Kicking the sleeve in schutzhund protection

I just got back from a one week protection theory course at Michael Ellis' School for Dog Trainers. I had a blast there working with Michael. I got to work Pi on the last day and that was fantastic. Over the next few weeks I will post on some interesting topics that were discussed. Today's topic is something we commonly see during a schutzhund protection routine and I will admit - I have applied in the past without enough of an understanding of why it was used.

It is very common in schutzhund circles for new decoys (like me) to copy what they have seen without understanding why those techniques were developed. However, each of the techniques we see used were designed for a particular kind of dog in mind and a particular problem in mind that was being solved. They are not applicable to every dog. One such example is the handler kicking the sleeve away from the dog once the dog drops the sleeve.

According to Michael, this technique was designed for dog that was too into the man (civil) and not into the equipment enough. It was designed to tell the dog “don’t be so darn serious, chase this thing”. Unfortunately if you apply it to a dog that has loads of prey drive and loves the equipment already - carries it all day long - he can become obsessed with the sleeve. The dog thinks "the darn thing has a life of its own as it moves on its own - I must really watch it". Now that can result in a faulty picture for schutzhund as the dog looks at the sleeve, focuses on the sleeve and bites the sleeve. What the dog needs to do is look at the man, focus on the man and bite the sleeve.

What is more appropriate for a dog that is already into the equipment is when the sleeve falls, the handler prevents the dog from getting to the fallen sleeve and the decoy immediately redirects the dog through him. e.g. decoy makes some noise initially to help the dog understand that if you want to start the game again, you have to play with me - that thing on the ground is dead. The decoy can then redirect the dog to another sleeve and the game starts again. The dog realizes then once the sleeve is dropped that it is the decoy he has to engage with, not the dropped sleeve.That is how he gets to bite.This leads to the correct picture for Schutzhund. It is preferable that when the decoy does this, he does not already have the second sleeve on him. By this time, the decoy should have established some auditory stimulators to get the dog to focus on him (bamboo stick, whip, noise made by decoy). It is better to use those as a bridge to get the dog looking at the decoy and then the decoy picks up the second sleeve and redirects the dog and gets him to bite it. We want the dog to learn to go through the decoy to gain the bite.

In Michael's opinion, kicking the sleeve is the perfect example of a technique that is in wide use but is incorrectly used on ¾ of the dogs it gets applied to.

When this technique is incorrectly applied, the result is often a dog that is absolutely obsessed with the equipment. Tt is not uncommon to then try to get the dog to focus on the man by eliciting defensive aggression and things can take a downward spiral from that point on. Defensive aggression is stressful to the dog and the dogs attitude does not necessarily carry over to a trial situation.

In schutzhund training we want the dog to enjoy the equipment and have it feel good to bite and carry but not to the point that the dog gets obsessed about it. The dog can provide the right picture that the judge wants to see - focussed on the man - but simply by teaching the dog to go through the decoy to get to bite - rather than as a result of defensive work.

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