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How To Avoid That DQ

Getting a little unruly in the guarding here foreshadows impending issues with the back transport. "Axel" with Helper Ryan White during the 2014 USCA Nationals. Photo by: Skribull.

“DQ” – Many of us have had this notation in our dogs’ scorebooks at one point or another. A disqualification, with no scores given for the rest of the phases, even if the DQ happened at that very last “out” on the re-attack on the long bite, after you have successfully passed tracking and obedience. A DQ can be a heartbreaker! But what constitutes a DQ, and how can we avoid it?


A disqualification can happen for many different reasons, most often in protection where strict control is required. With a DQ, the dog/handler team are disqualified from the entire event, and do not receive scores in any of the other phases. They do not continue on to any other phases, either. This is different from a termination, where the dog’s work is terminated by the judge in a particular phase. The dog/handler team can continue on in and receive scores in the other phases, even though they will not pass the trial due to the termination.

What are common disqualifications?

  • Food, toys, or corrective devices on the field once scorebooks have been turned in

  • Dog does not “out” within three commands in protection

  • Handler calls the dog back to basic position during the blind search

  • Using “Platz/Down” to regain control of the dog in OB or protection

  • Grabbing the dog by the collar or body in any phase, outside of designated time (i.e. when holding the dog’s collar in the “watch” position for the Attack out of Motion)

  • “Out of control” behavior where dog cannot be brought under handler’s control again within three commands

  • Dog refuses to release the dumbbell after three “out” commands

  • Dog aggression


  • Know the rules, and understand where DQs or Terminations can happen. There are many things that can cause a DQ or Termination, especially in protection. The more familiar you are with the rules and with these specific circumstances, the better you can avoid them. Review United Schutzhund Clubs of America's helpful list of DQs and Terminations.

  • Train yourself to never say "No", "Pfui", or any other verbal corrections on the field during the trial. Instead, use the dog's name or another cue such as "Look", "Fuss", or "Hier-Fuss", if needed. Verbal and physical corrections are both DQs.

  • Know your dog, and where your weakest spots are in your training and trialing.

Is your dog overly excited or aggressive toward other dogs? Is he unruly when first stepping out on the field in obedience or protection? Does he have a hard time capping himself in protection? Are clean outs a concern? Does he not want to release the dumbbell on the retrieves? Identify the weak spots in your training, and work to strengthen them. Don’t just train the things he does well!

  • Learn how to direct your dog in these weak areas, and what to do when things start to go south. If you know your dog doesn’t cap well in open field guarding, for example, learn what you can do to regain control should he remain barking and unruly after that “Sit” command. Will he actually stay sitting when the Helper moves away? Will he stay with you on the Transport, or leave to follow the helper? What commands will you give to bring him back? Does he need an extra moment to process that “Sit” command before you command the helper to step back?

  • Develop your decision-making process. You must think fast out there on the field when you see your dog engaging or about to engage in an incorrect or disobedient behavior. This ability to think on your feet will develop as you gain more trial experience; indeed, some of this is learned ONLY by trialing your dog and seeing where those weak spots are. But you can begin practicing this in training.

Christina Otello's "Phantom" guards helper Marcus Hampton convincingly during the 2013 USCA Nationals. Photo by: Shellshots. Photo courtesy of Christina Otello.


The decision-making process requires you to evaluate several different aspects simultaneously once you see that undesirable behavior happening:

  1. Will this cause a DQ or Term?

  2. What is the severity? Is it something I can let go and just take the point loss for, or is it better to give an extra command to save the exercise?

  3. What’s the impact on future exercises? If I let this go now, will the dog be more unruly and out of control later?

  4. What acceptable command can I use that my dog will listen to? When should I give it?

These link back to knowing the rules and knowing your dog. If you already know where DQs or Terminations happen, already know your dog and what he’s like, and have practiced how to get him back under control in training, then all you are left with is question 2: Is it something to let go and take the point loss for, or is it better to give an extra command to save the exercise? In some cases, you don’t have the option and must give the second command, such as a refusal to “out” on the first command, or when the dog does not down on the first command on the send-out.

