Electronic Collar Training for the Schutzhund Dog: Part VI, Blind Search with Hold and Bark
By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard
In the last five articles, we covered selection of equipment, fitting the collar to the dog, and basic principles that apply whenever training with electronic collars. We explained how to introduce the dog to the e-collar with the "three-action introduction," which teaches the dog the strategy for success. We have covered developing a reliable retrieve, a spirited send-out, and confidence with the jumping exercises.
In this article, we will cover the blind search and the hold and bark. These exercises must be taught separately. However, they should be taught concurrently. You should do this so that when the dog has a good understanding of both the hold and bark and the blind search, you can easily put then together to form the exercise as done in competition. This article deals only with the obedience aspect of the hold and bark, and not with drive development.
THE BLIND SEARCH
We teach the blind search in three parts:
Your electronic collar is used to keep your dog relying on your direction, rather than running down the field directly to where he thinks the helper is hiding. It is much easier to structure the exercise to keep the dog wanting to look for the handler's direction after each blind, rather than trying to fool the dog as to which blind will contain the helper. If you do not remove the dog's option to run the blind of his choice, you will not have consistency in your blind searches.
Teaching the Dog to Go Around a Blind
Partially open a portable blind, so the dog can easily see you when you stand behind it. Sit him on the far side of it, facing you. Call him to you as you step quickly to one side, attracting him by your motion to run around that side of the blind.
Repeat this procedure several times, gradually moving the dog's starting position farther and farther to the side, so that he must go around more of the blind in order to come to you when you call him. Always step to one side as you call, to encourage the dog to come to you on the same side of the blind regardless of his starting position.
If you build the dog's path slowly in increments, he is unlikely to run around the wrong side of the blind. If, however, he should try this, apply brief, low level stimulation as he comes along side the wrong side of the blind, just as you did when you taught him not to run around a jump. (Momentary stimulation, if your e-collar has it, is ideal for this purpose).
Give the dog a comparison. Start him off sitting closer to the correct side of the blind the next time you call him, so that he will be successful and come to you on the correct side.
Now set up the portable blind in its normal position. Fasten a length of cord inside the blind, so that it hangs down from the top, with a clip on the free end. Clip a tug toy or receiving bumper to the cord. Attach it so the dog can easily pull the object off the cord.
Send the dog to get the toy from the blind. Repeat a few times and get
the dog excited about the toy. Encourage him with your "Search" command.
From now on, you will use this command when you send him to a blind.
Now begin sending the dog from your side into the side to get the tug toy. Start by offsetting your starting point to the left of the blind, so that the dog's path is a shallow "horseshoe" around the blind to its open side where he grabs the tug toy, then returning to you along the opposite side of the blind. As you see the dog grab the tug toy, move sideways away from the side of the blind that he entered so as to encourage him to return on the opposite side of the blind. Thus going around the blind rather than retracing his path.
Some dogs prefer to go clockwise and others counter clockwise when turning. The side the dog prefers is that dog's "power side" and he will feel more comfortable searching blinds from that direction. Observe which side your dog prefers and build the horseshoe pattern in that direction.
As the dog gains proficiency through repetition, gradually move your starting position away from the blind until the dog is going about 25 yards into the blind, grabbing his tug toy, and exiting the blind on its opposite side to run back to you.
Teaching a Dog to Continue on to Another Blind
Set up a second portable blind about thirty yards from the first blind. Teach the dog to go around blind No. 2 just as you did for blind No. 1.
Now hang the toy or bumper in blind No. 2. There should be nothing hanging in blind No. 1. Stand between the two blinds, about 10 feet away from blind No. 2. Send the dog around blind No. 1, call him back toward you, and immediately direct him into blind No. 2, where he finds his hanging tug toy reward.
After this stage, the dog learns that he will be rewarded with his tug toy if he takes your direction and continues searching after finding nothing in the first blind.
After a few repetitions, you can begin increasing your distance from blind No. 2 until you are half way between blind No. 1 and blind No.2.
When the dog can search from this distance, vary the location of the tug toy; sometimes put the tug toy in blind No.1, sometimes in blind No. 2.
