Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some basic differences between schutzhund and AKC obedience

When we have potential new members visit our schutzhund club, or when people come to me for private lessons, I often end up explaining some of the differences between AKC and schutzhund obedience.  The differences are important if you plan to compete in either one. Naturally, understanding the rules is critical, but here are a few of the differences:

  • in schutzhund you cannot use the dog's name to preface a command
There is only one place in schutzhund where you can use the dog's name to preface the command, and that is in protection work, in the blind search.  You can also use the dog's name as the recall command, but not as a preface to.
I frequently see the dog's name being applied like a nagging tap on the shoulder, as if to say "hey! hey!  prepare to pay attention to me!"  Used too often, it truly is that nagging tap and it will be ignored.  When you are working, your dog should already be paying attention and waiting for you to direct the next move with enthusiasm.  When you watch someone who always uses the dog's name first, pay particular attention to whether the dog was watching them to begin with ,or whether the name is the "hey, you!"

  • in schutzhund there is no "stay" command
What does "stay" mean?  It has no independent meaning.  It really means "keep doing what I already told you to do!"  In schutzhund the dog is expected to perform the command given until it is released or given a new command.  That makes perfect sense!  The "stay" command often becomes a threat, using the hand to block movement.  In schutzhund, the command itself has meaning and does not need additional layers of threat.

  • don't get stuck in the parlor trick front sit for attention!
This isn't really a difference in rules so much as it is something you find in some training classes.  The front sit for eye contact is taught and ends up being more of a parlor trick than an obedience exercise.  Pet owners are thrilled that their dog is giving them attention but several negative things are being taught.  The puppy learns that eye contact, not position, is what drives reward.  And, they tend to quickly get sucked into needing to find that front position, again because it has been rewarded.  Once you transfer to a heel position, the puppy struggles to get back in front of you where it has been rewarded.  This is not at all the fault of the dog, so handler's, swat yourself for doing this!  The other thing that occurs is the the dog, at heel position, will continue to try to make eye contact. What does this do? It takes the dog out of position and cause them to crab, moving slightly ahead and crooked so that, at its worst, it interferes with the handler's forward motion.

  • In AKC obedience classes, the dog is taught to sit first, and then lured into the down. In schutzhund the dog must know how to down from a standing position.
When the dogs are taught to lay down from a sitting position, they are lured forward and down with treats.  Later, when the start to balk, they are sometimes given a leash correction to pull them down. Or, in the worst form, the handler steps on the leash to pull the head down.  The result of this is a dog that is both slow and reluctant.  It has to sit and then slide forward into the down.

In schutzhund the dog is required to down from a stationary sitting position and also down from a walking position.  It cannot sit first and then slide down.  It must drop immediately upon command, or lose points. Some schutzhund trainers do teach their dog to make a sliding forward down, and these can be quite dynamic, but the dogs do not sit first, and are not taught that way.  We teach the fold-back down, or sphinx position.  After watching handler after handler have to re-set their dogs for the escape bite at the Nationals (and other events) and lose points as the dogs threw themselves forward and over the marked start position, my opinion of this has been reinforced. I prefer to teach the dog to bring the rear end underneath to sit, rather than rocking back and to move the hind legs back into the down position.  The front legs remain stationary, no matter whether the dog is moving into a sit, down or stand.

  • in schutzhund the long down is performed while another dog is performing the obedience routine, including retrieves and recalls.
In AKC, the dogs in the class perform the long sit and the long down as a group, without distraction.  In UKC, an "honoring down" is performed, with the dog in the ring as another dog performs the obedience heeling routine.  Frankly, I would rather have my dog be tempted by distraction with one dog than be left beside a group of dogs I do not know and trust they will not get up, or fight.  Both can be challenging and you will need to add more distractions if you practice in schutzhund, but have other dogs more nearby if working in AKC.

  • In schutzhund obedience the hands must move naturally at your sides.  In AKC obedience the left arm is commonly held stiffly across the body, as if in a horizontal sling.
I'm not saying one is better than the other, but that you need to know what is required in the sport you chose.  You will be penalized for doing the wrong thing in the opposite venues. 

If you have the opportunity, start training a puppy in the proper behaviors to your sport as soon as you can.  It is not fair to your dog to train it improperly and then six months down the road, change the rules on it and make corrections.  Sometimes it can't be helped because owners were unaware of the training opportunties, but sometimes they make a conscious decision to take a couple pet dog classes and "teach the dog obedience" before joining the schutzhund club.  It takes less time and effort to do something right the first time, than to change a behavior later.