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Schutzhund: The Dog Sport of Masochists

Another wonderful blog entry by Jen Rainey of Vom Haus Huro.


Masochists? Really? Well, the definition of masochism, is the condition in which gratification depends on one’s suffering physical pain or humiliation. Switch that to pain AND humiliation and it would fit like a glove (or like a crisp new Schweikert trial arm). It is easy to torture oneself with trying for the perfect obedience round. It is all good fun to try for that better tracking score. It is absolutely a good time to train your dog to go after a guy dressed in an almost spot on Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man get up. Sure, it all makes perfect sense. Do any one of those things and have fun. Do all three together? Welcome to my insanity. Welcome to my addiction. Welcome to my sport.

Schutzhund was developed and molded to be the triathlon of the dog world. 3 events, one dog, one handler, one day. What it has evolved into is a highly specialized sport requiring almost Herculean effort and extreme dedication (much to the dismay of close friends and relatives). Tracking. Obedience. Protection. They bill it as the T.O.P. Dog sport. They lure you in with training vests, tracking lines, balls on a string and new jute covers for that shiny new sleeve that you will convince yourself you and your dog cannot live without. Then there is the fourth aspect of the sport, the one that you will hear loudly and proudly discussed in the clubhouse, but hushed in the presence of the “newbs”: the handler injury. If you want to play protection dog, you’re going to have to be willing to bleed.

At this point it sounds scary, doesn’t it? Trust me, it’s not so bad. You will learn to love it. The virus will slowly take over your system and you will find yourself smiling in delight at that perfect 6 a.m. track, as opposed to groaning in indignation at your own stupidity for actually discovering that your alarm clock does, in fact, contain a 4 a.m. and yes, that shrieking alarm does expect you to wake up to “such it up”. Watching your dog at the end of a 33 foot line come up to, and indicate, an article will be the most satisfying experience you have had since graduation. The perfect turn that is taken on a track leg will fill you with the same pride as looking down at a quickly and correctly completed Rubiks cube. Whether you are trying for your IPO1 title and you lay your own 450 yard track with 2 turns, slightly aged and your own articles or you are trying for the elite IPO3 with its 800 yard length, laid by a stranger and aged 45 minutes just to make you queasy, the happiness you experience from a passing score will be the same.  Precision, pride, tranquility. Tracking. One phase down. If you were lucky enough to score 70 points or more out of the possible 100, take those field boots off and strap on your sneakers. Time for obedience.

Schutzhund obedience is one of the fastest paced and exciting things out there. Fast? Exciting? Obedience? I kid you not. Extreme drive and the ability to cap it are essential in obedience. The build up of drive and then stopping it and compressing it becomes an art form. Eventually that build up has to explode. By design, that is inevitable. By training and luck, that explosion becomes crisp, correct and joyful obedience. The sheer joy of having your dog at your side, completely amped up and yet focused on you and remaining compliant and biddable is absolutely unequaled. The multitude of times that your dog had missed the ball and gotten your thumb will be forgotten. Those flesh wounds from doing targeting practice with tug toys that the manufacturers seem inclined to make smaller and smaller are now scars worn with pride and a sense of contentment through accomplishment. A mere 300 paces stands between you an accomplishment. Well, 300 paces, 3 retrieves, motion exercises (sit and down while moving for the IPO1 with a stand from motion and extra recalls added in for the IPO2 and 3) and then the send out. Why split hairs, though. Energy. Compliance. Intelligence. Obedience. A mere 70 points out of 100 once again stands between you and the next phase. Let’s do this.

Protection is in many ways just a continuation of obedience and yet it is the most popular of all the phases in terms of spectators. Maybe because they don’t have to get up at 6 a.m. like you do for tracking. Maybe because not every dog guards the same, but if you have seen one dog do the flat, meter jump and wall retrieves, you’ve seen them all. Or maybe its simply the display of raw power harnessed by the power of a bond with a human utilizing voice. Oh yeah, and the dogs bite stuff. Who doesn’t want to see someone get bit at the end of any day. That’s just good fun. Between the handler and the helper man (who I surly hope has good insurance) stands between 2 and 6 blinds. The dogs have to learn to search the blinds at the direction of their handler in order to show their obedience and their commitment to the search process for locating our bad guy. Now the real fun begins. I know the helper is in the last blind. The dog knows he is in the last blind. The crowd has helpfully pointed that fact out to both the dog and I with their clustered presence in that area in case either of us were too dim to figure it out or too nervous to remember. Target acquired. Missile locked and loaded. Time for blind searches.

Now you need to send your dog, who is almost out of their mind with anticipation, to a blind in the opposite direction of where Senor Bad Guy is camped out. Your dog will look at you like you are crazy and then, if you are lucky, with acceptance, as they race away from their target and around the empty blind. Requirement met. Game on. As your dog races back toward you, you get the extreme pleasure of shouting to your dog “HERE…REVIERE”. This is a two point process. You will see your dog look at you when you yell “Here” with an expression that clearly says “Really? He’s like, right there” but when you get that eye contact and you extend your arm toward the hot blind and say “reviere” you are rewarded by a brief flash of excitement in your canine teammates eyes as they double their speed and race toward that blind and bad guy saying “oh yes, I’ve got this”. Here comes my dog, helper man. Hope you are ready to fight.

