Monday, February 26, 2007

Straight Fronts, Upright Sits & Squirrels.

I'm trying to straighten Laev's fronts, which are, um, imperfect. :-) She sits close, but crooked.

Our Schutzhund helper recommended teaching her to bump and hold the dumbbell against my torso, which is only possible to do correctly if she's straight. We'll see how that goes, and I hope it will carry over to fronts without a dumbbell as well.

In other news, Laev seemed to relapse during obedience to earn a bite today (obedience in high arousal), complicated by a few errant clicks (I have someone else click during this exercise because I know I'm not capable of accurate clicking while handling a lunging dog!). Confused, she went through a half-dozen or so reps without getting reinforcement, because she wasn't meeting criteria. Our criteria was a correct sit -- upright, not leaning forward ready to lunge -- within 2 seconds of the cue.

Frustration was building. She got hotter and hotter, figuratively speaking. And then I dropped her and said, "Sit!" and she bounced stiffly into the position with a distinct air of, "Click the #*@&$ clicker!" We did, and she earned her reinforcer, and after that she seemed to do better, even getting down to a 1 second latency occasionally.

Not a finished product, by any means, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel....

I need a way to control the local squirrels! so I can do this work with them. Laev is such a nice dog, and I really love her, and the ONLY time I want to bash her head in is when she's focused on squirrels! :-) If she's on leash or working with me, I can interrupt before she gets in The Zone and is mentally gone. Today, though, she was loose in the multi-acre yard, and when I went out to collect her, she had no brain for anything but running from tree to tree. /sigh/ Such good training, right....

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why Schutzhund?

I was asked recently, "Why do you train in bitework? I think that is a kind of weird sport, but same can be said of my love of freestyle! I'd love to read a blog on why this sport? why schutzhund?"

Fair question, and here's my answer.

Schutzhund originated as a breeding suitability test. A dog who could not do the work was not considered fit for breeding. Later, it became a sport, but even now for specific breeds in many countries, the offspring of a dog without a Schutzhund title can not be registered. I think this is a good idea; it standardizes temperament and structure within the breed and ensures continued working ability for a working breed.

In this country, Schutzhund is merely a sport, but it's still an important one. It is an advanced partnership with the dog, true teamwork (or it should be!). Rather than a mere few minutes of performance, it is a triathalon for dogs. Though known for its protection work, Schutzhund consists of three phases, Tracking, Obedience and Protection. Dogs must qualify in all three phases. It's like Michelin Tire said: "Power is nothing without control."

I like the Schutzhund obedience style a lot; it emphasizes enthusiasm and willingness as well as precision. Check out these videos of obedience and protection by a Doberman completing a Schutzhund III routine. Tell me that's not exciting! (Sabine Wiedemeyer handling Lennox von Aurachgrund, taking 2nd place in 2006 Deutschen Meisterschaft [German all-breed nationals] with 100-98-95 [100 points tracking, 98 points obedience, 95 points protection, out of a perfect 300])

Because Schutzhund expects -- requires -- the dog to be in a state of extreme arousal, obedience and control are far more necessary and more highly trained than in most dog venues. The dog must be able to hear and respond to its handler when in full fighting drive. This requires not only good training but also a good dog, one with proper genetic temperament. That's what makes the sport an excellent "character test" for dogs.

Many people understand that Schutzhund is a worthy dog sport, but I've also been criticized publicly and privately for participating in this sport. I find that frankly ridiculous. Let me address a few of the more common concerns here. :-)
  • "YOU'RE TEACHING THE DOG TO BITE PEOPLE." -- Um, no. :-) First of all, any dog person should know that all dogs can and will bite with provocation; heck, *I* will bite in the right circumstances! But more importantly, biting is just a behavior, and a Schutzhund dog will, like any trained dog, learn stimulus control. A cue begins and ends the bite, just as a cue begins and ends the down. And there are a host of very specific cues for the bite -- it's not just a free for all! If you've ever played a game of tug with a dog, you've done a miniature version of Schutzhund protection work.

  • "YOU'RE TEACHING THE DOG TO BITE PEOPLE IN SNOWSUITS." -- This accusation had to be a personal favorite of mine. I have video of us working this winter, in which my helper is wearing tan Carhartt coveralls and in which I am wearing identical tan Carhartt coveralls. Amazingly enough, the dog went to the right person when cued. :-) Sheesh.

