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Electronic Collar Training for the Schutzhund Dog: Part IV

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard


In the last three articles, we covered selection of equipment and fitting the collar to the dog. We then explained some basic principles that apply whenever training with the electronic collar, and we covered the "three action introduction" with the electronic collar. Lastly, we discussed how to develop a reliable retrieve.

Now that your Schutzhund prospect has the above foundation you can build on his understanding to teach a spirited and reliable send out.

The Send Out or Go Out ("Vorhaus")

In all of these exercises, we teach the exercise before we begin using the e-collar. In this article, we will first describe how we teach the send out. We will then cover how to incorporate the electronic collar.

Do not try to incorporate the down ("Platz") in the send out while you are teaching it. Teach the down from motion separately (covered later in this article). Trying to teach both actions in the same exercise will just confuse the beginner and ruin his spirited send out.

When starting the send out exercise, you need to keep two things separate in your mind. First, the dog must have some motivation to go away from you on command. Second, the dog must have some idea of where you want him to go. Many handlers confuse these two things because, in the early teaching stages of the exercise, they are the same things for the dog. Then later, when the handler stops using a target (such as a tennis ball, etc.) to motivate the dog to run, the dog is confused and stops wanting to go. Furthermore, he no longer knows where he is supposed to go.

To motivate the dog to leave and run from the handler on command, we use what the dog already understands, the retrieving action.

To teach the dog where to run, we follow several stages. First, we let the dog see the target (the retrieve objects) either placed or thrown. Second, we built distance in the send out by repeatedly sending the dog back to a location he remembers, until he believes that there will always be something to retrieve. Third, we train the dog to be obedient to the direction given by sending him to different locations in a pattern he can identify. At this final stage, we teach the dog to withstand distractions from the side while he is being sent. He will need this understanding when you send him running down the trial field and the blinds are up or other distractions are present!

Getting Started with the Send Out

We base our send out training on the retrieve, because it gives us a reliable way to motivate the dog to leave our side and run out. We recommend the use of retriever field training bumpers for repetitive retrieving work. They are easy to throw after attaching a throwing rope on one end and come in both highly visible white and less visible colors such as orange and gray (remember, dogs are color blind so orange is gray to them). You will need this contrast for later work on the send out.

Purchase at least eight retriever bumpers. Buy four white plastic ones and four orange plastic ones. Do not buy the canvas type. As an alternative, you can use eight of the readily available burlap tug toys that are about twelve inches long and have a rope at one end. Ideally, you would use four that are about two inches in diameter and four that are about four inches in diameter, so that some will be more easily visible than others.

Begin by leaving your dog sitting near one end of your training field. (Do not use a field with blinds set up in it until the dog has worked the "wagon wheel" drills described later.) Let the dog watch you walk about ten yards toward the end of the field, and place a bumper. Now return to the dog, and throw a second bumper to the one you placed. Send the dog to retrieve, saying first your send out command "Vorhaus", immediately followed by the dog's familiar retrieve command.

Now repeat the retrieve by sending the dog for the remaining bumper.

Now you have established a location in your field (a "target location") where the dog believes there are things to retrieve. Take the dog about another twenty yards farther away from the target location, leave him sitting, and let him watch you walk out to replace the bumpers. (He should be positioned so that when you send him, he is following the same route he took in his earlier send outs).

At this point add several bumpers to the pile, placing the bumpers 18 inches apart. Now walk the dog about seven paces toward the pile of bumpers, and send him from a walk, using your "Vorhaus" command and signal. Follow with your retrieve command only if the dog seems confused. Drop the retrieve command just as soon as you can. Praise the dog for picking up the bumper, and encourage him to run quickly back to you.

Repeat the procedure moving your starting point farther and farther back each time. Start each send from motion after heeling the dog forward anywhere from five to twenty paces before sending. Make sure you vary the number of paces each time or the dog will begin to anticipate the exact moment and start sending himself! Use the low button on your e-collar to reinforce your heel command if the dog surges forward before you command him to leave.

