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.
The Fundamentals of Obedience
In the beginning, what is
the first step the handler should keep in mind?
It is very important for the handler to realize that the
dog must understand the command. I see beginners, and sometimes those who are
not beginners and who should know better, training as if the dog speaks German
or English or whatever. They simply do not realize or have forgotten that the
handlers voice is merely a sound to the dog. It is not filled with meaning until
the handler takes time to show the dog what action should be associated with
that sound. So the most important thing is that the dog must understand the
command. The command is given and the dog is shown what is expected by way of
hand manipulation, for example for the SITZ, or the line in case of heeling.
With regard to heeling, do you find beginners seem to
share any particular problem?
Yes, Beginners certainly, but not just them. The problem
is that most handlers do not know exactly what they are going to do beforehand.
By this you mean.....
I mean, they don't know where they are going and how they
are going to behave while going there. To solve this problem, the handler should
choose two points, say point A and point B about 30 feet from each other and
place flags there. Then once or twice, he or she should practice walking between
these points without the dog. This is a special walking, walking at a sporty
pace, you are not meandering, gazing about at the dandelions along the way. The
handler must walk at a brisk pace keeping the dog's attention.
Begin with the dog in the basic position. (i.e. sitting alongside the handler's left side waiting to heel. The sit is taught separately, see below) Then using positive motivation, get the dog's attention, give the command and begin walking at a quick pace. This is more exciting and more natural for the dog.
Do you recommend any particular motivator?
No. It depends on the dog, whatever interests the dog. It
can be food or a ball, it makes no difference whatsoever as long as the dog is
interested in it. Getting and keeping the dog's attention are the most important
things. The handler's tools for getting the dog to pay attention and to heel
properly are the positive motivator and the leash.
How is the leash used in heeling?
The leash is used to quickly pull the dog into the correct
position which is done exactly at the same moment as the oral command is
uttered. This is immediately followed with praise.
So the leash then serves as a means of giving correction?
Yes, correction, but not punishment. We are merely trying
to show the dog what we require, we are not penalizing him for failing to do it.
The whole purpose is to make the dog absolutely clear what we want. Only when we
are certain that the dog well-knows what it is we want, is a correction used to
make him aware of the consequences of not properly executing the commands.
Is the way the command is given to the dog important?
Absolutely! Some handler's talk to the dog like he is a
friend who has come to have coffee and cake, others bellow at the dog like a
drill sergeant at new recruits. Neither is desirable. The command should be
given in a positive, clear, perhaps sharp manner, but not shouted. There are
several reasons not to shout. First, if the dog will only listen when a command
is bellowed, you have nothing left for trial day when perhaps your nerves and
your dog's are on edge. But also it gives the judge and others a very poor
impression if the dog is only going to listen if you shout.
And corrections are given in conjunction with the command?
The handler should do everything possible to get the dog
to perform through positive motivation, but must be prepared to give correction
immediately, i.e. within one half to one second for failure to perform, for
wrong performance or for slow performance. But, and this is very important and
something most handlers do not do--to have the dog connect the correction to his
poor performance, the handler must act within one second, preferably less. If
the handler waits beyond this, the dog will not make the connection.
You spoke of the dog having to understand the consequences
of his failure to perform. Can you elaborate on this?
Yes, The dog must understand the consequences of no, of
poor or slow performance. The consequence is a correction. Perhaps the most
important part of my method is this rule: Never praise, never give food, never
play or otherwise reward a dog for less than perfect performance.
Can you give an example?
Sure, on the recall you often see handlers correct their
dogs for coming in crooked or not close enough and then after correction give
the dog a food treat.
Okay, what happens after you have heeled the dog from
point A to point B?
After reaching point B, take the dog away from the area
perhaps 30 or 40 feet and lavishly praise and play with the dog. The purpose of
using this point A and point B format is two-fold: First, as i said, it helps
the handler to know exactly where he or she is going and just as importantly, it
helps the dog to understand, "here I work". If I am on the course of point A and
point B, now I must work." Later the dog will realize that he must work whenever
the command is given.
How often would you heel the beginning dog?
After playing with the dog for a few minutes, I go back
and repeat the course but no more than 2 or 3 times a day, and I should say, I
do not begin this work until the dog is between 6 and 8 months old.
At what point do you teach turns?
Only after the dog does straight turns perfectly. Too many
handlers begin right away with this. It is wrong because the dog is not yet
clear on what healing is.
What about the sit, how do you teach it?