  • "YOU'RE ABUSIVE TO THE DOGS/YOU THREATEN THE DOGS TO MAKE THEM BITE OUT OF FEAR." -- No. Schutzhund training starts as young as 8 weeks (younger, if the litter is born to a Schutzhund breeder), and all initial training is done as play. Only after the behaviors are well-started does the dog see aggression/threat from the helper, and then it is raised in small doses so as not to overwhelm the dog; the dog must always believe that he can "win" over the helper. Good Schutzhund trainers do not hurt or frighten dogs into biting. (Note: obviously there are always a few freaks in any sport, and Schutzhund can attract a few "macho" morons. Just as there are idjits who will put a shock collar on a dog to teach it an agility dogwalk, there are a few idjits who will try stupid things in bitework. This is no more correct or representative of the field as a whole than the electric collar is for agility.)

  • "THE DOGS DON'T ENJOY IT." -- Please, just come watch Laev in action. She lives for this.

  • "YOU CAN'T TRAIN IT POSITIVELY, SO YOU MUST BE HURTING YOUR DOGS." -- Again, please, just watch. Ask Laev if she feels abused. ;-) Yeah, there are traditional training recipes which aren't as dog-friendly, but we're certainly not bound to use them.

  • "SCHUTZHUND PEOPLE TREAT THEIR DOGS AS THINGS, NOT PETS." -- A good friend of mine came once with me to training and left, angry and disgusted, with this declaration. I was and remain honestly confused by his reaction (he never discussed it with me), as my dogs are cherished members of my family. Yes, some people in the sport use dogs as tools toward self-promotion, but that occurs in other sports as well! Laev sleeps beside my bed and Shakespeare shares my couch; they're my dogs first of all.

Finally, Schutzhund and similar sports/breeding suitability tests are vital for our dog community. Really! Almost all police dogs, drug dogs, accelerant/bomb detection dogs and military dogs, as well as a very high percentage of search dogs, come from Schutzhund breeders and Schutzhund lines. Why? Because it still works as a breeding suitability test, and dogs from these lines are more likely to have the correct temperament and physical structure to do the work, saving thousands of dollars in "wash-outs" from untested lines.

Similarly, Schutzhund and similar training preserves the breeds; if a Doberman was designed as a protection dog, it had better be able to work as a protection dog, or it's not a Doberman, no matter what its papers say. Max von Stephanitz developed Schutzhund as a breeding suitability test for the German Shepherd Dog; if all GSDs were expected to be able to pass such a test now, we wouldn't see such widespread reactivity and fear-aggression in the breed, or such poor hips.

Finally, Schutzhund offers excellent training and physical/mental outlet for the dogs. The socialization afforded by a good Schutzhund club is superb, and the Schutzhund dog gets far more physical exercise, mental stimulation and sheer fun than most pets!

So that's why we do what we do -- it's fun, first of all, and it's a worthy venue, second. And of course we do other sports as well; Laev has a couple of entry level titles so far elsewhere. And at those other venues, she is mannerly, safe, and a good breed ambassador. :-)

Winter Storms & Weather

Laev got much less exercise this week; we had "winter storms" of ice and 12-16" of snow on top. I don't mind snow at all, but ice is bad; it slicks the roads and it also really stings coming down! The temperature hovered around zero Fahrenheit, too, so outdoor activity was limited for the dogs. Laev's got ears and a tail, and I want her to keep them!

Friday was beautiful and clear, gorgeous sunny weather. I rode south with a friend and my sister to visit a potential puppy for the friend, and we admired the ice-covered trees along the rolling hills. I have to admit, Midwest ice storms produce some awesome scenery -- each branch is completely encased in an inch of clear glassy ice, making the forests in the sun look as if they're made of crystal -- but that's *after* the roads are clear again!

Saturday brought more snow, another few inches. But the weather was so warm -- up to 20 degrees! and we call that warm! -- that I never felt cold during Schutzhund training. Laev's retrieve is coming along nicely and we're working on straight fronts.

And my friend went back Saturday for the puppy. He's a cute black Standard Poodle, but he'll be an honorary Doberman. :-)

I haven't been doing our snow tracking because of the cold; it's hard to scent when the temperature is below zero, and it's not too healthy for either of us to be in an open, wind-swept field (wind chills were -20 and lower). But if the temperature stays higher, we'll have to do some of that.

We'll have to hurry; we're supposed to get rain, not snow, this week. I am NOT looking forward to the mud we'll have with 15+" of melting snow and all the additional rain! I'll have to get water wings for Laev.

