Online Class Review – “Foundation Weaves, Love Them and Flaunt Them”

My dog Molly hated weave poles in the game of dog agility.   Hated.  Whenever we saw them in training or competition, she blew by them as though they were invisible.   When I recalled her to me and helped her enter them, she would stress down, sniff, sneeze and shake her head – oozing stress.   And if she weaved any slower, she would be moving backwards.

I knew when I saw Julie Daniels’ “Foundation Weaves - Love Them and Flaunt Them” class on Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, that we needed to enroll.  Straight away, I liked that the class material was available for dogs at all levels.   Beginners, in-progress or retraining.  As the class progressed, this was very much true.  The teams enrolled in a working (Gold Level) spot with Julie were from all walks of their agility life and she guided every single one of them with skill.

I also liked how versatile Julie is with the equipment required.   A set of weaves is very spendy, even if you make your own.  The downside of an online classroom is that you need to have more equipment at home, or wherever you will be training.  However, Julie has a wide variety of inexpensive equipment options that teams working in this class can use.   That is a big plus for those on a tight budget!

Molly and I enrolled in a working spot and I was very upfront about our major “weave baggage”.  Not only did Molly have a dramatic stress reaction to the weave poles, so did I.  But the course material made weaves…fun!  Yes, fun!  If I haven’t made it clear yet, this class is very versatile and so are the course materials.  There are many different ways of training weave poles and Julie brings them together, blends them, adds things of her own and then helps teams choose which path will make them most successful.   I love that!   There is nothing I love more than seeing an instructor that can rise to the challenge of acknowledging that different dogs learn in different ways.

Julie brings a lot of enthusiasm and great energy to the class, she wants her students to be successful.   She loves the subject (weave poles!) and it shows in her interaction with her students!  You can’t help but feel happy about weave poles during this class!  The course was 6 weeks long and by the end of it, Molly and I had made significant progress in our attitude about weave poles as well as Molly’s general knowledge of what her job was.   I had a dog who was really loving the obstacle, for the first time in her career.  So if you want to teach weave poles, are struggling to teach weave poles, if you need to re-train weave poles, or if you are like me and hate weave poles with every ounce of your being – check out Julie’s class.  You are going to have a wonderful experience!  (Class information as well as session scheduling can be found here.)

Happy Weaver! credit - Rich Knecht Photography

Happy Weaver! credit – Rich Knecht Photography

Don’t be a Dull Walking Partner!

photo(2)A common complaint that I hear from friends and clients alike is, “leash walks are SO boring!” Mostly what follows after this exclamation is that they want their dog to have a perfect recall so they can only be exercised off leash and magically have all the fun in the world. Well… ok then! Don’t get me wrong: excellent recalls are vital to living a happy and safe life with your dog, and personally I hike off leash with my guys at least 2-3 times every week. I understand wanting to have the wild adventure of off leash play, but just like anything else in dog training, leashed walks are only as boring as you make them be. So here’s an idea: HAVE FUN!

The first, and I should hope the most obvious, advice I can give is to be engaging. Bring yourself to every walk 100%. Don’t you dare use dog walking time to chat on your cell phone or daydream about how many errands you need to run after this mundane neighborhood stroll. Your dog deserves better than that. Even if you are just on the other end of the leash to toss a few cookies to Fido for maintaining a nice loose leash or smile at him when he checks in with you, that is already a step up. While taking solo walks with each of my dogs, I also use this time to tell them how freaking awesome and beautiful they are. Really. Try it!


Client dog Delilah pauses her training walk for a game of tug.

Leashed walks are also an excellent time to practice heeling and obedience behaviors, as well as your dog’s repertoire of super cool tricks. I frequently take breaks during a walk to do a little heeling pattern or two then bust out a few spins and core challenging tricks. Bring along a tug toy to reward with and get crazy! Break out of that “living room training session” mindset and practice everything while on the go. While working their brain much more than a normal walk, Fido will also get the double benefit of proofing his training and focus on you in a variety of locations with distractions.


