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Finding Time to Train

Schutzhund is time-consuming. We jest about it becoming a way of life – the Schutzhund Life – but it’s not just a joke; it becomes a very large part of who we are and what we do. This can be daunting to those new to the sport, and may leave you wondering: “How can I possibly find time to train all this stuff?”

Schutzhund Reality Check

Over the past two blogs (Balancing Schutzhund and Life, Part 1 and Part 2), we have heard from four different competitors who manage to juggle their busy schedules and non-dog-related occupations to fit in Schutzhund. While this is very inspiring, it also drives home how involved this Schutzhund thing really is. For all of us, there comes a time for a “reality check” about what’s needed to train and title a dog at the club level or beyond.

Schutzhund requires a community of other people, which is why we have training clubs or groups. Photo: Tamandra Michaels.

Schutzhund requires dedication and commitment. As Dominic Scarberry said in his interview, “Schutzhund/IPO is not a sometimes sport”; it becomes something you do nearly every day as a normal part of your life. Schutzhund also requires a community of other people: other handlers, mentors, trainers, helpers. This is why there are training clubs, which is one of the limiting factors for many who are looking to do IPO. Schutzhund also requires financial investment. IPO is not a cheap hobby, although it isn’t inordinately expensive compared to some other hobbies or sports, unless competing at the higher levels. But there is equipment to purchase, club dues, training fees, organizational dues, and then entry fees once you start trialing. Schutzhund is fun, but it is a lot of work, and requires significant investment on financial, emotional, and physical levels – not to mention time!

If you’ve read through this and decided you are still committed to the sport, then how do you start finding the time to train three phases over the week?

Tracking often requires additional time for travel and for aging the track. Photo: Louise Jollyman/Brimwylf.

Time Tips for Tracking

  • Carve out a specific time on a specific day for tracking. Stick to it like you would a workout routine, or if you don’t stick to workout routines, then treat it like a scheduled appointment. You don't have to track every day or even five days a week. You may only be able to manage one or two days per week, but that’s better than no days per week. It just means you may progress more slowly, but if you stick to it religiously, then you will progress!

  • Use local parks for building basic tracking skills, saving the larger fields for trial prep, more advanced work, or those days when you have more time at your disposal. This will cut down on your travel time.

  • Don’t feel like you have to lay regulation tracks every time. You can teach and test a lot of skills in a shorter track. Within a 150-200 pace track, you can teach the dog starts, staying on the track, turns, articles, restarts, finding the track when lost, and more. Save the distance for when you have more time.

  • Don't feel like you have to fully age tracks every time. Yes, you will need to "age" the tracks the full amount (and beyond) at times, but if you are pressed for time, age them less.

  • Get up early to track before work. Frank Phillips talked about having to use a headlamp at 5 in the morning to lay and run tracks. Sometimes this is what’s required in order to get in your tracking, if you have little opportunity/time available.

  • Prepare tracking food in advance. It’s a drag to get up early only to realize that you still need to cut tracking food up into tiny pieces. Prep your “tracking food” like you would your meals throughout the week. Make batches ahead of time and freeze them in portioned baggies. Then, just pull out a baggie when needed.

Ready for obedience! Obedience is the one phase you can train anytime, anywhere. Photo: 5 Dogs Photography. Courstesy of Kjersti Dabakk.

Time Tips for Obedience

  • Don’t waste meal times. Meal times are training times. Have the dog work for some or all of his meal. Do this even if you feed raw; it’s just a little messier and may require extra creativity! You can work on focus and engagement, positions, heeling, a long down and more, just by using your dog’s food and your kitchen space.

  • Quality is better than quantity. Small spurts of high-level, quality work are better than hours of training. So if you don’t really have time to carve out 20 minutes for obedience, then break it up into a couple minutes here or there during the day. It could be once in the morning when the dog gets breakfast, and then again in the evening when he gets dinner. As Laurie Coppola said in her interview, “If you spend 5-7 minutes twice a day breaking down exercises and working them until they are perfect, you'll get it done!”

  • Sacrifice a little early morning time or evening time. It’s hard when you have kids to get to school on time, and work to go to, etc. But this is where commitment comes in; if it’s important to you, then you will make the time for it, even if it’s just five or ten minutes each day. Squeeze it in where you can.

  • Train during the commercials of your favorite show. Better yet, review how much time you spend watching TV. TV time is a good place to carve out more training time. If you have a DVR, you are recording the shows anyway to watch later!

  • Train between the kids’ activities. Have to take the girls to gymnastics class? Bring the dog, and then work on a few short exercises in the parking lot. Have soccer games or tennis matches the kids need to go to? Bring the dog, and then do some short obedience training off to the side at a suitable distance from the activity. Have to go grocery shopping? Bring the dog, and then do a little work in the parking lot. Try to fit it in wherever you can.

  • Break exercises into small components, and train a little bit at a time. Instead of trying to train the whole retrieve in a session, work on just one part of it, such as the hold. Then, do a different part at a later time, such as the pickup. You don’t always have to train the whole exercise or the whole obedience routine.

  • Use the dog’s exercise time for training. If you take the dog on walks, do a little work first, then clearly break and continue on your walk. If you normally play two ball with your dog to work off his energy, then integrate short spurts of obedience. Don’t just do mindless exercise (although neither should the dog always just train! Balance is needed.).

Protection requires more than just having a sleeve! Photo: Kjersti Dabakk.

Time Tips for Protection

This is the one phase where significant time investments must be made. You will need to find a club, helper, or reliable IPO trainer, and you will need to travel in order to train with them. You will most likely train this phase only once or twice a week when your dog is old enough. Chances are it will eat up one day of your weekend, or give you a very late night during the week.

There are components of the protection phase that you can train at home, mostly related to the secondary obedience in the sport. Talk with your helper and training director about which "at home" exercises they recommend for your dog and his stage in training. You do not want to accidentally teach something in a conflicting manner, and make it more difficult for your dog and your helper in the long run.

Examples of common exercises that can be taught at home:

  • “Mark” or “Helper” cue

  • Running blinds or running around an object like a chair

  • Heeling around a high value object like a toy to gain focus and control

  • Barking for tug or ball

  • “Transport” cue and behavior for the back transport

  • Call-out away from a toy

  • Clean “outs” of the toy or tug

  • Carrying and holding the tug

Parting Words

Training for Schutzhund is a bit like starting a new workout or diet. It requires commitment, consistency, and planning. To get the best results, it should become a part of everyday life, not just a "fad" thing. Most importantly, like with a workout or diet, when you mess up or miss a few days, you don't just give up! You pick up where you left off, and continue moving forward. Keep at it, remain dedicated with what time you can commit, find your support group or Schutzhund community, and you will get there eventually!


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