Thursday, July 14, 2011

Schutzhund training - the bite work stigma

I am writing this article in response to a post I read today about  a mayor in Arkansas that is implementing breed bans.  At first I thought what else is new, and then I read further and she has thrown in the "attack training" programs along with the breed ban.  This really shocked me as first, it is sneaky and second it shows a complete lack of any knowledge on what Schutzhund or now more often referred to as (IPO - International Police Organication) training is all about.  This is how stupid laws get on the books. So lets take a look at IPO training and what it entails.  At least make decisions after you have some of the facts.

Some of the things I want to cover in this series is: 

Should we have sport dogs
Why would I want to train my dog in IPO
Is bite work dangerous

First Schutzhund was a test devised to help breeders evaluate their dogs for specific work - that of police work. It was a test to help  evaluate temperament, character, trainability, courage, stamina and heart of the dog.

Good breeders want to breed sound stable dogs both physically and mentality.  While many refer to it as "bite work" that is not a complete understanding of what  Schutzhund is about.  It is not about teaching the dog to bite as the dog already knows how.  It is about teaching the dog what to look for that could mean trouble and when to bite.  Not all situations call for biting.  When training you want a dog that shows steady nerves and can contain themselves until necessary.  A dog whose first response is to bite is more likely a fear biter and weak in nerve.  This is not a good candidate for a breeding prospect or for Schutzhund.

Schutzhund training is like a triathalon  for athletes as the dog must successfully complete three separate exercises.  Tracking, obedience and protection work all of which are very demanding for the dog.

Notice that 2/3 of this test has nothing to do with bite work, but focuses on postive traits needed in successful police work. Whether the person is on the run or lost it would be nice to have a dog that was capable of tracking them down.  Schutzhund dogs are trained to track foot steps and clues such as torn clothing, guns or drugs tossed aside which if found can be used as evidence and to find the suspect.

This tracking does differ from the SAR (search and rescue) dogs who do far more air scenting as they are usually covering a lot larger area.  When a police dog goes on the hunt the area is much more defined  from the starting point to the finishing point and often with a much fresher scent trail.  The person being hunted is usually in a highly aggitated state and is throwing off strong ferons whereas the SAR dog may be following a trial that is a day or two old.

Tracking is an obedience exercise - all dogs know how to track.  How many times have you seen a dog outside,  with nose to the ground, running around following a track???  The dog knows what to do with the nose, but you will just as quickly see that dog go on to something else if they loose the track.  So we teach obedience to the track.

1.  to follow a specific track or scent
2.  to find specific articles dropped on the track
3.  to indicate those articles to the handler who is back 33 feet behind the dog
4.  to find the track if it turns and veers a different direction
5.  to ignore rabbits and gopher holes and stay on task

This requires skill and precision.  Dogs don't do these things naturally so we train them to be obedient to the track.

Obedience - Obedience- obedience - You do not want a dog that won't listen.  For this exercise the breeder is looking for several differnet things - pack drive - a dog that wants to work with you,  Trainability - a dog that responds to the training and likes it - solid nerves - a dog that takes whatever is thrown at them in their stride and shows good judgement.

Obedience is critical as the dog is often working away from the handler and acting on his own based on the training and direction he is given. This is the true test of the dogs pack drive, trainability, willingness to work with his handler to accomplish a specific task and courage to engage if necessary an opponent.

Unfortunately as in all things we have good and we have bad.  Some people unfortunatley just want to see a dog that will bite anything.  That is wrong as there is so much more the dog must have to be correct.  I see it as no different than bad doctors, vets, mechanics, teachers or politicians. Some are good and some are not.  You can't throw out all including the good just because of a few bad apples.

A good breeder and handler wants a well balance dog as Schutzhund is all about building a relationship and team work.  The handler and the dog must trust each other and function as one unit.  The handler must be able to read his dog and the signals the dogs gives and the dog must trust the handler and listen to the handler.  There may be a time when your life depends on your k-9 partner.  Training is the difference between success and failure.

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