Another absolute favorite pastime on walks that I share with my dogs is GETTING ON STUFF! Some people call it urban agility, but I just call it being really darn cool with my dogs. See a park bench? Ask your dog to get on it. Tree stump? Hop up! Fire hydrant? First place the front paws on for an easier trick, then balance all four for an impressive balancing stunt. Encouraging your dog to use their body to jump up or balance on something is an easy peasy way to increase confidence on a huge variety of surfaces, and it makes for great photos as well (general public: please stop taking photos of your dog with the camera pointing straight down at their head. Really. It makes your dog look like a bobble head. Think their eye level or lower!). I proof my dogs’ stays very frequently using the “jump up and pose!” method. They absolutely love it and we have such a great time together figuring out what they can jump on during our walks. Many dogs find jumping self rewarding, and it is another entertaining way to change up a typical walk, but start off slow if your dog is ever unsure.

Owen and friend Marti practice their stays and position changes after jumping up on a picnic table.

Owen and friend Marti practice their stays, release by name, and position changes after jumping up on a picnic table.

Teaching a front paw targeting cue is a great place to start until you can work on getting Fido to jump confidently up onto something. I also always have my dogs wear body harnesses on leashed walks so I can help them jump off of something that might be a bit high off the ground; they are taught to automatically stay on whatever they jump on until released or helped.

Go new places! Don’t stick to the same neighborhood route over and over again. Change it up, choose a different path, or simply take a short drive to somewhere else in town. My dogs often ride along with me to lessons and classes in different cities, so I can easily stop to take a walk in a new places on the way home. You might need to have more planning for that option, but it is well worth it. Novel smells and sights are always stimulating to dogs, and can also help to break you out of the boring leashed walk rut. Many people take their young puppies out to new areas often for socialization and training, then forget about it when their dogs grow up. That IS boring! So go somewhere new this week for a walk, even if it is only a few streets over from your own.


“If you always give you will always have… friendship.” (River agrees… and would like you to give her that flock of ducks over there.)

No matter what kind of fun and games you choose to do on walks with your dog(s), do them often! Don’t fall into the rut of making leashed walks out to be a chore when they can provide the best bonding and training time that you and your best buddy have all day. So get out and be creative, engaging, and most of all: have fun on those walks!

I have found my joy, and his name is Steve.

Years ago, when Steve was young and completely insane and I was new to agility and new to the special kind of insanity that is Border Collies, I had a trainer completely steal my joy. The club where I took obedience and rally also ran an agility program, and the instructors were some pretty accomplished people– multiple championship titles, Nationals, even someone who has been to Worlds. It was natural that I would just start off my agility journey there.

Very bad plan. Very bad. They begin with what they call Foundations, which is exactly the skills that it should be, but the problem is they have six young, green dogs all trying to

Big air Steve

Big air Steve

work, usually offleash, at the same time. Steve, young and overly excited about anything and everything that moved tasked with rear-foot-targeting a small board OVER AND OVER AND OVER again… well… let’s just say that didn’t keep him very occupied.

I did a lot of mat work with him. I did a lot of control unleashed games with him. But what it came down to was that there was no way for me to keep this dog under threshold far enough for him to learn much of anything with the class set up the way it was.

And none of the instructors either could understand that or were able to honor that and help me work around it.

We finally made it out of Foundations after several sessions and moved into Beginner 1. This class involved stringing several jumps together, maybe in a big circle. Stever dropped probably 85% of the jumps. So they found me special jumping instruction. She was going to teach my dog how to jump.

Never did anyone address that my dog was so over threshold that his brain was gone and the only thing his body wanted to do was GO AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.

I left class crying week after week.

I was taken out of the class and set aside and told to work on my relationship problems with my dog.

My heart broke. I got this dog to play agility with him, and I had failed completely before I ever got started.

They missed it. They missed it completely. The problem was not my dog, not at all. It was not me. I was doing everything I knew how to do.

The problem was the setting. The problem was instructors who just didn’t get it. Nowhere along the line did anybody suggest a different class, or private lessons. That was what he needed. No one said anything about thresholds.

Steve masters a different kind of teeter totter

Steve masters a different kind of teeter totter

I quit. I left class crying yet again and I never went back.

