Saturday, September 24, 2011

FoxTal Training Center offers Decoy and Protection seminar

FoxTal Training Center wrapped up our most recent seminar with Mark Chaffin this week.  I brought him in for 3 days of intensive training during our first week of patrol class, and opened it up to other FoxTal K9 teams and officers with their agencies who are interested in learning decoy skills.  The intention is to offer a Basic Protection and Decoy seminar and an Advanced level seminar.  It would be unsafe to place dogs into an Advanced seminar who lacked the skill base, though I have certainly seen that happen in other places!

One thing that our handlers learn is that I am a stickler for safety.  During our working careers we have probably all experience the "how could this accident have been prevented " form.  Working with and training  biting dogs carries an inherent risk.  While a handler or decoy may be injured, I work very hard to insure that it will not be because they were not properly trained, instructed or equipped.  This is a far cry from my first introduction, where they put the newbies in a bite suit and told us to "run that way"... somewhere in the background I heard laughter as they sent a huge German Shepherd to flatten me to the ground with a tricep bite from the back.  I know from experience that not only can the new decoy/helper be injured but more importantly, he or she could fall on the dog and injure it. I cringe when I see an officer allow an untrained person to put on a sleeve or other protection equipment and take a bite from their dog.  I wonder if their agency knows that they are putting a $20,000-plus investment at risk?

You also will not find videotapes of the training here or on the internet.  There are plenty of sport videos available if you want to see a technique, but the internet is forever and training advancements improve.  I am very proud of our teams, and very protective of their training and reputations.

I was very pleased to have decoys from different agencies; it will definately be helpful to those K9 teams to have a trained decoy available to them.  Both the K9 teams and the decoys were exposed to the basic elements of protection work. We worked with the types of equipment they will see and basic techniques of control and application.  Muzzle, bite suit, concealed sleeve, exposed sleeve.  Multiple suspects targeting one, obedience under distraction, area search, guarding and release.  We had several supervisors join us to observe the training and we welcome that.  It is important that a K9 Supervisor understand how much training is required to maintain the skills of a patrol K9.  All the dog teams and the decoys did an excellent job and will be able to move to advanced skills in the next seminar.

If you are a K9 handler or supervisor interested in attendance at future seminars, contact me at:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tracking Titan

Meet TITAN, a tiny tracking fool!  This is Rich and his new GSD puppy, Titan, who are new members of Fox Valley Police & Schutzhund Club.  Titan is from the kennel von Gildaf and his sire is Bill Kula's dog, Boy.

Rich came to the club four weeks ago with his 9 week old fuzzball.  So often, I receive calls from people interested in the sport who have wasted a year (or more) with pet dog classes and such, teaching habits we will only have to un-do and then decide they want to try schutzhund. I had been in contact with Rich as he made his search for the right puppy, and was so excited to be able to work with Titan from the beginning.

We began with tracking on his first visit.  Puppies are ruled by their stomachs.  Tracking is much easier to do with a young, small dog rather than trying to manhandle an 80 lb speedster, and if we lay in that foundation when they are young we can always return to it.  I like to go back to tracking when the puppy is teething, too, and then resume biting after that.

We started with scent circles.  Titan showed exceptional focus to the scent.  With the scent circle, the puppy learns to associated the odor of human scent and ground disturbance with food reward.  There is no track initially and if the pup ventures outside that defined area while food remains in the scent circle, the handler does not guide or correct him back, but remains at the leash length (silently) until the pup returns to the scent circle.  While there are one or two pieces of food left, the handler gently pulls the dog back and away, leaving him wanting more.  Learning the lesson that there is no reward to be found where there is no human scent is critical to that initial learning. Without that, the handler is left to force the dog to remain at the source of the odor.

After several series of 3 scent circles (with rest in between!!) with Titan working calmly footstep to footstep, we ended with a short track.  Because Titan was so small, I instructed Rich to carry him to the track and to carry him off when he was done.  This also avoids having to correct the puppy for trying to track before reaching the start.  With puppy just behind the scent pad, Rich takes a piece of food, brings it to Titan's nose and tosses it onto the scent pad with the command  "such".

The track is laid walking one foot in front of the other, with the distance between steps appropriate to the size of the dog. Ideally you want the dog to move smoothly from step to step; if they steps are too close together the dog will skip steps, and if too far apart they will begin to search for the next, possibly moving off the track.  The puppy has the width of your foot to be correct.  There is food in each step when they are learning.  The beginning phase of tracking teaches that every footstep contains information and reward.

