along the table with both your hands free to work
with the dog.
Exact dimensions are not important,
but as an example, we make a retrieve table by cutting a
4'x8' sheet of plywood lengthwise and butting the resulting
strips end to end. This produces a long table 2'x16,' which
is a good dimension for retrieve work. The table surface is
about three feet off the ground, with an overhead cable that
is attached to posts at each end of the table. The cable is
about 32 inches above the tabletop.
Introduce The Table
hobbles prevent the dog from pawing at your gloved
hand. The dog needs to concentrate on the task at
hand instead of putting its energy into fighting
Put the dog up on the table and
lead it up and down on leash. Let it get used to the surface
and the elevated height. If it likes food treats, let it
find one at each end of the table. This will get it walking
up and down the table with pleasure.
Once the dog is relaxed about being
on the table, fasten its neck snugly to the post at the end
of the table. Fasten straps around its front feet as shown
in the photo, in order to completely remove its option to
Teaching The Meaning Of "Hold"
Many retrieve problems can be
traced to the dog's failure to understand how to "hold"
properly. We teach the dog the command "Hold" before we
expect it to retrieve on command. By teaching "Hold"
first, we can calmly introduce the dog to the idea that the
dog can prevent mild discomfort by holding something in its
mouth. A dog that knows this is not stressed when you
introduce the idea that it must not only hold on command but
must also reach out and grasp something with its mouth to
relieve itself of mild discomfort.
Begin by putting a sturdy leather
glove on your hand. With the dog tied to the post, slip your
hand into the dog's mouth, with two fingers right behind its
canine teeth. As the dog proceeds to try to spit your
fingers out, just keep them calmly in its mouth.
When the dog finally stops fussing
and becomes momentarily motionless, immediately reward it by
removing your hand from its mouth. This teaches it to
associate the act of holding calmly with pleasure (getting
rid of your fingers). Give your release command, "Out", as
you remove your hand.
You'll notice we didn't tell you to
command "Hold"" or "Bring" or say any other word before
you slipped your hand into the dog's mouth. This is
important any time you are using negative reinforcement to
teach a new behavior to the dog.
Since the dog does not yet know how
to hold on command, if you say the word and follow it with
something the dog finds to be unpleasant (your hand in its
mouth) you will simply condition the dog to experience
anxiety whenever it hears the "Hold" command. It is true
that an anxious dog might freeze up and not chew for this
reason, but this is not the same as teaching a dog to
hold. This is training by fear rather than by understanding.
Training by fear will set back your training program because
frightened animals learn more slowly than confident ones.
Fear training will eventually produce a dog with a bad
attitude about being trained.
You will also notice that we are
placing the gloved hand into the dog's mouth at this stage.
We are not requiring the dog to reach out, or even to
voluntarily open its mouth. This comes later. Right now we
are just teaching the dog to hold calmly and not drop, and
to associate pleasure with these two actions.
To get the fingers into the dog's
mouth, always come in from the side just behind the canines.
Do not try to brush your fingers along the front of the
dog's teeth to get it to open its mouth. This just
produces resistance in many dogs at this stage.
One final "don't." Do not make your
repetitions too close together. The teaching method we
describe here is based on comparison, and the dog cannot
identify what it did that "worked" if you start another
repetition immediately after removing the fingers. Give the
dog some "breathing time" after each repetition.
dog will hold your hand calmly begin saying "Hold"
in a calm voice as you slip your hand into its
After several repetitions of this
initial stage, you should see the dog stop chewing. This
reflects the dog's understanding that having a calm mouth
leads to pleasure. When you see this, begin saying "Hold" in
a calm voice as you slip your hand in to the dog's mouth
Now that the dog knows that holding
calmly leads to the reward of getting something out of its
mouth, it is ready to advance to the second stage. In the
second stage, you begin by extending the length of time from
when the dog first stops chewing until you remove your hand
from its mouth. If the dog begins chewing again as you
extend the time, grasp the skin on the back of its neck and
squeeze firmly. This has a calming effect on the dog and
encourages it to continue to hold calmly.
If at any time, the dog is
unwilling to release your hand, just wiggle your fingers as
you give the release command and the dog will let go.
When a dog releases an object on
your command, you want to see the dog pull its mouth away
from your hand, rather than you pulling your hand away from
the mouth. This reflects the dog's understanding that it
should willingly release objects on command.
When the dog will consistently hold
your hand without any chewing for a period of about thirty
seconds, it is ready for the next stage.