Finally after some encouragement from friends, I switched to another training club. I went to meet the instructor to see if my dog was broken. He wasn’t. He ran beautifully alone in her training building. What?

So we joined her classes. One dog in the ring at a time, for the most part. The rest of the dogs crated either in the building or out of it, depending on the dog.

And yeah, he was high at first. WOOHOO AGILITY! He crashed a lot of jumps. But as he learned the game, as he learned the environment, he started to settle.

And we made progress. I stopped crying. My dog learned. I learned.

Somehow, I had an agility dog.

We’re nothing amazing. I don’t like to trial, so he has a couple CPE titles and a couple legs in USDAA Performance 1 Gamblers (and I think 1 in Standard).

Here’s his first USDAA Gamblers run ever. (fast forward to about 50 seconds in)

Now most of the agility we do is on our own, just playing around in the training building, running whatever course is leftover from classes. I like it. He likes it. It works.

Recently I’ve put him back in Rally Obedience classes again. I love the instructor. I love the sport. Steve is a smartypants who pretty much knows all the exercises (he has one Rally Excellent leg, and I just haven’t managed to get out of bed to make it to another trial). But it’s good for him to go brain, and it’s good for me to go play with him in public.

And play we do. Sometimes, our play gets caught on camera, like it did before class last week. We were just warming up, fooling around, getting ready for class. The instructors husband caught us on film.



(and before anyone says it, yes, he forges terribly and no, I don’t care)

And what do you know, my old agility instructor, the one who broke my heart and stole my joy? She saw it and she commented on the “long way” that Steve and I have come and that it was “impressive”. And that would feel good if it were coming from somebody else, coming from someone who supported us and believed in us from the beginning. But she is somebody that we worked hard *despite* of, somebody that broke us down instead of lifting us up.

Steve and I? We didn’t need to work on our relationship. We have that in spades and we always have. We just needed somebody who understood what we needed to help that relationship shine in a particular environment.

I am so lucky to have this amazing dog in my life, and I am so very very grateful to have found people who would build us up, who would work through the hard stuff, who would sing his praises and help me toward achieving what I wanted with him.

That is what everyone trying to train a dog deserves, whether you’re just trying to learn basic manners in a beginner obedience class or you’re trying to learn a complicated game like agility. Respect. Honoring of your special relationship with your dog. Encouragement. Knowledgeable advice appropriate to your situation. We are not all cookie-cutters. We all deserve to be treated and taught as individuals.

Continuing Education – Capturing mistakes on video

I am very new to the sport of agility (like, 2012 new.)  So when I saw that the topic for today’s blogging event was “Continuing Education” I thought, “My education is nowhere near to being complete, let alone moving into the phase of “continuing!”  I also thought over the many ways that an agility enthusiast can pursue learning our sport: classes both live and online, books, videos, seminars, workshops.  Team Unruly writer Michelle wrote a great post last February about Continuing Education through seminars.  (Go check it out!)

But for somebody so green as myself, I would have to say that a lot of my education comes straight from watching my three dogs.  Over the last three years I have learned all about “it is never the dog’s fault” and how true those words are.  If my honest dog does something, or does not do something, I respect them as the mirror of my own errors.  It took me a while to learn to think this way, every time, but it is the truth.  I like to maximize the “lessons” that my dogs have to teach me, so for me a very important tool in my education is to video my training sessions and runs at trials.

A lot of people don’t like to video themselves, the reasons are numerous. It can be tricky to wrangle in a helper to take videos for you, or to set up a device to capture your training sessions.  It adds additional work to our training session structure to set up the camera and have it positioned correctly.  Knowing that we are being video’d can make us feel additional pressure, even if there is not another person present to run the camera.  And quite honestly, it can be humbling and embarrassing to watch ourselves make mistakes.  It is not a whole lot of fun to see ourselves messing up an agility sequence or confusing our dogs, so maybe we prefer to not capture that on video.

I am a person who constantly asks “Why did that happen?”.  That train of thought can spiral into obsession and over thinking (I cannot help myself!), so having a video of exactly what did happen is very helpful to me.  If I feel like a training session was unsuccessful, reviewing a video can teach me Why.  I can watch everything that I do, I can watch my dog respond to my actions, I can better review the quality of the behaviors that I am training.  There are many times that I am making subtle mistakes that I truly do not remember making.  Having a video allows me to become aware of those mistakes.  It allows me to pinpoint specific weak areas.  It teaches me how to better structure my training sessions, moving forward.