A friend from Florida called, complaining of their weather. It was SO COLD, she protested, that her school had to cancel recess for the grade school children because the wind chill (not the actually temperature) had dipped into the fifties! Who even bothers to calculate wind chill at those temperatures, anyway? We told her to quit whining. ;-)

Trial Report

Here's an overdue post on last weekend's trial.

Wednesday was our club specialty, and I was working the fundraiser sale/raffle tables. I took Laev for some socialization and experience. It was a good idea; she'd never been crated in a venue before and really struggled to adjust. I covered her crate, but being in a row of barking show dogs obviously bothered her. She was stressy -- which for her looks a lot like "normal," but glancing away from me more often -- but finally settled, and we did some obedience outside the conformation rings. We amused people with the extra appendage attached to her end :-) but actually one person was quite nice about her tail and complimented her.

Friday we came back for Rally and Obedience. Shakespeare qualified in Rally, as did Laev, but Laev was entered in Novice A instead of Novice B and they wouldn't allow a correction, so her leg doesn't count. :-( Still, it was a decent score and I was pleased with the run.

Laev also qualified in Novice Obedience! We'd done AKC obedience only once before, at our club specialty a year ago, when I knew Laev wasn't quite ready but wanted to support the club. Then she surprised me with her good heeling and fair other work, but she broke the stays to chase birds. /embarrassed sigh/

This was her second run, and while she didn't give me her best, I was pleased. I was proud of her because the stays had me worried; she was between a very friendly but mildly flirtacious intact male Rottweiler (big sexy boy!) and a JRT/Parson Russell, with whom she'd had words a few minutes before going into the ring (he was a very nice dog, but he happened to give her a terrier eye and she took offense to the staring). I was counting seconds during the stays, but she held it! and we had not been practicing stays much at all.

On Saturday, Laev was clearly exhausted. It was also colder outside than the day before, somewhere in the teens. Fortunately we were entered only in one class, Novice Obedience, but she was just having trouble. (Funny how Laev is -- I was talking to her about staying awake, and a bystander protested, "She doesn't look tired!" But she had four paws on the floor at once, which is a dead giveaway for Laev.) She was tired enough from the week that she didn't focus well, and I know she's capable of much better heeling than she displayed; she stayed next to me, but we weren't a dance team, just a couple out for a walk. :-) This time, during the stays, I just hoped she wouldn't fall asleep and lie down on the sit. ;-) Still, she qualified again, and those were her first two AKC Novice Obedience legs. :-D

Thursday, February 08, 2007

No, Really, It's Very Cold.

It's been cold this week. Last Saturday we went tracking and I kept Laev's fleece coat on her, as temperatures were cold enough to induce frostbite in only a couple minutes of exposure. She tracked well, but was reluctant to down on the articles -- who could blame her? It was snow and sheet ice beneath her. I asked her verbally to down, and she did, and I rewarded with a handful of hot dog bits. I'll pay big for extenuating circumstances.

Laev did deign to eat a few pieces of hot dog on the track, but again she skipped most of them. I'm not quite sure how to get her to pause at the start for a deeper take of scent without physical restraint, which makes her frantic. Sheesh.

But really, it's been cold. Monday night Alena and I drove to training and found that we were the only ones to make it, as the cold had deterred the others. We pulled our helper out of his warm living room and went to the training barn.

Laev was excited and ready to go, breath crystalizing in the sub-zero air. (That's sub-zero Fahrenheit, not Celsius.) I released her and she flew toward the helper. She skidded but stopped herself in time and executed a very pretty hold and bark.

When he gave her the bite, I could tell he wasn't quite happy with it. So he did some typical helper work, swinging the sleeve, raising and moving the dog, spinning so that she had to tighten her grip to stay on. Laev flew through the air as he pirouetted, still fighting, but he was never quite satisfied with the bite. "She's not holding hard," he said. "Come take her."

I outed Laev from the sleeve and set her up for the next rep. We'd have to alter something to get the bite corrected.... And then he said, "Wait a minute. I think the sleeve's frozen."


"The sleeve's frozen." He tapped it with the whip, and then beat it hard. His expression turned to shock. "Feel this!"

The sleeve was like granite. Apparently the dog saliva left from the last session was enough moisture for it to freeze hard and solid. It was completely impenetrable. Laev had been biting steel.

...And she'd held on, my brain registered later. She held on during the fight and the spinning, even though her teeth couldn't penetrate and had no purchase.

The sleeve was held in front of a burning kerosene heater for a few minutes while Laev waited impatiently. When we tried again, her bite seemed better. ;-)