A Schutzhund Progress Update – April 2015
Followers of ThruMyLens will recall that back in January, I posted about joining my local Schutzhund club, and my starting to learn about and train in the sport. It’s been about 4 months since that post, so I thought I’d post an update.
The first thing I’ll say is that we’ve had a brutal Winter here in Ohio which has certainly interfered with our training. There were many weekends we all bundled up and got out on the training field, but there were also several weekends where it was either too darn cold, or the field was too sloppy from melting snow to train. But Spring has finally sprung, and we’re kicking into high gear! The club trains together twice a week – Wednesday and Sunday. Additionally, I’m doing private obedience lessons with our Training Director on Saturday. So I’m training three times a week at this point.
Knowing next to nothing about Schutzhund/IPO, I decided to attend an IPO Helper Seminar that our local club sponsored in February. I had already jointed and registered Zeus in the United Schutzhund Clubs of Ameria (USCA), so all I needed to do was get my Helpers Book:
The Seminar was designed to certify individuals to become club Helpers. I wasn’t anywhere near experienced enough to do that, but the seminar was a tremendous learning opportunity for me, which is what I was after:
During our club training sessions, my Rottweiler Zeus and I have primarily been working on both obedience and bite work – only in the last couple of weeks has the weather been suitable to even think about tracking. Undoubtedly it takes a very special dog to compete in Schutzhund/IPO – not all dogs have the qualities necessary. Does Zeus? So far, the answer is “yes.” One of the most important positive characteristics the club has seen in Zeus early on is his willingness to bark. According to the more experienced members of our club, few Rottweilers will easily bark when provoked – making it difficult for these dogs to perform the “bark and hold” portions of the IPO protection phase. Zeus is also demonstrating reasonable amounts of the drive/aggression needed for IPO protection work. In the early sessions of bite work, we worked on developing his inherent prey drive by either having me hold Zeus on a long leash, or back tying him and having the helper bait him. In some cases, they would simply put a sleeve on a leash and wave it in front of him, then let him have it.:
In more recent sessions, the helper has been wearing the sleeve, and actually giving Zeus the opportunity to bite the sleeve, which Zeus has been doing. Most of these sessions have been designed to build the dog’s confidence, as well as to transfer his natural prey drive into the properly channeled aggression needed for the sport. In this photo, you can see that the handler has actually retreated to and is “hiding” from Zeus in blind, and displaying overt signs of fearing Zeus in order to make him feel brave and confident:
It is in these sessions that where I’ve come to recognize just how fortunate and blessed I am to have such an experienced group of people to work with in our club. I’ve discovered that most expertise in Schutzhund/IPO is passed along from one to another like “tribal knowledge.” There is shockingly little worthwhile literature or training materials available to train an individual with the knowledge, skills, and ability needed to train a dog to complete the various phases of IPO. This is why choosing a good local club is so critical to success in IPO – you must surround yourself with individuals who have worked with several dogs and trained through a variety of different challenging behaviors. Unfortunately, no book or video can adequately diagnose the specific behavioral obstacles in your dog, and subsequently develop the training techniques which are necessary to overcome these obstacles. No two dogs will take the same path to an IPO title – that much is obvious to me at this stage.
I must confess that while these training sessions are by all accounts going extremely well for my dog, I often find them infuriatingly frustrating. Simply put, I hate being the dumbest guy in the room – and that’s exactly what I am whenever we go to our Schutzhund club training sessions. Remember what I said before about books and videos not being of much help? Before I started with our club, I desperately wanted to gain some foundation of knowledge before I joined the club – even if it was simply theoretical. When I inquired about good books or videos about IPO to get on Facebook groups dedicated to IPO topics, senior group members angrily responded “videos won’t help you – join a good club!!” This made no sense to me – I lacked the necessary knowledge base to even recognize a good club from a bad one…so how as I supposed to make a good choice? But join my local club I have – and the members of the club are absolute saints. The only value I bring to the club is I can help set up the blinds, and return them to their storage space when we have completed our training. They literally have to tell me exactly what I need to do and when to do it with my dog. If I have anything going for me, it’s that I’m smart enough to recognize how stupid I am, and to therefore implicitly trust and follow the direction I’m given by our Training Director and the club helpers. Still, I’m making many mistakes. I try to see them as “learning opportunities.” Apparently this is part of the natural progression and learning process. Still, it’s very frustrating for me.
For now, every training session feels like I’m learning to dance with two left feet – and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I initially wondered if my dog has what it takes to excel at IPO (since I didn’t specifically buy him to use in IPO), but I increasingly wonder If I do as well. But when I suppress my frustration and instead focus on simply enjoying the beauty of the various working dogs in the club, and the beautiful relationships each has with its owner – that’s when I truly enjoy IPO. But my secret fantasy is that one day, I will release my dog, and he will completely take out the “escaping” helper – I smile just thinking about it. Until then, baby steps toward our first trial as Zeus and I will test for his BH – hopefully in the late Summer or early Fall.
John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.