Electronic Collar Training for the Schutzhund Dog
Many problems with the jumping exercise can be avoided by teaching the dog a good jumping form. In the first part of this article, we will explain how we teach correct jumping form to a dog.
Teaching jumping style does not directly involve the use of the electronic collar. But you will use your e-collar to eliminate the dog's options to avoid the exercise. These options (familiar to all dog trainers) include 1) not leaving the handler, 2) going around the jump, 3) not retrieving and 4) not returning promptly.
Using the e-collar for these problems is more effective than using the cumbersome long line. Corrections are much better timed with the e-collar, so it takes fewer of them for the dog to understand. Furthermore, the e-collar is safer to use with the jumping exercises because it cannot tangle around the dog's legs or the jump.
For dogs that habitually touch the top of the jump, another device is available that incorporates mild electrical stimulation. It is known as a jump bar and is available through the Dobbs Training Center.
Teach the brush jump before you teach the wall jump. Introduce jumping with the brush jump set very low-not exceeding 12 inches. You should only raise the jump gradually in increments as the dog develops proper motor skills. A common mistake is to raise the jump to full height too soon. This will encourage the dog to seek ways to avoid jumping because he is simply afraid that he physically can't make the jump.
With the dog on leash beside you, trot him over the jump a few times. At first, you may want to go over the jump with him. As he becomes confident, you can run along beside the jump.
Each time the dog takes off over the jump, say your jump command. Praise him with enthusiasm every time he lands.
Very important! Never jerk or pull the leash as the dog takes off, or as he is going over the jump! This will do nothing for the dog but make him associate discomfort with jumping. It will also interfere with his concentration on the jump. It will teach him a bad jumping form: holding his head up, dropping his head back and dangling his legs as he goes over the jump. If your dog develops a form like this, he will have trouble clearing jumps at higher heights. A dog with an efficient jumping style lowers his head as he takes off, tucks up his feet, and rounds his back as he clears the top of the jump. So always leave the leash slack when you run the dog over the jump.
Now take the dog off the leash and leave him on a sit about 10 feet away from the jump. Walk to the other side of the jump, stand right in front of it and face the dog. Lean down, tap the top of the jump, and command the dog to jump. As he approaches, back up so he has room to land. Don't forget lots of praise for every completed jump.
Now raise the jump to the height of the dog's withers. Continue calling the dog over it with your jump command. Gradually, back your position up until you can call the dog to jump from about 30 feet away.
At this stage, you should introduce ground bars, which should be in place every time you have the dog jump until the dog's form has been set. Ground bars are white bars placed parallel with the jump on each side of it. They can be pieces of 2 x 4, plastic rain gutter, etc. If you have an obedience broad jump, two boards from the broad jump are ideal.
The purpose of ground bars is to prevent the dog from getting in the habit of taking off too close to the jump. Each ground bar should be as far from the jump as the jump is high. Therefore, as you raise the height of the jump, move your ground bars out.
At this point, the dog has to use a little effort to jump, and may start going around the jump. You are going to use your e-collar to teach the dog not to do this by using brief, low level electrical stimulation just as the dog comes along side the jump. We'll tell you exactly how in a moment. But first, you must understand that this use of the e-collar is different than any use you've made of it previously. You are going to use it to give "environmental corrections." An environmental correction is a correction that the dog associates with the environment (i.e., the area along side the jump is an uncomfortable place to be). The dog does not associate an environmental correction with his failure to perform a command. Therefore, do not give any command when you press the button for an environmental correction. You want the dog just thinking "Hey, that wasn't the easy route after all!"
To incorporate an environmental correction into the jumping exercise, have your transmitter in your hand and your finger on the button; your timing must be precise. Watch the dog as you call him and just as he rounds the side of the jump, press the low button. Release it almost immediately. Using low "Nick" or momentary is ideal. Say absolutely nothing during this process.
Now, having shown the dog what is unpleasant, give him a comparison: going over the jump is more pleasant. To prevent the dog from going around the jump and being corrected twice in a row (in which case, he would not receive the comparison he needs) simplify the task to that he will be successful. Take him back to the same side of the jump that he started from when he ran around. Go to the opposite side of the jump and stand right in front of it. Tap the top of the jump as you call the dog over it. After he has succeeded, increase the difficulty by going back to your starting point, and repeat. Give him praise whenever he jumps.
Use the e-collar in this way whenever the dog runs around, followed by a positive comparison - simplifying the task so you know he'll get it right.
After a few repetitions of this sequence, you will often see a dog start to go around the jump and then change his mind and swerve to clear the jump instead. When the dog shows understanding of the correction, you can proof him by moving his starting point and yours both farther away from the jump until you are each about 50 feet away from it. The jump should be in line with the two of you.
In order for environmental corrections to be effective in teaching the dog not to skirt around the jump, three things are necessary:
First, the dog must have a chance to make a comparison- going around the jump is uncomfortable, going over it is comfortable by comparison. Therefore, every time you have given the dog a correction for going around, you must arrange it so next time the dog will go over the jump without question. You can do this by leaving the dog closer to the jump before you call, and/or you standing closer to the jump when you call.
Second, the electrical stimulation must not be so strong that the dog perceives the entire exercise as unpleasant and doesn't want to jump anymore. You should use a lower intensity plug and/or a lower transmitter button than you would use if the dog failed to obey a command. If your e-collar has momentary stimulation, this is an ideal time to use it at a low level.