Now instead of using your hand
inside a glove as the object for the dog to hold, use a
15-inch length of wooden dowel. Hold one end of it and slide
the other end into the side of the dog's mouth right behind
the canines. Again, start each repetition by placing
it in the dog's mouth.
Say "Hold" as you insert the dowel.
of the dog's ear and apply mild pressure as soon as
he drops the dowel.
Gently take hold of the dog's ear
between your thumbnail and forefinger. As soon as the dog
drops the dowel, immediately apply mildly
uncomfortable pressure n the ear by rubbing your thumb and
forefinger together. Calmly reach down, pick up the dowel,
and slide it back in the dog's mouth (now you see why you
need two hands free-let the table and post hold the dog for
you!) The moment the dowel goes back in the mouth,
release the ear pressure.
Again, you notice that we are not
telling you to try to keep the dog's mouth closed with your
free hand. Let the dog take responsibility for holding the
dowel, and let it make the comparison. Holding the dowel is
comfortable, spitting it out leads to immediate discomfort.
Make sure your timing with the ear
pressure is precise. Pressure first, then reach for the
object. That's the sequence. Don't be in a hurry to get
the dowel back in the dog's mouth. Remember that the dog is
learning something the whole time it is out of its mouth.
Make sure, also, that you do not for any reason release the
ear pressure until the dowel is back in the mouth. You might
want to have two dowels handy, since the one the dog dropped
may have bounced too far to conveniently reach.
How much pressure do you use? That
depends on the dog, remembering that your goal is to give
the dog a comparison between comfortable and uncomfortable,
not to get the dog to open its mouth by making it yelp. For
most dogs, you should see by the dog's facial expression
that it is physically uncomfortable, but the dog should
not be vocalizing (whimpering or yelping). Some dogs do
vocalize at any little discomfort, however. Do make sure
that if your dog does vocalize at the pressure, you press
less hard the next time, rather than back off some on
the pressure at the moment the dog vocalizes. Many people
back off unconsciously, and doing this just rewards the dog
for vocalizing, and the dog therefore learns to do more and
more of it.
When the dog has held the dowel
calmly for several seconds, give your release command and
take it from the dog. With each repetition, extend the time
you leave the dowel in the mouth by a few more seconds,
until the dog can hold it quietly for about half a minute.
Now begin tapping the dowel gently
to see if the dog will tighten its mouth a little to try to
resist letting the dowel fall out. This is your signal that
the dog understands that it is in its interest to keep the
dowel in its mouth until your release command.
When you and the dog have become
comfortable working with the dowel, you can begin using the
dog's regular retrieving dumbbell. As with the dowel,
place the object in the dog's mouth. Don't expect the
dog to open its mouth on its own at this stage. When you
place the dumbbell in the dog's mouth, lift its upper lips
clear of the canines and gently open its mouth.
Teach the dog to understand that
your hands reaching toward its face for the dumbbell is
not the cue to drop it. It must wait for your release
command. Sometimes move your hands around the area of the
dog's muzzle but don't take the dumbbell. Correct the dog
with ear pressure if it drops the dumbbell because it thinks
you are about to take it.
Repeat the steps you used with the
dowel with your regular dumbbell. When the dog will tighten
its grip on the dumbbell in resistance to your gently
tapping it, the dog is ready to advance to the next stage.
different retrieve objects to strengthen the dog's
understanding of "Hold."
The next stage is to introduce
different, harder-to-hold, objects. You are doing this to
deepen the dog's understanding that it really wants to hold
onto whatever is put in its mouth when the command "Hold" is
given. You might be a little inventive here. Try such things
as an unbalanced object like a dumbbell with one end
missing, a heavy object like a piece of three inch diameter
log and an awkward object like a piece of a protection arm
sleeve collar. You should also introduce your heavy
Schutzhund III dumbbell to the dog at this time.
Tap on the object to encourage the
dog to resist dropping these unusual objects. Any time
something is dropped before you give the release command,
use mild ear pressure until the object is back in the mouth.
When you see the dog trying to hang
on, despite tapping and even if the object is a challenge to
hold, take the dog out of the snug collar on the post and
free it to move its head around. Do keep it loosely tied to
the post and cable so it cannot jump off the table. Repeat
the dog's lessons with this freedom of motion.
Now begin walking the dog up and
down the table with the dog loosely fastened to the over
head cable. An important part of "Hold" training is teaching
the dog that it can walk and carry calmly at the same time.
If you skip this step, the dog will have a problem when you
expect it to retrieve and it must carry the dumbbell back to
you without chewing.