Capturing my runs at a trial on video are just as valuable.  My own stress and excitement jacks up at a trial and clouds my memory, and my reactive girl Molly can become very high on the environment.  We are quite a pair and my biggest mistakes at trials can come from overhandling Molly.  I was not even aware that I was doing this until I started to consistently get my runs on video.  I started to watch myself panic, overhandle and stress her out.  If I video what I am doing out there at an agility trial, and I can pick out the same mistakes over and over again and be honest about myself with that information, I can learn and improve.  When I walk a course I am far more mindful to identify the areas where I might overhandle Molly, so that when we are actually running the course I am less likely to fall into the trap of doing so.

“Eventually people will realize that mistakes are meant for learning, not repeating.”

I don’t think there is a more constant way to learn from our own mistakes than to be able to watch them in all of their glory.  To be able to see what we are doing with our dogs and not just recall it whisper-down-the-lane style form memory.  And if we do not understand what exactly went wrong, we can take a bite of humble pie and show it to somebody with more experience who can help us learn.  Agility moves so quickly.  I say things that I don’t remember saying, (“Did I really say tunnel and not jump?!”), I move my hands and body in a way I do not remember (“Did I really overhandle there?!”) but a video helps me to be aware of these things and move towards being a better partner to my dog in the future.

[Check out other great blog posts on the topic of Continuing Education here at the Dog Blog Action Day page!]

Life Goals

In July, many of you and the Team Unruly members chose one or a few things that our dog(s) needed to work on as our “Summer Homework”.  I chose to train Perri to heel for the Obedience ring.  That’s a simple sentence, but there was nothing simple about the work to come.  Because sometimes, oftentimes, training goals aren’t cut-and-dry simple.

Low Confidence.  Overwhelmed.  Shut Down.  Anxiety.  Hard To Motivate.  Those are phrases that have crept into my every day language when it comes to Perri.  These are things that I did not realize that I was dealing with at first.  Things that I did not particularly want to deal with.  Initially, Perri’s discomfort was very subtle to my untrained eye.  She does not shut down into an anxious and shuddering mess like my corgi, Ein, does.  Ein makes his case obvious.  Ein doesn’t leave me room for guessing.

Perri leaves me a lot of room for guessing.  You could say that she is hard to get to know.  In fact, rather than “teach Perri to heel”, our summer homework branched out into many paths of things that we needed to learn and work on as a team.  Things like helping Perri work through being startled by loud noises.   Helping Perri learn to work even though there is a 200-pound newfoundland ringside, or a german shepherd in her agility class and she is unnecessarily worried that they will hurt her.  Helping Perri learn tricks so that our relationship can grow in a pressure-free environment.  Helping Perri to not be Afraid.  Stopping when we are successful in training, even if it is only after two minutes of work.  Even if I want to continue.  I had to learn what motivates Perri, and what does not motivate Perri.  I had to learn that this changes from day to day and accept that this is how Perri is, no matter how confusing it is to me.  (For example, one day Perri will turn herself inside out for her tug toy, the next day she could not care less about it and would rather have a piece of cereal.  It changes every day, the guessing game is a struggle sometimes!)  This summer while I tried to work on what I thought was one goal, I instead worked on many, and am still continuing towards those goals.  My summer goal really opened the door up for our Life Goals.

The best thing I took away from my summer homework was “Listen to your Dog.”  And you always should.  No one knows your dog like you do.  If I could make a goal for any dog and human partnership it would be that: for the human to always pay attention to their dog and adjust their goals or environment accordingly.  It is what I had to do.  I have to listen to Perri and work at her pace, even though it makes me sad that her pace is dictated by various anxieties.  The dog underneath that anxiety is brilliant.  I remember when I was in grade school, my teacher asked a question of the class.  I remained silent.  I knew the answer but did not want to volunteer it by raising my hand – because I was very shy and I might be Wrong.  The teacher called on me anyway.  Instead of offering the correct answer, I said,  “I don’t know.”  I think that is what it is like for Perri.  She knows what to do, but sometimes she is just too nervous to do that thing and would rather do nothing than chance being wrong.  My goal is to never make her feel that way again.  My goal is to listen to her.  My goal is to come back to where Perri can be certain that she will be Right, and work up from there.