The command should be given in a crisp, precise voice, but
again do not shout. Immediately after giving the command, almost simultaneously,
the handler, with the left hand, pushes the hind quarters (the upper rear legs,
not the croup) inward and under the dog causing him to sit. Do not push the rump
quarters of the dog down. At the same time, the handler , with the right hand
holding the line pulls up. This whole process should be done quickly, no more
than one second. During the teaching phase, when the dog goes into the correct
position, praise him. I must emphasize, the correct position, not just any sit.
How do you avoid Crooked sits?
This should not be a problem so long as the dog is
properly positioned by the handler. If you do not ever allow the dog to sit
crooked, a crooked sit is not likely to occur.
How do you approach the down?
The down is relatively easy after you have taught the sit
and for that reason should not be taught at the same time as the sit but only
afterwards. With the dog in the sitting position and the handler on the right
side of the dog, the handler gives the command while simultaneously taking the
dog's left front leg and pulling it forward with his left hand. (The right leg
will follow automatically) At the same time, the handler's right hand is placed
on the dog's shoulder and pushes the dog a little forward and down. Again, as
with the sit, do not allow a crooked down.
What do you do with more experienced dogs who are downing
The leash should be quickly 'stomped' on to bring an
instant down. To do this the line should be slack and held in the right hand
while the left foot does the stomping.
How do you deal with the dog who is breaking his sit or
down? There is considerable controversy over this point. Many trainers believe
you must walk back to the dog and give a correction and the command even if the
dog has returned to the down or sit position before the handler gets there. Then
there is Konrad Most, generally considered on of the greatest if not the
greatest trainer of all times, who says it is very wrong to correct a dog which
has already redowned. He says that a dog who has redowned has entered his safety
zone, which is a zone where corrections do not take place. For example, in
heeling, the dog learns that so long as he stays in the zone, his shoulder
alongside the left knee of the handler, he will not receive corrections. Most
also points out that the correction which, to be effective has to be given in 1
second, comes far, far too long after the error and the dog simply does not make
any connection between correction and the performance error.
I agree with Most, but I have come upon a technique which
allow me to overcome the problem of time lapse from performance to correction
and to administer a correction without the dog feeling his zone has been
violated or that he has been wrongly corrected. Upon seeing that the dog has
broken his sit or down, the handler immediately in a loud and scolding voice
shouts the command and begins to walk back toward the dog, and even if the dog
sits or downs before the handler is able to get back to the dog, the handler all
the while repeats the command in a loud angry voice.
PLATZ!...PLATZ!...PLATZ!...PLATZ!...etc. until he reaches thd dog. Upon reaching
the dog, the handler gives the dog a strong correction simultaneously with the
By shouting the command in an angry voice immediately or instantly after the error occurs, you are giving the dog a kind of correction, a reproach. Repeating it quickly over and over without pause all the way back to the dog keeps it alive in the dog's mind so not only is there a connection but also no feeling that the dog is being unjustly corrected. I do make one exception to this, if upon hearing the first oral command the dog instantly downs or sits, I will dispense with the return. However, if the dog breaks again, I will return the whole distance no matter how quickly he resits or redowns.
Many trainers have great difficulty with the Voraus or as
you call it, the Voran. How do you train this?
It is very important for the dog to have an optical focus
point. Always use something which the dog can see, such as a stick with colored
tape or better yet, the handlers jacket. First, put the dog in a sit and walk 10
or 15 feet away. Place the optical marker or focus point, let us call it the
jacket, on the ground. Either on or next to the jacket, place a ball, toy or
some food, it doesn't matter it should be the positive motivator you have used
all along, then return to the dog. Holding the dog by his collar, walk 2 or 3
paces and then send him out while simultaneously giving the command. Again it is
very important not to begin work on the Voran until the dog knows the Platz or
down perfectly and can do it off-lead. Once the dog reaches the jacket and the
motivator, the Platz command is given. Over time the jacket is moved farther and
farther away, again not to quickly.
Is there anything else you would like to add to this
discussion of fundamentals?
Simply that it is upon these
fundamentals that everything is built, whether it is more advanced obedience, or
tracking or protection work. Whenever a trainer comes to me even with a tracking
problem or a back transport problem or any other advanced obedience question, I
always make him or her demonstrate these fundamentals. It is here, believe it or
not, that the problem will be solved because what we are teaching is a concept
which applies to all of the later work, namely that the dog must clearly
understand the consequences of poor performance. The dog should not, if at all
possible, be given the chance to fail, or perform poorly and creates the wrong
kind of imprint. If you want a quick proper sit, keep teaching it until the dog
does it 100% of the time. All to often, we move on to something else before the
dog really knows what is required of him.