Your First Visit and Evaluation
Time to visit the Schutzhund club with your dog and gain your first exposure to Schutzhund/IPO training! Last blog I discussed what you should bring and what you can expect; this blog discusses the first evaluation of your dog, and your tasks as a club guest and handler.
During the Visit
Be a good guest. Be polite, respectful, eager to help, and genuine. Clean up after yourself and your dog. Also, don't start snapping pictures and videos of other people's dogs and their training sessions without permission. This is inappropriate, rude, and usually unwelcome.
Find out the club rules, and follow them. Ask about where to park, where to take your dog to go potty, when to take your dog out, where you should be during training activities. Remember to crate your dog when he's not out on lead with you.
Let your dog check out his surroundings and relax before working him. Let him observe, sniff, relieve himself, and see what's going on, but keep him on leash and under your control - like I'm doing with Axel in this photo (Photo: Jeff Waybright and Hannah Kook). Don't worry about making a negative impression if your dog barks or bounces around on the end of his leash. As long as you prevent him from jumping on and fighting with other dogs, biting people, or getting loose, you'll be fine.
Be an active guest. Help carry blinds, set up equipment, be a group member in obedience. Don't just stand there awkwardly and never interact. Step outside your comfort zone, and be an active participant in the training day.
Ask questions, but also observe. Watch the training and handling, pay attention to what words/phrases correspond with which actions, and ask questions when you have them. The more active you are in the process, the more you will benefit.
The Evaluation Process
In an evaluation, the helper is testing the overall temperament, drive, grip, and interest the dog has in doing bitework. This is usually done by testing the dog through a combination of prey drive and play, seen in this photo as helper Don Yelle engages Kerry Birchall's puppy Berret (Photo: Ivana Karlsen/Rebel Yelle). The helper uses a rag, tug, bite wedge, or bite pillow to excite the dog and encourage interest in the object; the helper then lets the dog bite the object when the time is right. He may encourage the dog to bark at him, and may even frustrate the dog by teasing him with the tug in order to build drive.
Another method utilizes the dog’s suspicion instead, and might be used with older dogs. In this method, the helper acts suspicious and “stalks” the dog, running away when the dog barks at him. The helper usally then switches to building prey drive and interest in the wedge or bite pillow.
Even if utilizing the dog's suspicion, an evaluation should not involve a whole lot of pressure on the dog yet. The helper should not be coming at the dog with everything he’s got to "see what the dog is made of"! The evaluation should be fun and enjoyable for the dog.
Your Job As Handler
The most important job you have is to listen to the helper's instructions while you handle your dog! However, here are the additional tasks you will perform:
You will serve as the “anchor” at the end of the line while the helper works the dog. This means you hold the leash very securely, and brace against the dog’s tugging and pulling so that he can't get to the helper, even when he actively tries to do so. This is also called "posting" the dog (a.k.a. "Be a pole/post", "Be a tree", "Post up").
Louise Jollyman demonstrates proper "posting" for Seven while he works with helper Don Yelle. Photo: Brimwylf German Shepherds.
Handling tip: Stand with your feet wider than your hips, with one leg slightly forward and your weight back on the anchoring leg. Do not wrap the leash around your wrist or hook the loop over your hand (this is how wrists get broken!). Hold the leash in both hands, close to your body; you can even anchor one hand against your hip. Do not let the leash go until the helper tells you to, and do not move with the dog unless instructed to do so.
The helper will let the dog win the tug, and may tell you to "run with him" or "circle him". This means you jog in a circle with the dog on the outside while he carries the sleeve, tug, or pillow. Your circle should only take about 10-15 steps before you return to the helper. The helper will engage the dog again when you return.
Jeff Waybright "circling" with Ginna's dog 'Calligator'. Photo: Carissa Kuehn.
The helper may also ask you to come "cradle" the dog. In this case, you calmly approach the dog's head, support the dog's chin with one hand while he holds the pillow or wedge, and hold or pet the dog with the other. Louise Jollyman demonstrates a proper "cradle" with Apollo in this photo below:
Photo: Brimwylf German Shepherds
You and your dog are in this together. Mentally, verbally, and physically communicate your support of your dog. When cradling the sleeve or circling with the dog, tell him what a good strong boy he is, and stroke him calmly while he holds the sleeve (unless it agitates him or distracts him from the work). Praise him when he barks strongly or has a good grip. When your dog carries the tug or pillow back to the car, tell her she's such a good girl. Let her hold the pillow or wedge as long as she likes, and spend time calmly petting and praising her for being so big and strong out there. Communicate your support and confidence in your dog out there, and let him know you are with him!
Rossi Dengler gives her pup Zack a big smile and praise for a job well done. Photo: Grant Bigman.
Below is the video of Hadyn's evaluation when I first brought him out to my club. It shows a good overview of the process, and includes all elements of posting/anchoring, cradling, circling, praising, and listening to the helper's instruction (plus showing one way of encouraging young dogs to let go of the pillow when they don't know how to yet). Note: Hadyn had previously been worked at O.G. Indy before he arrived, so this isn't his first time doing protection work (just our first evaluation together at my club).
What if My Dog's A Dud?
What if your dog is hesitant to engage, or doesn't test well initially? Don't stress just yet! Just because a dog doesn't bite well the first time out doesn't mean you should give up. Many dogs need time to settle in and figure out the game. They should show improvement within a couple of sessions, and if the drive and desire are there, the dog will perform admirably. Don't wash a dog out of Schutzhund just because he doesn't perform like you think he should at first. Give your dog some time and be patient, especially if the dog is young.
Before you head out for your first visit and evaluation, review the "What To Look For in a Club" section under the Finding Your Club blog. And in the blogs ahead, I'll discuss the role of the helper, plus tips on how to evaluate the safety and quality of a helper. Best of luck out there!