The next day, return to the same field. Place the bumper pile in the same location as before, but this time; do not let the dog see you place them. Start him fairly close - about ten yards back - the first time you send him. Repeat, backing up each time.

Follow this procedure over the course of several sessions. You should gradually lengthen the distance until the dog is comfortable running about 100 yards to make the retrieve. Always move the starting point back from the known location of the bumpers. Do not move the location of the bumper piles back away from the dog's starting point, because the dog will tend to slow down at the old bumper location.

Now you can begin to establish some other memory locations of bumpers, using the same procedure you used to establish the first one (dog watches you place the bumpers, back up with the repetition, etc.). These locations can be at the other end of the first training field, and in other fields, schoolyards, etc. Try to develop at least five such memory locations.

At this stage, if the dog does not leave on command, or goes only a short distance and acts confused, do not use the electronic collar. Just go up to the dog, thus shortening the distance, and try again.

Work the dog until you can send him from 100 yards away on the first try to any of the locations and he goes all the way with confidence.

Incorporating the Electronic Collar

Now the dog is ready to learn that leaving you on command shuts off stimulation.

Begin by reviewing the dog's retrieve command from twenty feet away, using the e-collar. Press the low button as you give the command "Bring", and release it when he leaves your side.

Repeat this procedure in your training field, incorporating the e-collar in the send out. Send the dog to make one retrieve from a target location without using the collar. Then repeat, heeling the dog toward the target and pressing the low button just as you give the command "Vorhaus". Release the button the moment the dog leaves. Repeat this for several sessions in various locations.

Adding Speed for the Send Out

Now re-read the discussion for adding speed to the recall from Part I of this series, and give the dog a refresher on the procedure. (In general, if it has been a while since the dog has received a particular correction with the e-collar, and you plan to use that correction in training, it is a good practice to give the dog a refresher on it. Do this with low levels of stimulation and give the refresher separate and apart from the particular training project where you plan to incorporate the correction.)

Leave your dog sitting in the training field at your usual starting place. Walk to your target pile of bumpers, and call the dog to you. If the dog slows down, immediately press the low button and command "Here" again. When he speeds up, release the button. Repeat this a few times.

Now have the dog do a send out over the same route as the recall. If the dog slows his pace, press the low button and repeat your "Vorhaus" command. Release the button as he speeds up. Repeat this sequence for several sessions in different locations, giving the dog a comparison: running all the way brings praise and play, slowing his pace causes the collar to be used.

Teaching Direction - The Wagon Wheels

The final stage of teaching the send out is to teach the dog to take direction accurately and resist distractions while he is running.

Take four white retrieving bumpers and, with the dog sitting beside you at heel, throw each one about fifteen yards from him in the direction of the four points of an imaginary compass, picturing the dog and you at the center of the compass. Now send the dog to retrieve each bumper, rotating in a counter clockwise direction. After each retrieve, throw the bumper back to its original location before sending him for the next one. Rotating counterclockwise helps the dog, because your body blocks the route to the bumper he just retrieved.

Once the dog is proficient starting from a sit, try heeling away from and then toward a bumper before sending him to retrieve it. For example, if you are going to send for the North bumper, heel the dog toward the South bumper, make an about turn, and send the dog for the North bumper from the approximate center of the circle.

If at any time the dog tries to go for the wrong bumper, do not allow this! Tell the dog "No, Here." Applying medium level stimulation with your e-collar as you give the command "Here". After a few sessions, you can phase out using the stimulation, and the dog will readily understand that the command "No, Here" means he should leave the wrong bumper alone and return to you for a re-start.

If the dog refuses to go on the first command, heel him closer to the correct bumper and apply medium electrical stimulation as you repeat the "Vorhaus" command.

When the dog is successful in a counterclockwise direction, work the exercise in a clockwise direction.

When the dog can be successful at this level, add four orange or less visible bumpers between the imaginary compass points, so that you are working an eight-spoked "wagon wheel," with a bumper at each spoke. (If you are using the burlap tug toys, use the smaller diameter ones in the place of the orange bumpers). Work the dog counterclockwise, then clockwise.