So, we took a detour from our summer homework and learned some more important lessons on the way and that’s all right.  That’s better!  Goals can be wonderful things, but they can also put pressure on the relationship – for better or for worse.  Since we as the handler are the half of the partnership with the goals, it is our job to pick the right path towards that goal and to keep it fun and respectful for the individualized needs of our dog.  If it takes a day, or if it takes a year, then so be it.  What matters is the friendship that develops along the way.

How about you?  Have you ever had to alter your plan to reach a goal with your dog?  Do you have any goals for you and your dog for 2014?  Tell us in the comments!


The Power of ‘No’ [This Post Is Not What You Think It Is]

When I’m training my dogs, I think it’s fair to say that I spend most of my time in the positive-reinforcement quadrant of the operant conditioning spectrum.  Lucy was my first dog, and when I initially got her, I was less “here is my cogent and systematic training philosophy, which I will strive to implement fairly every day” and more “watch me flail my arms helplessly, in the manner of a Muppet”. That said, I discovered positive reinforcement


“‘No, Nellie, don’t get on the table!’, you say? I’m sorry, that’s not a phrase I understand.”

training with Lucy’s help, and she’s the one who taught me how well it works and how much more fun it was for me than, well, basically anything else. I experimented with the clicker with Lucy, and when I got Nellie, I decided that she would be my first exclusively clicker-trained dog.  She’s also the first dog I ever really tried shaping with; it was in the course of learning how cool shaping can be that I decided that I was going to excise the word ‘no’ from my vocabulary when it came to my dogs.

This is not to say that I think that anyone who uses the word ‘no’ is a dog abuser–that opinion may be out there, but I don’t hold it.  This is also not to say that I don’t enforce any boundaries with my dogs, because I sure do.  But I realized a couple of things about ‘no’ that made me decide to stop using it.  First, it is very difficult to teach the absence of something: this is why it’s easier to teach a dog to bark than to teach them to stop barking, because “that thing you are doing needs to not happen anymore” is a pretty abstract concept.  I’m not a pro trainer by any means, but the fact that I have a lot of dogs and enjoy training them means that within a certain circle (that circle is called ‘my grandmother’s friends’), I am That Girl Who Knows A Lot About Dogs and am often called in to help with whatever problem Fifi happens to be having.  95% of the time, the problem is that the owner wants Fifi to stop doing something (usually something that Fifi likes doing) and the owner hasn’t thought through what they’d like to have Fifi do instead.

“She just won’t stop barking at strange men!”

“Well, what would you like her to do when she meets strange men?”

“….not bark at them?”

But after we talk for a while, the owner decides that what she really wants is for Fifi to go up and approach strange men in a friendly way.  THAT gives us something to work on! If Fifi’s not actually scared of strange men, the first thing I’ll do is teach a hand target (go up and boop the person’s hand with your nose). Then we’ll have a party for all of the owner’s Strange Man Friends: when Fifi approaches them, they drop a treat near her, and after a few rounds of that, they offer their hand for her to boop. After a while, Fifi starts thinking of strange men as exciting treat-dispensing monkeys rather than “Those Scary Things That Must Be Barked At”.


The Hua’s secret code name is ‘Fifi’. Shhh, don’t tell my grandmother.

The effect that the owner wanted–the cessation of the barking–happened, AND we got Fifi to the point where she didn’t want to bark, she wanted to be doing something else instead.  The opposite approach–just yelling, “No, Fifi, no barking!” a. would probably have just confused poor Fifi, b. would likely have gotten her even more worked up about strange men, because they cause mom to yell, and c. probably would not have worked consistently: suppressing behaviors is rarely absolute, and often you’ll get some ‘breakthrough’ episodes.

backlit nell

Sorry, the only thing I heard was ‘jump!’

