of Protection Work
Martin Lerchbaumer is a judge for the SV, the FCI, and the OKV (the Austrian Kennel Association). He has been involved in the sport of schutzhund for over 25 years competing in both Austria and Germany. He is one of the most sought after schutzhund trainers in Austria and Germany and is currently president of his local club, OG Kirchdorf in Kirchdorf, Austria. Martin is also a respected breeder of German Shepherd Dogs, his kennel name is vom Debental. He has competed with his dogs at the Sieger Show where he has had dogs receive the coveted Vorzugich (V) rating.
What is a good starting point for protection work?
Well, here the work is not simply the dog and the handler,
a third person is very necessary to success, the protection work helper (Schutzdiensthelfer)
or decoy; and maybe a forth person as well the director of training, who will
help direct and control what activity will take place on the field. It is a
partnership between all of them. They must work together and know what is going
to happen in advance at all times. Naturally, we wish to insure the safety of
the helper as well as the dog and the handler. To a very great extent, the
safety of the helper is dependent on the handler, who as a beginner, is seldom
aware of this. Therefore we work with beginning handlers before we start
Besides making sure that they are quite clear on what we
want them to do, we examine the snaps on the end of their leashes. We insist on
a handler being able to get his unleashed dog back on line in one second. We
have them practice this in an Obedience or play environment, for example: the
dog is off leash playing ball and brings it back. The handler quickly places the
leash on. It has been my experience that the snap which facilitates this work
the best is the most common one, the bolt with the thumb knob to pull the bolt.
Under the stress of pressure, I think the spring bolt snap, the lockjaw snap or
even the scissors snap do not work as well.
Next we have our novice handlers practice holding their straining dogs on the end of a line without moving. An assistant will run by with a ball or other item of interest trying to make the dog lunge for it or chase him. The handler, of course must stay firm. Novice handlers must understand that it is rheir responsibility to stand still while holding the dog on a normal line. The handler must not allow the dog to pull him toward the helper, even one step, as this will not only endanger the helper but lead to premature and poor bites.
What do you feel is the main job of the helper in
The helper must read the dog. It is primarily the helper
who brings the dog into drive while it is on the line by his movements. By
reading the dog, the helper will choose the exact moment at which he feels the
dog's drive is peaking to give the bite. As the bite is given, the helper turns
his body sideways to give a narrow profile and moves his arm away from the dog,
who at this point is already on the sleeve. This creates the effect of an
object, i.e. prey, fleeing. This is a very important concept. The helper should
keep in mind that in most instances it is not desirable to show a full front
profile to the dog after the bite.
What should the helper do if the bite is less than full?
If the bite is less than full, that is, the dog bites only
with the front of his mouth, the helper moves his arm in a medium-slow in and
out motion. This gives the dog a chance to readjust and get a better bite. Only
after the dog has got a good bite and the helper has moved the arm and sleeve
sideways and back, emulating a fleeing animal, should he slip the sleeve, i.e.,
give it to the dog.
What should the handler be doing?
The handler should, at the very moment of the bite,
release the tension on the line, for a second or two, allowing it to go slack.
this loose line gives the dog a chance to readjust his bite in the event he has
not been able to get a good grip. After this, the handler should gradually
restore tension to the line, but should not pull so hard that the dog goes
backwards. The purpose of the taught line is to reassure the dog that the
handler is there with him. When the helper begins to move backwards, emulating
the fleeing prey, the handler should run with the helper in whatever direction
the helper is moving.
Once the helper slips the sleeve, what if anything should
the handler do?
The handler, at this point should actively run with the
dog in a circle while the dog has the sleeve in his mouth, bringing the dog back
to the helper at the end of the circle; that is, he should run the dog past the
helper. All the while, the handler should be enthusiastically praising the dog.