Again, use the ear pressure any
time the dog drops what it is carrying. If at any time the
dog begins to chew what it is carrying, verbally remind it
Have the dog hold ands carry each
of the more challenging objects up and down the table until
t is comfortable and successful with each of them. Praise it
quietly for carrying successfully, and for delivering
Now is the time to build on your
dog's desire to come to the front of you and present you
with the dumbbell. This is easy, simply don't take the
dumbbell from it until it comes and sits in front of you.
Since the dog knows it cannot drop the dumbbell until you
allow it to, it will try to seek you out to get rid of the
dumbbell. Help it find the position in front of you by
guiding it along the table to you with body motion. Tell it
to "Sit", encourage it to make eye contact with you, then
reward it by taking the dumbbell. Praise it.
The Retrieve Command
At some point in the training on
"Hold", you will see most dogs open their mouths voluntarily
to accept the object back into their mouths, just to hurry
you along and get rid of the ear pressure. When you see
this, you can begin using your retrieve command, "Bring",
instead of "Hold" each time you put the object in front of
the dog's mouth.
The "Bring" command is different
from the "Hold" command. "Hold" means hold calmly and don't
chew. "Bring" means reach for the object to take it. From
now on, do not feed the dumbbell into the dog's mouth. It
must reach for it.
your dog is ready to begin learning to retrieve objects as
well as hold and carry them. We like to introduce this idea
to the dog with the toe hitch. A toe hitch (see the photo)
is created by a cord fastened above the dog's carpal joint
(we tie it around a Velcro strip as this makes it easy to
put on and take off). The cord is then wrapped in a half
hitch around the dog's two middle toes with you holding the
free end. When you pull this end, the half hitch applies
pressure to the dog's two middle toes.
The toe hitch works very well to
introduce the "Bring" command (the "reach out and grab"
response) because of a dog's tendency to bite towards a
pressure point. With the toe hitch, you can pull the foot
forward and put the dumbbell between the dog's foot and its
mouth. The moment the mouth is on the dumbbell, the toe
pressure stops. This is a less stressful way to teach a dog
to reach out and grab-especially when compared to such
methods as the tie back.
foot forward and put the dowel between the dog's
foot and its mouth. The moment the dog grabs the
dumbell, stop the toe pressure.
Fasten the dog loosely to the post
at the end of the table. Apply the toe pressure by pulling
the cord and stretching the dog's foot forward. Give your
retrieve command and place the dumbbell between the dog's
mouth and the foot. Relieve the pressure the moment the
dog's mouth is on the dumbbell and praise it. Repeat this
several times, giving the dog time to settle between each
Now take the dog to middle of
table, fastened only overhead cable. Again apply toe
pressure as is in motion and slide dumbbell between its
mouth foot. Let carry each time up down table so it can feel
successful after retrieve.
When the dog will grab the dumbbell
quickly, begin putting the dumbbell on the surface of the
table twelve to eighteen inches in front of its feet.
Command it to retrieve and pull the cord. Then gradually
extend the distance between the dog and the dumbbell, up to
about six feet. Let the dog carry the dumbbell up and down
the table after each pick up and praise it.
Introducing The Electronic Collar
You can see how, under the above
program, the dog has learned to hold firmly and calmly, to
hold and carry without anxiety, to retrieve off the table
surface and to "turn off" two forms of discomfort, ear and
toe, by retrieving. The dog is now thoroughly prepared to
begin retrieving on command to "turn off" the collar.
With the dog on the retrieve table
and again fastened loosely by the rope around the post,
start by placing the electronic collar so that the contact
points are on the top of the dog's neck. The dog should
still be wearing its toe hitch arrangement.
Wrap the cord around the
transmitter so that you can conveniently pull the cord and
press the buttons with one hand, leaving the other hand free
to present the dumbbell.
level stimulation, push the button and pull the cord
as you give your retrieve command and present the
dumbell. Release the cord and the button the moment
the dog grabs the dumbell.
Press the low button on the
transmitter, pull the cord, give your retrieve command and
present the dumbbell all at the same time. Release the cord
and the button the moment the dog grabs the dumbbell. Repeat
this many times, even though the dog is grabbing the
dumbbell eagerly. You must give the dog sufficient
repetition for it to learn to associate grabbing the
dumbbell with turning the collar off. Give it calm praise
every time it gets the dumbbell.
