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TRACKING: "How Old Are You?"

Most of us begin to age our tracks as our dogs gain experience. In addition to preparation for trials, an older track makes footsteps more discreet, forcing the dog to concentrate harder, and with a deeper nose.

But when is an hour old track not an hour old? To say you've aged your track an hour says little about it's difficulty. An hour old track on a cool, dewy morning is a whole lot different than an hour old track in the middle of the day. The effects of wind, temperature, sun, and humidity as well as the type and quality of vegetation, will all affect the rate at which scent disperses.

A small paradigm might be helpful. While there are other natural factors which can affect track difficulty, here are the primary ones:

Easier   More Difficult
Light  WIND  Breezy
Cloudy SUN Bright
Morning/Evening TIME OF DAY Mid_Day


It is necessary and appropriate to challenge an experienced dog. But young dogs can easily be de-motivated by tracks that offer only fragments to follow. Be sure to adjust the aging of your tracks according to the conditions.

OBEDIENCE: "Get It In Focus"

Keeping your dog's focus during heeling is one of the keys to a successful performance. Many of us, in an attempt to keep the dog alert and interested, move rapidly during heeling practice, making frequent turns and changes of pace.

For many dogs, this pattern of training causes both frustration and anxiety. Heeling is like dancing. You're leading, and the dog is following. Hey guys, ask the ladies what it's like to follow a bad dancer! If the dog has trouble keeping up with you, his frustration can spill over to other unwanted behaviors. He may worry about being corrected, but may also be anxious about moving so fast he can't both focus on you and see where he's going! Some dogs also go into hyper-drive, bouncing, forging and taking the "lead" away from the handler.

Slow down. Work your dog at a controlled pace, somewhere between slow and normal. Work in an open, flat area so the dog does not have to be concerned about footing or running into something. He'll be more willing to give you eye contact, and less likely to shift into high gear. And remember to turn into him if you reward with a toy to keep him from dancing in front of you.  

PROTECTION: "Trying To Whip Your Dog Into Shape"

As I travel around to different clubs, it's always interesting and informative to observe different styles of helper work. One trend which became popular a few years back and is still hanging on, is the use of the whip for stimulation. Most of the helpers I observe - especially those new to the sport - use a padded whip as standard equipment. The whip is used extensively to stimulate dogs running blinds (from 5 to 6),for pole work, for long bites and to build intensity.  

I question whether the whip is being overused. A whip is artificial stimulation which a dog won't see in a trial. It sometimes is used as a crutch for helpers who don't have the skill to develop intensity in the dog. It also is used to promote defense, sometimes striking the dog to create a higher level of stimulation or physical pain.

The whip, like any other tool, has a place. We use it as an arousal stimulus for stoic dogs who have good nerve but are lacking in drive. It also has some value to move a dog to a higher level of intensity to enable them to "win" when the helper puts up a harder fight. To use a whip with a planned objective, and withdrawing it after the task is accomplished, is a constructive way to train.  I have doubts, however, about the extensive use of the whip as a stimulus. In many cases, it becomes a crutch that causes the dog to go flat in its absence. It can also carry over to obedience, creating anxiety during gunfire. It can also frighten some dogs, resulting in avoidance behavior.

The issue of using a whip to build defense drive is also controversial. Defense, by definition, is unsureness.  The apparent objective is to teach the dog to push through, thereby making him stronger in the face of a threat. Are we building the dog's confidence with this technique, or tearing it down by creating unsureness where it may not have been an issue in the first place? I'm of the latter opinion, but there is a lot of disagreement on this issue. The present direction of the sport, however, is to promote the "sport dog" in favor of dogs of a "civil" nature or those that work out of defense. This will probably get you more points, as well as a dog that's easier to live with.  A strong dog who likes to fight doesn't necessarily need "defense" drive to dominate a helper. The choice, however, is a personal one.



  This article has been republished with the consent of the United Schutzhund Clubs of America who originally published this article in its bi-monthly magazine. For more information on Schutzhund or membership with the United Schutzhund Clubs of America please visit their website