Now as your dog disappears behind the blind you hold your breath. One of two things will now happen. Either the excitement will make your dog deranged with its own power and he’s going to go in for a bite or training will have won over and you will hear the sweet sounds of a machine gun bark, complete with ample flashing of all 42 teeth as your dog unleashes a full set of colorful doggy expletives at our decoy buddy in the blind. Once the barking starts, so does the fun The judge now signals you over for the pick up. You watch, awed despite yourself, as your dog ignores your approach in favor of making sure that his suspect stays put. You approach about six feet behind and the moment of truth you have been dreading arrives. “Hier…fuss”. You are asking your dog to leave his guard and return to a heel position. It is time to move this suspect. Come on out dirt bag, we got you.

You try and fool your dog into believing you are in control by ordering the helper around in your best, tough guy voice. Considerably harder when, like myself, you are a girl with a fairly non serious personality. I suggest watching some Law and Order to prepare. It couldn’t hurt. “Helper, STEP OUT”. Now you hope that when the helper steps oput and moves around the blind your dog will stay in heel position. Thankfully, he does. What a good boy. Time for the escape bite. You leave your dog to guard the bad guy while you retreat behind the blind. Bad guy now makes a bad decision and attempts to escape. Kill. Maim. Destroy. It’s escape bite time. Poor guy usually doesn’t get further than a few feet before gaining a weighty attachment to their left arm. A quick out command, followed by the dog releasing shows that you are still in control. Now the bad guy threatens again, the dog counters and the drive begins. During the drive the dog is threatened by the helpers physical proximity and a padded stick for extra emphasis. A leather wand and a little hug? Threaten my dog? Please. He eats my hands for obedience. He knows no fear.

Now after we out our dog from the drive we come to what, for me, is the best part of the day. Courage test time. Now we take our dog WAY down to the very end of the field and face our helper who is at the opposite end. A field apart we square off. It is now the helpers job to show us just how scary he can be. He is going to come at us with everything he has. Yelling, waving his arms and physical presence are being used to imply that he would like to rip me apart…..and my little dog too. Moment of truth time. All the training in the world wont give a dog the nerves to stand up to that sort of threat. That comes from genetics and a lot of luck. Hold that collar. Breathe deeply. Send your dog.

What follows next is beautiful. Helper and dog each hurling toward each other with everything they have. You watch your dog pick up speed, target the sleeve and then launch. A mere few seconds later they are back on the ground and into another fast drive, just to make sure the dog meant that long bite. End of drive. Helper gives up. Out your dog. Now you move in. You pick up your dog in a heel and you move around to disarm the helper by taking the stick. With your ever vigilant dog by your side between the two of you, you move to the judge. Then the words that seal the entire deal. “Jen and Digger. Reporting out for IPO2 protection.” 70 or above and you are now that new shiny title. 80 or above and you get that title and the chance and privilege to attempt the next highest level at the next trial. Hostile. Agile. Mobile. This is protection.

The next week when your 4 a.m. alarm blares, you reach over and turn it off, grab your band-aids and your hot dog slices and head out into the pre-dawn darkness. Why? Because the virus is no longer controlling you. You are now the virus. The only treatment is more training, the only goal the next title. This is schutzhund. Schutzhund is life.

If all goes well you can go to an World level competition and when you are done. It’s time to start the next dog. After all, every addict needs their fix.

Gross Weather = No Training Time

Unfortunately, my absolutely favorite place to train when the gross weather rolls in is out of commission for the month of December.  What does this mean for me and the beasts?  It means that we have to brave the sleet, the snow and the rain to get our training thing done.  This is fine for me since I can layer up and be nice and toasty, but the pit bulls believe that they will melt because they are made of sugar, spice and everything nice.  Convincing them that they simply will not die when they go out into the cold and the muck is a feat in itself.

The last few days we’ve been absolute slackers.  They’ve stayed in the nice, warm house and run on their Grand Carpet Mill and trashed the house with the massive box of goodies ranging from Wubbas to stuffies to Kongs and everything in between.  Let me tell you, getting beaten by a Mega Wubba is on my list of things I definitely do not like having repeated. (Thanks, Ryker!)

As it stands right now, I’m not going to be able to travel with my friend Jen to Kentucky in a couple of weeks to try again for Ryker’s Schutzhund BH because of the likely possibility that I’ll have to work a crap load of hours the week before Christmas.  I will be glad for the paychecks I get, but it just sucks because I wanted to go and had planned to for weeks because I think we are read – well, Ryker definitely is (my nerves suck!).

Lyric is coming around beautifully with her obedience and I’d love to start working more on it so that we can try for our URO1 in the early part of next year and possibly a UCD the following year if she’s ready.  I’m trying to keep it light and positive with her so she continues to enjoy it.  She is the kind of dog that starts loathing things if they become boring or restrictive because she is such a free-spirited dog.

