Saturday, July 7, 2007

Gun Dogs at a Schutzhund Club?

On Saturdays we have Schutzhund Club training here on our property.  Schutzhund, for those who are not familiar, is a dog sport involving three phases: tracking, obedience and protection work.  Today we had a guest who brought his 5 month old female German Shepherd dog for an evaluation.  The dog was worried about her surroundings, preferring to lay down, had no interest in chasing toys or really in even coming to her owner.  He asked some questions about what he should expect to see in a 5 month old and I suggested we bring down a 7 WEEK old puppy and he could see the difference.  Sometimes seeing the answer makes more sense than using words.

I brought Doc down and reminded people that he was in an area that he had only visited one other time (last week for puppy testing)  and yet he was confident and outgoing, tail up.  Exactly what you want to see.  He played with the chamois cloth, chasing and biting.  He wasn't concerned about all the new people, and readily called to me through the group.

The other thing that we demonstrated was how we introduce puppies to adult dogs in a work context.  I want my pups to look at me and wonder "what can we do TOGETHER?"  To that end, I want to them understand that dogs are not their play toys.   I brought down Digit, one of the dogs I use for this exercise, as he is solid as the day is long and will sit and give me attention even with a puppy jumping on his head, or nipping at his tail!  I gave one of our club members a handful of treats and instructions.  He first called the puppy to him and marked (yes!) and treated, so Doc knew that there was a reward from this new person.  I was handling Digit.  As Doc was  getting treats I heeled Digit past him so that he was attracted but as soon as Doc decided to go visit, I halted and Digit sat there, looking at me in attention.  The first time, I had Sam get close enough to Doc so he broke his line of vision and then to call with a treat.  When Doc left for the treat, Sam again marked and rewarded.  The next time Doc attempted to entice Digit to play, Sam said nothing.  The point of the exercise is not that the pup will recall but that it learns that another dog has NO value.  Digit just sat there, and Doc promptly became bored and voluntarily left Digit, at which point Sam made a big deal of it, marked and rewarded.  We don't want to correct the puppy with a leash correction or even say "no" because we run the risk of having the puppy consider other dogs to be scarey or cause pain.  After all, there must be a reason the owner is yanking them away?  Instead of having a negative value, we want the encounter to have no value.  The other dog is not dangerous or rewarding, it simply exists.  And what we want to "build" in the training, is that the puppy learns other dogs (and people) exist solely as a means of providing distraction and therefore an opportunity for the puppy to earn reward.  Ideally, you want the pup to see another dog and instead of lunging forward to look to YOU, the handler. 

Of course, this exercise can only be accomplished with a dog that is not aggressive and will sit and heel with full attention on the handler, no matter the distraction.  Fortunately, I have several dogs that know the drill and we make it a point to include this exercise with pups.  If I can get someone to take photos the next time I can show better what it looks like.

It was in the mid-90's today and the pups were happy to spend time in the shade. I filled their pool with nice, cold water and later in the afternoon I saw Doc in the pool (guess it was his day!) paddling water back with his front feet.  I *think* he was cooling his belly, but of course, being a puppy, it could also serve no purpose whatsoever apart from entertainment.  The Pupsters have developed an interesting preference; when I bring out the hamburger to feed them, instead of mauling the dish of raw meat, they choose to interact with me, all sitting to be fed!  They could jump in the dish, but will instead sit and wait for me to mark it and give them a taste! Too funny!

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