Any time the dog tries to run directly to blind No.2, disregarding your direction to first search blind No.1, call him to you with "No. Here." Heel him half way to blind No.1 and send him from there. Use your e-collar to reinforce "Here" if he disregards your first "Here" command.
Add a third blind to form a triangle of blinds. At first, blind No. 3 should be fifty yards from blind No. 1. Blind No. 2 should be thirty yards from blind No. 1 and thirty yards from blind No. 3. This configuration will help the beginning dog to succeed. Teach the dog to go completely around No. 3, finding his tug toy hanging in it and returning to you.
Now hang the tug toy in No. 3. Send the dog to search blind No.1. Just after he rounds it, call "Here" to attract his attention and direct him into blind No. 2. As soon as he is heading away from you for blind No. 2, walk forward. As the dog comes around blind No. 2, attract his attention with "Here" and then "Search" as you direct him with a signal toward blind No. 3. Your position will keep him from trying to return to blind No. 1. You are teaching him to run across the field just in front of you; he is awarded for taking your direction by finding the tug toy in blind No. 3.
When the dog can search three blinds in succession and does not try to return to blind No. 1 again, vary the location of the tug reward-sometimes it is found in blind No. 1, sometimes in No. 2, sometimes in No. 3.
Now you are ready to increase the distance across the field to about fifty yards, and decrease the distance between blinds No. 1 and No. 3 to about thirty yards. After a few repetitions, you can add additional blinds. Teaching the blind search with the tug toy reward allows you to teach the mechanics of the search pattern on your own without using valuable helper time.
When the dog is able to search six blinds, it is very important that you take your dog to various locations and give him experience at searching blinds on different fields.
The Hold and Bark
While you are teaching the blind search and progressing through the steps described above, which will take several days, you should also be teaching the hold and bark as a separate exercise.
To teach the hold and bark, first teach the dog to sit and bark for a tug toy or bumper held by the handler. Next we add the helper, and teach the dog that sitting and barking is what earns a reward bite. During this stage, we restrict the dog so that he cannot fall into the habit of bumping the helper or taking his own bites. In other words, we are patterning the dog into being correct and teaching the behavior that brings him pleasure (a reward bite).
After the dog knows well what to do to earn pleasure and has been physically restricted so that he cannot be incorrect, we eliminate the restriction and let him make the discovery that bumping and helping himself to his own bites leads to displeasure from the e-collar.
If you teach the hold and bark in this order, you will have a clean and confident dog that never needs a harsh correction in the hold and bark, because he knows the only one way that leads to pleasure-the correct way.
Teaching the Dog to Earn a Reward
Teach your dog to sit and bark at you on command for a tug toy or a tennis ball. Practice this while standing in front of a blind. Then add a recall, so that the dog runs to you on command as you stand in the blind. He is to sit, bark, and be rewarded with his tug toy. Build up the length of the recall gradually to a distance of at least 30 feet.
At first you should reward the instant he sits and barks. Then very gradually lengthen the time you require the dog to continue barking before you reward him.
Now eliminate the tug toy reward, substituting in its place the reward of a bite. Wearing a sleeve, you should stand in the blind as before, and repeat the above procedure of recall, sit, bark and reward. This time, reward the dog with a bite on the sleeve and then let the dog carry the sleeve. Start with the dog very close, say five feet away, then gradually lengthen the distance of the recall to 30 feet. Gradually build up the time you require the dog to bark before rewarding him with the sleeve.
The reason we use the handler at first rather than the helper is because the dog is not prone to bite the handler, just the presented prey object. Also, with the handler instead of the helper using the sleeve, the dog is working totally in prey drive and without defense drive.
Remember that we are just building mechanics here, not developing defense drive. (You and your helper will add that in the blind work later). If you tried to build a defense drive while teaching the hold and bark procedure, the dog would not be calm enough to learn the proper procedure and would require a lot of correction. Using excessive correction while the dog is learning mechanics robs him of a confident looking hold and bark. By having the handler wear the sleeve at first, we can give the dog the experience he needs in earning the reward through the desired behavior without having to worry about him forming undesirable habits.