What is the purpose of running the dog past the helper
So that the helper will have a chance to grab the sleeve
and engage in a brief tug of war with the dog. This in turn allows the handler
to slowly and quietly move up the line all the while keeping up the tension and
praising the dog until the handler gets close enough to actually physically pet
the dog. This greatly helps to build the dog's confidence.
Is the actual way in which the handler moves during
protection work significant?
Absolutely! All motion by the handler must be subtle. The
handler should not run at the line (or the blind) or otherwise do anything which
might startle the dog or distract its attention away from the helper. If this
happens, the dog may get a negative imprint. That is, he may get the idea he is
doing something wrong and then wait for the handler to approach or command him.
Our goal is different from the one we have during obedience work. During much of
the protection work the dog must not look to the handler for support and for
command. the dog must be able to work independently.
Besides allowing the handler to eventually move up the
line, is there any other reason to encourage a tug of war between the dog and
Yes, besides allowing the handler to praise the dog both
orally and physically, the actual tug of war itself, can be used to build the
dog's confidence and sometimes rekindle drive. It gives the helper the chance to
let the dog gradually pull or drag him.
The helper after allowing the dog to pull him then pulls the dog back about half the distance back toward him, then the dog is allowed to drag him further, then again half way back, until at last the helper gives up and lets the dog run away with his prize.
When the helper releases the sleeve after the tug of war,
what if anything should the handler be doing?
When the helper eventually lets go of the sleeve, both
handler and dog continue circling until the dog drops the sleeve voluntarily.
Except for an immediate congratulatory praising at the moment when the sleeve is
given up by the helper, the handler should refrain from giving further praise
while he and the dog circle until the dog drops the sleeve of his own volition.
It is very important that the handler does not, at this point, allow the dog to
rebite the sleeve but to take the dog some distance away from it. Once the dog
drops the sleeve, the routine starts over from the beginning and the dog is
given another opportunity for a bite. By allowing the dog to drop the sleeve
voluntarily, two things are accomplished: First there is no sense of conflict
during the AUS (out) and hence it will be clean. Second, the dog will come to do
it quickly as he learns that by dropping the sleeve he can get another bite. In
a way the dog learns he can control the situation, the outcome. So when the
immediate satisfaction of winning the prize wears off, he will want to drop the
sleeve because he knows he will be rewarded.
When and how do you start practice on off-line bite work?
As always, one must be certain that the step before has
been mastered. So we must be sure the dog is clear and confident on-line before
we send him off-line.
In the beginning there is not too much difference. The handler holds the dog by the collar, the leash is still on the dog dragging behind on the ground. The handler lets go on command sending the dog in to the helper. After the bite and during the struggle, the handler quietly approaches the dog and takes the line, gradually increasing the tension on the line so that it becomes taught. The handler calmly but with feeling praises the dog. The sleeve is then slipped. And when this is mastered, then the dog is sent in without any line. The handler comes in at the same point as before approaching the dog and then puts him on the lead. The rest is the same. Finally, the lead will be dispensed with.
How do you conclude a protection session?
At the end of the routine, if possible, the dog should be
encouraged to run off the field carrying his prey, the sleeve. But in any event,
the dog must be allowed to leave the field on a positive note. However, this
must be done in the right way so that we do not encourage a negative imprint,
that is we do not allow the dog to learn the opposite of what we want. Let us
say, the last bit of protection work for the day was the blind search but the
dog fails to do this correctly. It would be a mistake to give him a bite just
then and therefore he will not understand that he has made an error. Rather, he
should be slowly walked to the center of the practice ground and given an
open-field bite and then taken off.
In summing up, what would you want the beginning
Schutzhunder to remember about protection work?
Above all else, the dog's confidence
must be built up. Mostly, it is the job of the helper to do this. The helper
must never put too much stress on the animal or else it might flee or go into a
defense (avoidance) mode. If this happens, many weeks of work will be lost and
perhaps the animal will be permanently affected. Always work the dog positively,
a step at a time to build its confidence. Remember, on the protection field the
dog must always win.