As the next step, remove the dog
from the rope around the post and fasten it to the overhead
cable. Repeat the procedure, but place the dumbbell on the
table. After the dog is quickly picking it up off the table,
you can remove the half hitch from the dog's toes, but leave
the cord still fastened to its leg, and pull the cord a few
more times as you press the transmitter button and command
the dog to retrieve. Having the cord on its leg helps the
dog through the transition.
dog will move forward and grab the dumbell with you
holding it, place it on the table. The absence of
your hand changes the picture and will confuse some
dogs so you may have to touch the dumbell at first
and move your hand further away with each
As the final step on the table, use
just electrical stimulation without the toe cord as you
command the dog to retrieve the dumbbell from the surface of
the table. Release the button when the dog has the dumbbell
in its mouth. Build the distance up until the dog will move
confidently to retrieve a dumbbell that is about six feet
away on the table. Give the dog plenty of repetition at this
stage and praise whenever it succeeds in grabbing the
Transition To The Ground
Because the dog is thoroughly
prepared and understands how to retrieve in order to turn
off the collar, the transition to the ground under our
program is one of the easiest steps for the dog and handler.
Take the dog off the table and put
it on a 6-foot leash. Work right next to the table. Being in
the same area helps the dog understand what is expected.
Place the dumbbell eight feet in
front of the dog. Walk with the dog toward it as you press
the low button and command it to retrieve. Release the
button as it takes the dumbbell and praise.
Repeat this sequence many times.
When the dog is confident and does not hesitate to go for
the dumbbell, reduce your walk toward the dumbbell to a
single step to get the dog moving, then eliminate the step
so the dog is starting on its own.
Retrieve Only On Command
Next you must teach the dog that it
may retrieve only when you command it to, not
whenever it wants. Place a row of three dumbbells beside you
training table, about twenty feet apart. With the dog on
leash, heel it alongside the dumbbells. If it tries to go
for one before you've commanded, restrain it with the leash
command "No." "Heel." Periodically, when you are about ten
feet in front of a dumbbell do command it to retrieve.
As the dog completes the retrieve,
heel it in a circle to allow the dog time to carry the
dumbbell and feel successful. When you have circled back
around to the place where the dumbbell was, stop and take
the dumbbell from the dog. Drop it from behind you as you
This exercise teaches the dog that
it is not to retrieve everything in sight. Retrieving is a
command behavior and you, the handler, are the one who
decides when the dog will retrieve.
Also, because the dog is anxious to
retrieve, this exercise builds controlled expectation in the
dog and thus a fast response when you finally give the
Leaving Your Side On Command
Remove the leash at this next
point. Start with short tosses of the dumbbell for each
retrieve, gradually increasing the distance. Now you should
release the transmitter button the moment the dog leaves
your side, rather than holding it down until the dog picks
it up. If the dog hesitates along the way, press the button
again and repeat the retrieve command. In this case, do not
release the button until the dog picks up the dumbbell.
Praise the dog every time it picks up the dumbbell. Praise
it again for the delivery to you.
Developing A Prompt Return
Now is a good time to teach the dog
that it must come back from a retrieve very promptly. To do
this, place several retrieving objects at the same location,
and reinforce "Here" with the electronic collar when it
slows down and tries to choose among them. The objects need
not to be identical; in fact, this exercise is more
meaningful to the dog if the objects are all different,
because different objects will tempt the dog to try to check
them all out. You might use your regular and heavy dumbbells
and a retrieve toy of some kind.
Place the objects about twenty feet
in front of the dog and spread them about eighteen inches
apart. To help the dog understand that it is to retrieve,
the first time you should throw one of the objects to the
pile. For subsequent repetitions, just send the dog back to
the pile with your command "Bring."
Be sure to have your finger ready
on the transmitter button and immediately reinforce
"Here" with the collar if the dog should hesitate at all in
coming right back with an object. The first time you do
this, the dog may drop the object in surprise. Don't worry,
this won't become a habit. Just move the objects to a
different location and repeat the procedure. The next time,
the dog will be ready for the correction and won't drop the
Work In Several Locations
Now work the dog in at least five
different locations away from the area of the training
table. Add retrieves of greater and greater distances and
gradually increase the level of distraction. Work with both
the regular and the heavy dumbbells, and consistently
enforce a prompt return with both dumbbells.
Over a week's time of working in
various locations, phase out the use of the collar when you
give the first command. Allow the dog to beat the
stimulation, and use the collar only if the dog makes a
mistake, being sure to repeat your command when you press
Coming In The Next Article
Now that you have a reliable and
spirited retrieving dog, we will show you how we use the
collar in training the "Send Out", and we will introduce the