Mika’s doing well and has the most phenomenal heeling for such a young dog.  We’re not really pushing her very hard because we want her to have fun and not rush things.  Being a title chaser can only be benefited if the dog enjoys what they’re doing and I can’t see the point of ruining a young dog like that for a piece of paper.  I’m very proud of Bruce for what he’s done with her and what he continues to do with her.  The bond between the two of them is amazing – especially since most of the dogs in the house prefer me and if she had to choose, it’d be him and not me she’d run to first. (Traitor!)

Luna and Duo, well, they’re just relaxing.

Luna’s enjoying the fact that she doesn’t have to constantly train and be conditioned for weight pull since I’ve retired her from pulling heavily.  We’re going to attempt UKC Rally next year, I think.  She knows all of the moves, so that won’t be a problem.  We’ll just fine tune those fronts and finishes before we go and be all set.

Duo, on the other hand, won’t be doing much of anything except snoozing with his Grandpa.  He stresses out when he leaves and his reactive behavior around other dogs leaves something to be desired.  In reality, he’d rather just hold down the bed or the couch than travel with his siblings.  The one-on-one time he gets when he stays with Grandpa, I think, is his favorite thing in the planet.  How else would he not look plumper when we return than before…because someone feeds him entirely too many goodies while we’re gone!

Ah, well…with any luck, the weather will clear and I won’t have to spend as much time complaining about the garbage weather and inability to train.  Heck, the possibilities of taking classes this winter very well may make my life a little less not busy (Ha!) and brush up on a few skills and basic behaviors and before the dogs and I know it, spring will be here again!

Training Trials and Tribulations

I’ve been training as frequently as I possibly can since Ryker and I assassinated our chances at a BH recently. He knows what he’s supposed to do and so do I, but we have had to go back and connect where we needed to when it comes down to the nitty gritty of the whole training aspect. It’s taken us a bit of time, but I think I’ve gotten it…finally.

However, things change when I switch the dog I’m working with. In this case, Lyric. She frustrates me sometimes because she is always thinking. My friend, Jen, said it best. I’ve been giving her mixed signals when I ask for something and while she wants to please me, I’m confusing her. I feel like a complete idiot in this aspect and it’s good friends that help me see that I’m flat out being stupid and that it’s not the dog…it’s me.

Lyric is, and always has been, a thinker. She’s forever analyzing a situation and trying to figure out which way will best make me proud of her. When I get frustrated, I handle myself and her horridly wrong and I feel like a jerk after the fact – especially when someone I highly respect tells me I’m being a jerk (in a more elaborate example). I just need to reassess how I handle her and I think the first thing we need to do is go back to the basics – more for me than her. To do this, we’re going to enroll in a basic obedience class.

Now, Lyric has much more knowledge than what she’ll get in the basics class, but for me to remember that I have to work my sensitive little monkey in a better fashion. She’s not like Ryker who will go, “Whatever you want, mom!” and do it in the fashion I ask. She’s also not like Mika or Luna who will do anything for that toy. She wants to please me and wants me to be happy with her and to do that, I have to change who I am with her for her.

I’m still feeling like a complete idiot from today, but knowing that I can admit to myself and to her that I screwed up makes things a whole lot better. Tink (Lyric) – I love you, even when you do some of the stupidest things you make me laugh and I promise I’ll get better when we work together. I hate seeing the doubt in your face when I get frustrated.

A Valuable Lesson

What an experience we had today! If our good friend Jen Rainey at Vom Haus Huro German Shepherds had not alerted us to the Metro-Detroit Schutzhund Club’s trial today, we would not have had the pleasure of taking our first baby steps into the fun and challenging world of Schutzhund.

To say we passed with flying colors would be far from the truth. In all honesty, we bombed pretty badly and while my goober boy had something to do with it – most of the problems lay on my shoulders. As a good friend of mine once said, “It’s easy to train the dog, but sometimes it’s the handler who needs the real help.” That is absolutely the honest truth right there. Ryker felt my nerves right through every step I took and every move I made since we are so tuned in to one another as a team and we both screwed up – including me second guessing when I was to return to him on the long down and going too soon.

Sadly, it meant we didn’t get our BH title. That being said, it was a very valuable lesson. The lesson that no matter how much you train. No matter how hard you work, you and your canine partner are still prone to error – be it large or small – and at the end of the day, your dog will still look up at you with complete adoration because that dog still had fun. That dog still doesn’t care about that little piece of paper or the pretty ribbons…he cares about you and you alone.

While I am sad I let him down, I’ve realized that there is always next time and we’ll both go in with much more confidence and experience under our belt. Heaven knows I’m not perfect and neither is my wonderful Ryker, but we can strive to embody it every time we go out…even if we fall smack on our faces!

And on an ending note, I have to give my thanks to those who have been there for me – training with me, rooting me on, sharing silly stories of trials past. I owe it to you guys for getting Ryker and I this far – Howard, Beth, Wayne, Jen, Doty, Gabby, and the love of my life, Bruce. Without my wonderful support, I don’t think Ryker and I would have even come this far.