When the dog is correct and confident at this level, move the orange bumpers so they are twice as far from the center as the white ones. Alternate sending the dog for white and orange bumpers, first working counterclockwise, then clockwise when the dog is successful.

Now the challenge faced by the dog is considerable. Whenever he is sent for an orange bumper, he must run between two closer, highly visible white bumpers to get the correct one. This is a difficult test for the dog and requires him to concentrate on taking the correct direction from the direction he is heeling and from your signal. Use your "No, Here" correction every time he goes for the wrong bumpers. Move up so that the distance between the bumpers is widened. This will help him succeed. Give him a lot of praise for every success. Continue to practice this drill until the dog makes no mistakes.

Now your dog's understanding of the send out exercise is highly developed. He knows that whenever he is sent, there is a right and a wrong direction to run. He knows that he should be attentive to your direction in order to be correct. He knows that he must go on command, and that he must not slow down. He knows to hold the direction he is given and not to veer off course.

Now he is prepared to train with the blinds up, so that he will run with speed and confidence between highly tempting blinds when sent on "Vorhaus" during a trial.

The Down Exercise with the E-Collar

You should be separately training the down exercise during the period you are teaching the send out, so that you can incorporate them when the dog is ready.

First of all, our usual warning: The dog should already know the command "Down" before you begin teaching him that lying down on command will shut off stimulation. We're going to assume here that you've already taught your dog this command with a leash or other method, and move right into the electronic collar procedure. The procedure is very similar to what we used for "Sit" in Part Two of this series.

It is easiest for the dog to succeed if you temporarily put the collar on the dog with the receiver on top of the neck. Start with one plug lower than the plug you normally train with, because the top of a dog's neck is sometimes more sensitive than the underside.

The use of a tie-out stake pounded into the ground helps the dog learn. Run a long line through the ring at the top of the stake and tie it to the dog's collar. This will give you an easy method to guide the dog back down to the ground even when the dog is at a distance from you.

With the dog standing next to the stake, tell him "Down" without using the e-collar, and if necessary use the line to pull him down. The moment he rises from the ground without being told, press the low button on the transmitter and repeat your command, "Down." The dog will naturally tend to move away from the stimulation on the top of his neck and lie down. However, if he doesn't, pull him to the ground with the line. As soon as his elbows hit the ground, release the button.

Once the dog is doing well, remove the line and put the dog on a leash. Command "Down" and step in front of the dog. After the dog is in the down position, move out to the end of the leash and pull lightly. Be ready to enforce down with the e-collar if the dog gets up. The dog should learn to resist the pull on the leash.

Now add the down from motion. With the collar receiver still on top of the dog's neck, begin walking with the dog beside you on a leash. Press the button as you command "Down" and quickly step in front, turning to block his forward motion. If he doesn't go down immediately, step towards him. Release the button as his elbows hit the ground and slowly back away.

Press the button and repeat the command if he tries to follow you. When you get to the end of the leash, wait a moment then give the dog a few light tugs on the leash. Press the button and repeat the command any time the dog starts to get up. After several repetitions, you should see your dog resist the tugs with some obvious determination. This tells you the dog knows that staying down in place will keep the collar turned off. Praise him for his good decision whenever he resists the tug of the leash.

Practice the down from motion until the dog downs quickly on command. Turn off the collar as you keep walking forward at the same pace.

Now for the final stage: The dog will learn that he should down the moment you command, even if at a distance from you and moving quickly. To introduce this, go back to the tie-out stake with the dog on the long line. Set it up so the dog is at one end of the line and facing you, about forty feet away. The long line runs through the ring on the stake, which is about ten feet in front of the dog. You might want to wear gloves.

Call the dog, and as he passes over the top of the stake, command "Down" and snub him to a stop. Do not use stimulation this first time. You are just getting him used to the action and the rope. Give him a second command "Down" if he is confused about obeying the long line.