Besides the fact that it’s often confusing for the dog, and besides the fact that saying ‘no’ is a lazy way for the owner to avoid training the behavior they actually want, there’s also the fact that ‘no’–on the occasion that it actually does works to suppress behavior–is a blunt instrument.  Sure, you don’t want your dog to jump up on you when you’re wearing your nice work clothes, or to jump over the fence. But there are situations where you DO want your dog to jump: at agility class, say, or when you want them to pose on a big rock so you can take scenic hiking pictures of them. You may not want your dog to alert bark at the mail carrier when she comes to the door, but you might really appreciate your dog barking when there’s somebody sketchy in your front yard (or in my case, when there are giant wild pigs attempting to eat your garden.) Suppressing the behavior completely means that you may not be able to call on it when you want it.

Del Close, Closet Dog Training Guru

The other side of this is a little more philosophical: right when I was beginning to teach Nellie about shaping, I also happened to be reading a lot of books about theatrical improvisation (just for fun: I was on a kick.)  The big, kind of uber-rule in improv is that when you’re in a scene, you never say no to anything your partner offers: if they begin with “Well, here we are in France!”, you don’t say, “This isn’t France!” What you say (and this is the kicker) is “yes! and…”: you agree with something that your partner says and then you add onto it so the scene can continue (“Yes, I never thought I’d be in France….with Frankenstein!” [sorry, that is a terrible example of a scene. NEVER DO THAT.]) Tina Fey, by the way, gives a great rundown of “Yes, and…” and its relationship to life in her book Bossypants: it’s reprinted here and is a fun read. Anyway, I had kind of a breakthrough when I was reading all this improv theory and also playing 101 Things To Do With A Box with Nellie:  it’s basically kind of a doggie improv game, and I realized when I was playing with her that shaping was really about having a ‘Yes, and…’ relationship with your dog.  They throw something out there, you build on it, they build on it,



and at the end of the process, you’ve got a cool behavior. In the same way that it’s easier to teach a dog to do something rather than not to do something, a dog who feels confident trying out new things has a much easier time building the behaviors you’re looking for than a dog whose attempts at trying out new behaviors are constantly shut down.

Of course, there are times when I don’t want my dogs to do something (usually in a specific context), and when that happens, I am a big fan of using Leslie McDevitt’s idea of ‘availability’ training, which is to say that you teach your dog the concept that [x] is not available to them (either at that moment or forever) but [y] is.  In practice, this looks like, “My sandwich is not available to you right now because I’m hungry and I want it, but your antler is available to you if you want something to chew on”. This is not to say that the sandwich will never be available–I give my dogs random bits of crust or whatever all the time–but only that it is not available now, and I try to teach my dogs to be polite and accepting about that fact.

So, taking ‘no’ out of my repertoire meant increased clarity for the dogs, made me actually train positive behaviors rather than just trying to suppress negative ones, and helped me create a relationship with my dogs where they are happy and eager to try new stuff out for me.  Now I’m going to tell you why I’ve reintroduced the word ‘no’ with my puppy, Widget. TWIST!

I know, I’m as surprised as you are. I have a secret, though: I am not using ‘no’ in the way that people generally tend to use it.  Often, when you see ‘no’ employed, it’s being bellowed at some poor hapless dog who is busy doing one of any number of fun things.  The human bellows, the dog thinks, “Ugh, whatever, stop yelling” and wanders off to do something else.  What I wanted to do was to make ‘no’ a meaningful word for Widget: I wanted it to be something that cued a specific behavior.  I wanted it to be a word that was meaningful to her, in the same way that ‘sit’ is meaningful; it’s asking for a concrete behavior, rather than just being deployed as a suppressive catch-all for a million potential behaviors.


Intense? Me? Surely you jest.

“But why reintroduce it at all?”, you might be wondering.  “What about ‘Yes, and…’?”  Here’s the thing about that: Widget is a puppy, which means that her impulse control and manners are both a work in progress.  She also happens to be a very intense puppy who is prone to weird herdy trances when confronted with motion. And she uses her teeth a lot. She’s got good bite inhibition, and we’ve been working hard on cementing the idea that Humans Don’t Like Teeth Near Their Skin, but she’s been mouthy since the day I brought her home and it’s been very hard to unlearn the Teeth As Coping Strategy thing that she apparently developed in her life before me.