The puppy should work footstep to footstep on a loose leash.  The first track we did was only around 15 paces.  The following week, after practicing during the week, I had Rich lay a 75 pace track that made a left turn to 10 paces.  I showed him how to introduce Titan to turns, teaching him to back up if he continued a step and found no human scent. 

I noticed that Titan was moving with more speed and that Rich was holding a tight leash.   You can see in the photo above, Titan is pulling against the leash.  Tension creates speed and speed kills in tracking. 

In our track today, which wound its way around the agility equipment and had many spectators, I instructed Rich to simply walk with Titan slightly in front of him but to hold his hands at Titan's waist instead of using leash pressure and use that method to guide Titan.  My friend, Sam, has used this method successfully with ViVi.  Rich was still using hotdogs as reward in the track, and those are a little too visible in shorter grass so that it encourages the puppy to move too quickly and use his eyes.  Using a treat that matches the color of the material you are tracking on or blends in is a better choice.  I am not suggesting you use "green" hotdogs (yuck!) but something such as soaking the puppy's kibble in water for a half hour and then using that as bait OR burying the hotdogs under the grass will encourage Titan to search it out with his nose.

Until Titan is working each step methodically, we will not introduce articles on the track.  He should drive into each step, and he is, in fact, doing that now.  By concealing the treat there we will develop even more attention to the track.  It is exciting to see how quickly he is progressing!!  Rich and Titan will be so much farther ahead by starting young.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

PRE-paring for the Championship

Our North Central Region Schutzhund Championship will be held this weekend in Hazelhurst, Wisconsin. Pre and I will be heading up there on Friday morning, with a practice time set for early evening, before the draw.  We have spent many hours together, preparing.  The road has taken us this year to the AWDF Championship, where we won the IPO2 the WDC where we bombed out in tracking... and now to the Regionals.  The last stop for this train is the AWMA (American Working Malinois Championship) in Illinois in October.  When that is completed, Pre will return to his family in Madison.

It is a bittersweet journey.  I've known and trained Pre since he was a youngster and working with his handler, Sam. The agreement with his parents was that Pre would revert to a family companion when Sam left for college.  I wrangled one competition season out of that, so he became my dog for the year.  We have traveled together to seminars and trials, and I've learned the best ways to motivate and manage. He is a brilliant dog who loves to learn and be challenged.  He can be quite a goof at times, and very affectionate.  He knows that the my van is the mechanism to take him to fun times, and if the door is open he is in there and helping himself to the toys he finds.  We have been working daily on the pieces we will need for the Championships.  There is no do-over.  Either we succeed, or not, but we will not have the opportunity to change, to fix things, to grow after next month.

Last month I drove to New York to train with Debbie Zappia for three days. I've spent tons of money on training and travel with Pre, and I can apply what I have learned with dogs that follow.  Pre has allowed me to hone my own skills at a higher level.  Our schedule includes almost daily tracking, obedience sessions and jolly ball play and if we are lucky, a protection session in the evening.  A tired puppy is a happy puppy! 

Tomorrow morning we will do an early track, simulating the time of day we are likely to run this weekend, in the cool, wet grass.  After that I will drive into Appleton to pick up the frozen rabbit patties that I feed Pre when we travel (he has a sensitive stomach).  In the early afternoon Pre and I will do a jolly ball obedience session, practice the recall and a jump and send away.  Around 6 pm, Eric will arrive for a last protection session, putting the last touches on our back transport.  Schutzhund defines the saying "any given Sunday".... you work to prepare, but on any given Sunday you may get a bad draw, something might not go perfectly in your routine... and the underdog wins. Or loses. 

On Friday we will drive to Hazelhurst and hit the field for our practice time.  I will get Pre over the jumps and do a send-away.  We practiced on that field last month, so it won't be a totally new location for him. The trial will be held on a baseball diamond, which has a deceptive curve to it.  The handler needs to take a clear center-line in the obedience routine and while running blinds.  I will probably get him around the blinds for a couple run-outs and that will be our prep.  Then it will be time to find out our trial times at the draw and try to get a good night of sleep.

If I concentrate on each phase, on each small step, I will be less likely to consider that, after this weekend, Pre and I have only one more month, and one more trial together.  I keep telling myself that he is a difficult dog to keep, and he is.  He has a sensitive stomach when we travel.  He can be destructive.  He chews on dog houses and dog beds.  I say that I will have more time to spend on "my own dogs" when Pre goes home. All of this is true, of course.  But underneath all the bravado, I will miss him very much.  I kindof hope he will miss me, too.