Repeat the procedure a few times to get the dog comfortable. Now repeat again, but this time press the low button on the transmitter as you command "Down". Use the long line to snub the dog to a stop, and the moment he is in the down position, release the button. You may have to help the dog with a second command; just be sure to keep the button down all the time until the elbows meet the ground, and let the line help the dog succeed in stopping.

The purpose of using the long line and stake is to teach the dog that he cannot succeed in turning off the collar by running all the way to you. Rather, he must lie down to turn the collar off whenever he hears the down command. If you do not use the long line and tie-out stake to control the dog, most dogs will just run into you and will never make the connection that they must lie down immediately to stop the electrical stimulation.

When the dog is dropping on command and leaving slack in the line, you know he understands, and you can take the line off. Work the down with the collar for several sessions in different locations and with the dog at various distances from you.

Now, move the collar back to where it belongs underneath the dog's neck, increasing the intensity plug by one level if you lowered it earlier. Repeat all the steps above to make sure the dog understands that lying down turns off the sensation, and isn't dependent on the downward push of the electrical stimulation to give you the right response.

Once the dog is responding quickly, give him a chance to down without stimulation. If he doesn't down quickly, repeat the command as you push the button on the transmitter. Let the dog make the comparison that quick obedience avoids stimulation.

When the dog has a reliable, confident understanding of the "Down" command with the e-collar, you are ready to incorporate it with the send out.

Putting it Together

When you put the two exercises together, at first start the dog close to his send out target (the pile of bumpers). About fifteen yards is a good distance.

Review "Down" once while moving at heel, using mild electrical stimulation. Then send the dog, and when he is half way to the pile, down him, using low level stimulation as you give the command. Praise him when he is down, walk up to him, and send him on ahead to make his retrieve.

If after several repetitions, the dog still downs slowly, or not at all, despite the low stimulation, do not increase the level. Rather, put him on a long line for a few repetitions and use it to restrict him from running farther ahead as you use the e-collar. Release the button when his elbows hit the ground. In this way, he can make the discovery of "what works" to turn off the collar even when he is moving away from you.

After a successful down, send him again but without downing him. Then repeat again, with a down. This time, praise him when he is down and call him back to you with enthusiasm, praising him when he arrives. Then send him again and let him retrieve without a down command.

Alternate the four possible actions, sometimes sending the dog all the way without a down, sometimes downing him and then walking out to him, sometimes downing him and then sending him on to complete a retrieve, and occasionally calling him back to you.

Vary the percentage of each according to what you read in your dog. If he is hesitant as he goes out, down him rarely. If he tends not to look back at you after downing but rather stares forward at the bumpers, you should call him back to you instead of sending him on ahead to retrieve. If he recalls reluctantly, throw another retrieving bumper behind you for him to retrieve on his the way back to you. This will speed him up and add to his enthusiasm.

Give the dog a lot of praise with each action, and frequently break the drill with a play retrieve behind you (away from the bumper pile).

Any time the dog fails to perform a command, whether "Vorhaus", "Down" or "Here", reinforce a second command with a higher level.

Any time the dog slows down or downs early, without a command, press the low button and repeat the command "Vorhaus" with your send out signal. Release the button when the dog speeds up toward the retrieve pile.

If the dog is slowing down, taking a few extra steps before actually lying down, make a note of it. The most effective correction for this problem is to press the low button when you first give the next three "Down" commands.

This "automatic correction" procedure will speed up the dog's downing action. If you continue to see a slow down, heel the dog away and down him out of motion several times using higher levels with every down command. (He may be a dog that needs a high intensity for the down during a send out, but first introduce the stronger correction apart from the send out, itself).

As the dog's performance becomes smooth, increase the distance of the send out, until you can send him the full 100 yards at a confident gallop, quickly "Down" him anywhere along the way, and either go to him in or send him on to complete the retrieve.

Read your dog. With some dogs, the majority of your send outs should end with uninterrupted retrieves, rather than downs. This keeps up a nice, spirited send out. However, if you are experiencing control problems with your dog, "Down" him more frequently.

In the Next Article

In our next article, we will cover jumping and incorporating the retrieve with the jump. We will also cover the blind search.



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