Third, the stimulation must occur only as the dog comes along side the jump. Do not start it the moment you first see that the dog will run around the jump. Do not continue to hold the button down after the dog has passed by the jump and is coming to you. In order to make the comparison; the dog has to perceive only the areas at the sides of the jump as unpleasant, not anywhere else. See the diagram #1 for where to apply the electrical stimulation.
Now that your dog knows not to run around the jumps, you should set up a series of jumps in a row and call the dog over them repeatedly to develop the dog's condition, confidence and proper stride.
You should practice this with a minimum of three jumps. Initially, set the height at the height of the dog's withers. Set the jumps up on a lawn and not a hard surface like pavement where repeated jumping could cause injury.
How far apart you space the jumps is extremely important. You want the dog to be able to take exactly one smooth, unconstricted galloping stride after landing and before taking off for the next jump. He should take off about as far away from each jump as the jump is high. See diagram #2.
To get your jump spacing correct, you or a friend must watch the dog do the jump series from the side. Adjust the spacing of the jumps until it is proper. Then pace the distance off between the jumps and use the same distance every time you set up.
As you raise the jump height, you will usually need to lengthen the distance between the jumps. Be sure to check the dog's style from the side again every time you raise the jumps.
To introduce the dog to doing a series of jumps, start by calling him over the last one, then call him over the last two, then the last three, etc.
If the dog runs around a jump (and he almost certainly will at some time), "nick" him with the e-collar just as he comes along side the jump. Then repeat the jump alone before returning to the sequence.
After a few sessions of training on the jump series, start having the dog carry his competition-sized dumbbell over all the jumps every time you jump him. Many trainers overlook this important step. Overlooking it can lead to trouble later in maintaining the dog's speed and style when the retrieve is added, because the dog feels awkward jumping with the dumbbell in his mouth. (You should have already taught the dog to hold and carry properly. See Part III of this series)
After several sessions of jumping the dog at the height of his withers, gradually add height to the jumps. Slowly work up as the sessions progress, until the jumps are at full trial height. As you approach this height, reduce the number of jumps in your series to just three, as this is a strenuous exercise for a dog. Do not repeat the series more than a few times in a session, because an exhausted dog will begin to make many mistakes and develop a bad attitude.
Now that your dog is comfortable jumping, it is time to add the retrieve. Use just one jump, and have the ground bars in place.
Lower the jump to the height of the dog's withers. Even though your dog is comfortable jumping, you need to be able to see him easily on the other side of the jump so you can correct any retrieve problems. It is very important that the dog's retrieving style not be allowed to deteriorate just because there is a jump between you and him.
When you sit the dog in front of the jump for the dumbbell toss, be sure he is at the correct distance from the jump for his stride (see diagram #3). Have someone check his performance from the side view and adjust accordingly. (As with the jump series, you will normally need to increase the distance as you raise the jump). Once you know the distance that is comfortable for your dog, keep it the same every time.
As the dog gains proficiency and you can see that he does not have any retrieve problems, gradually raise the jump, adjusting the ground bars each time, until the dog is jumping the full height.
Here is how to use the e-collar for problems with the retrieve over the jump.
Once the dog is comfortable with the basic retrieve over the brush jump, you need to teach him to take the jump on the way out and back even if the dumbbell lands off to the side.
Introduce this concept by throwing an "X" pattern: you and dog start off center to one side of the jump and the dumbbell lands off center to the other side (see diagram #4). The jump will still be between you and the dumbbell, but the dog's path of travel will take the jump at a slant. Start with slight angles and progress to more severe ones. Work from both sides. Correct going around the jump with the environmental correction method.
Now stand in front of the jump and throw the dumbbell off to the right side of the jump, so that the dog can see it lying on the ground (a certain temptation to run around!). If the dog tries to bypass the jump, use the environmental correction, "nicking" him with the e-collar as he comes along side the jump.
When you restart the dog, take a step or two toward the jump as you give your jump command. Praise him enthusiastically when he picks up the dumbbell.
When the dog is reliable at dumbbell throws that are off center to the right, repeat the procedure for off center throws to the left. (Left is more difficult than right because when the throw is to the left, your body does not help block the dog from taking the wrong route).
A dog that has developed physical skills by jumping the brush jump at gradually increasing heights easily masters the wall jump.
Start with the apex of the wall at about three feet, so that the dog can easily see you over the top of it. Run the dog over it on a loose leash. Encourage the dog to charge up the wall, but not down it! Teach him to use each rung as he comes down the wall by tapping each rung with your hand and slowly enough that the dog focuses on them. This will discourage him from developing the style of "bailing off" the top of the wall after the wall is raised, and it is important to help prevent injury.
After the dog is comfortable, begin raising the wall gradually until the top of it is about five feet high. Call the dog over it toward you; have him carry his dumbbell, just as you did with the jump series.
After some repetition at this stage, introduce the complete retrieve exercise over the wall. Gradually add height to the wall as the "bugs are worked out" and your dog is giving you a confident, stylish performance.
If you encounter problems, use the e-collar in the same way as we recommended above for those problems with the brush jump.
In our next article in this series we will cover the blind search.
Dobbs Training Center
9627 Spring Valley Road
Marysville, CA 95901
(530) 741-0375 - FAX (530) 741-0242