Introducing the Helper
Now is the time to introduce the helper. Back-tie the dog with a premeasured length of long line tied to a post. The back-tie must be just long enough to allow the dog to get into proper position to sit and bark, without being able to physically contact the helper. The use of this back-tie is critical.
We are teaching the dog the correct behavior to earn a reward during this exercise. The dog must not be allowed top gain his reward from incorrect behavior.
Have the helper stand in the blind with the dog back-tied. Command the dog to sit and if necessary encourage barking by patting the helper on the sleeve. For the first few repetitions, have the helper reward the dog with a bite the moment he sits, whether or not the dog barks. Then you can require that the dog also bark for his reward bite.
With repetition, gradually increase the time the dog must sit and bark to earn a bite. Increase the distance from which you send the dog, until he is running as far as the back-tie arrangement will allow.
Teaching the Dog to Make a Comparison
Now the dog is ready to be taken off the back-tie and make a comparison: hold ad bark earns a bite; bump or bite on his own earns the displeasure of momentary stimulation.
Repeat the procedure above, with the dog off the back-tie. Be sure you are in a position to be able to see if the dog bumps or takes a bite on his own. Respond immediately to every infraction with the "bump" of brief mild stimulation.
If your e-collar has momentary stimulation, this is an ideal time to use it. Momentary stimulation begins when the button is pressed, and turns off automatically after only an instant, regardless of how long the button is held down. Momentary stimulation is perceived as mildly unpleasant by working a dog without distracting him from his work. If your e-collar does not have momentary stimulation, tap and release the button to create very brief periods of mild continuos stimulation.
Putting it Together
We don't try to fool the dog as to which blind the helper is in. Instead, we teach the dog, "Eat your spinach before you get dessert." In other words, "Run around all the blinds before you get to the helper."
Set up three portable blinds and leave the helper in plain view standing in front of the third blind. Have the dog run the three-blind search pattern he has already learned (in order to find tug toys). This time, there are no tug toys. Instead, at the third blind, is the helper. Just as the dog comes around blind No. 2., the helper should step into the blind. The dog searches blind No. 3, does a brief hold and bark, and gets a bite.
Sooner or later the dog will try to run straight to the helper, who is standing in plain view in front of the third blind. Remove this option by pressing the button on your transmitter as you command "Here!" The dog will quickly learn that he must run around blinds No. 1 and 2 before he can proceed to the helper.
Now add additional blinds and increase the search pattern to include all the blinds. The helper should always be in the last blind until the dog is reliable at performing a complete search and never tries to run directly to the helper.
Developing Position and Team Work
When you begin requiring the dog to run the full pattern, searching all five blinds in succession before arriving at the helper in the sixth blind, you need to be sensitive to your own position and motion in relation to both the blinds and the dog. If you move too rapidly down the field, you will push the dog too far down the field and cause him to skip a blind. If you do not progress quickly enough down the field, your position with respect to the blinds will tend to pull the dog back to a blind he has already searched.
Some experimentation and practice will tell you how rapidly you must walk. Typically, the walking handler should be about even with the blind the dog has just finished searching at the time he sends the dog for the next blind.
Do not correct the dog for searching the wrong blind if it is caused by tour position in the field. Your own position as a team member is the determining factor for not skipping or repeating blinds. If you see the dog going for the wrong blind, just call him to you with the command "No. Here" without using the e-collar (unless he disregards the first command). Start over by repeating the last correct blind he searched.
To keep the dog from running down the field directly to the helper, make it a rule of thumb that the dog must look at you after searching each blind. Reward his eye contact with your command to search the next blind. This rewards the dog because it allows him to continue his momentum toward the helper. If he does not look at you on his own after rounding a blind, immediately call him all the way to you and require him to heel with you back to the position to repeat the search of the prior blind. (If you need a second command to make the dog come to you or heel, reinforce it with the e-collar).
The dog will make the comparison and learn that if he looks to you for direction after each blind, he can continue his momentum without being stopped. If he tries to disregard you, his momentum will be stopped-and his progress to the helper delayed!
When the dog accepts this control, you can vary the location of the helper to add interest to the exercise. But do not begin varying the helper's position until the dog accepts performing the entire search of six blinds your way, checking in with you after each blind.
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