What about the impact on future exercises? Letting the dog get away with misbehavior early on in the trial can potentially have impact later. It can also reflect the dog’s state of mind, showing that he is getting too wound up to think clearly. Better to help bring him down early on, than to let it build. For example, the call-out from the blind can potentially affect the dog’s obedience in the back transport. Some dogs will be fine if they don’t call out of the blind all the way into the perfect heel position. They might sit near your left leg—possibly a little in front of you. You can simply give a “Fuss” command when heeling for the escape bite position, and he’ll fix himself then. Other dogs, however, need that extra command to return to heel, even if they are just off the handler’s leg a little; otherwise, since you gave that inch they take a mile, and spiral out of control as protection progresses. Know your dog!



  • DON’T just “see how it goes” and let it happen!

  • DO address it immediately with either a strong command to redirect the dog, or do something else to stop imminent aggression, even if it means a DQ. Better to have a DQ for “out-of-control” or for grabbing the collar than to let your dog engage another dog. Dog aggression can carry severe penalties, including the banning of your dog from trials for a period of time.

  • DON’T set yourself up for failure in a trial by getting too close to the other dog/handler team in obedience, or getting too close to other dogs during the temperament test and ID check. Even dogs that haven’t shown dog aggression previously may be on edge with the higher stress of the trial, particularly if their handler is nervous.

  • DO be aware of your surroundings and of the situations where dog aggression can happen. Always watch your dog and be aware of where the other dogs are. Maintain appropriate distance, but do your best to stay calm and relaxed. If you are tense, your dog will be, too.

  • DO proof, proof, proof in training! Do your best to make sure your dog is reliable.

If your dog shows dog aggression, then you must decide if this dog can be worked through/trained through his aggression, or if he is going to be a danger to other dogs on the field. Is it worth training and trialing him?


Dog Grips in the Blind or in Open-Field Guarding

  • DON’T say “Out”.

  • DO use a “Hier-Fuss” command in the blind. From the call-out position and at the judge’s signal, give a strong “Hier-Fuss” command. You only get one command for the dog to release and come to the heel position in this scenario.

  • If you are in the open field and are within 3 meters of the dog, approach the dog and when in proper heel position, say “Sit”. Using “Out” will result in termination.

  • If the dog grips the sleeve during the side transport, you must give a “Fuss” command, but cannot give an “Out” command.

Photo: Marlene Ferguson's "Brix" during the IFR Championship in Switzerland. Photo by Munanis Photography.


Dog Forges in the Back Transport

This by itself is not a DQ, but it can lead to a DQ if you let the dog get too far and he leaves you.

  • DON’T let it go to just “see what happens” if the dog is forging significantly (such as by half a body length) and is not dropping himself back into position.

  • DO say either “Transport” or “Fuss” to bring the dog back.


Dog Tries to Follow the Helper When He Steps Back

  • DON’T let the dog get very far, because as soon as he touches the helper, it’s a DQ

  • DO say either “Transport” or “Fuss” quickly to keep the dog in position.


Dog Leaves to Go to the Helper, Judge, or Other Dog

  • DON’T say “Platz!”, “No!”, or “Pfui!”

  • DO say either “Hier,” “Hier-Fuss”, or “Fuss”. Saying the dog’s name also counts as a command.

Remember that in some cases, the action of the dog leaving to go to the helper is already a DQ (such as leaving the escape bite or attack-out of-motion “watch” positions early).


There are many more scenarios that can cause a DQ or Termination, and most are related to training. This is one other reason why it’s important to trial when prepared, not when you think you “might” be successful.

Remember your “safe commands”. Commands that you can use in nearly every situation to regain control are “Fuss” or “Hier-Fuss”. In training, make sure these commands are crystal clear and can be obeyed even when the dog is in very high drive or excitement. And be encouraged! As you gain more trial experience, your ability to think quickly and handle your dog in those tough times will improve.


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