Widget also gets out a lot. I take her with me everywhere I possibly can: she comes to work, she comes to every dog-friendly and dog-neutral store, we go to trials and events and classes, and she meets a ton of people, both Dog People and non-Dog People. One thing I’ve always noticed about non-Dog People interacting with dogs is that there’s generally a moment where the person is tentatively trying to figure out if they can ‘steer’: they’ll ask for a sit, and then if the dog barks or something, they’ll default to either a ‘down!’ or a ‘no!’  If the dog sits when asks and eventually stops barking, the person relaxes, because they know they can communicate with the dog. Because Widget is a baby and occasionally does dumb baby stuff (we’re working on it!) and also occasionally attempts to nom the hands of strangers, it quickly became clear to me that people other than me were going to be telling her ‘no’ a lot.  And because ‘no’ was something I’d never taught her, Widge was just not clear what people were asking of her; thus a lot of her early encounters involved people backing away because they were worried they couldn’t communicate with her, and that was sad for everyone.

I don’t use ‘no’ much/at all in my own training, but I WANT my dogs to take cues from and communicate with other people; I like people to feel comfortable around them even though they are crazy medium-to-large terriers, I want to know that they’ll work for a friend or for my mom or for a trainer, and I want them to be able to listen to strangers if there’s ever an emergency.  And like it or not, one of the ways strangers communicate with unfamiliar dogs is with ‘no!’.  Heck, I worked hard to eradicate ‘no’ from my training lingo, and still, when Lucy got out the side gate this morning and decided to take herself for a stroll, as I chased her down the street, I forgot all my useful words–like, for example, ‘here!’–and the thing that came out of my mouth was “Nononononono, c’mere, you monkey, NO!”

So that’s why I decided that with Widget, I was going to turn ‘no’ into a cued behavior.  After all, if she’s going to hear it from other people (and from me when I’m flustered), it might as well be a meaningful thing for her.  And in the spirit of Fifi the Strange Men Barker, I wanted to make sure that ‘no’ cued a specific behavior that I wanted.  The behavior I decided that I wanted was for Widget to stop moving and to give me eye contact: that seemed like it would be appropriate in any situation where somebody is saying ‘no’ to her, since it would halt whatever behavior they saw as objectionable while giving her something else concrete to do.


Note to self: Try this the next time the puppy starts unloading the dishwasher.

I taught it pretty much the same way I taught ‘off’: we started by playing tug with a tennis ball, then I said ‘no!’ (lightly and calmly) and pretty much stopped all motion. She let go of the ball and looked at me, I threw the ball for her. Then I started trying it with other behaviors–when she was just walking around, say–and then started working on it in more distracting situations–for example, when she was wrestling with Nellie.  I’m now practicing using it when she jumps on my mom (left to my own devices, I use ‘paws down’, but having two cues that mean the same thing is not a terrible.)  Next up, I’m going to try it with lots of different tones of voice, since people are not generally saying ‘no’ in a nice calm voice, though I will make sure to always reward heavily and keep it fun.  I have no desire for ‘no’ to ever become a punisher for Widget, and I don’t want to use it to suppress behavior; I don’t want it to mean anything to her other than ‘Hey, here’s a trick I’d like you to do!’

Anyway, that’s the story of how ‘no’ re-entered my vocabulary: through a sneaky back channel that really meant ‘yes’!  Hopefully, people will feel less compelled to use it as the puppy matures a little bit and I’ll be able to phase it out, but until then, I am glad to keep it in the toolbox.


The Unsuppressible Sisters.

Sometimes Everything Just Sucks

I am totally getting this plate someday

If I ever get a dog-themed vanity license plate, it’s going to be this one.

You know, when you (co-)write a blog about dog training and dog sports, it’s really easy to slip into a pattern of just talking about the good stuff: your training successes, the things you’ve done well, the ribbons you’ve won, the obstacles you’ve conquered.  It’s a little bit like Facebook: if you spend too much time over there, you can come away thinking that everyone you know is constantly winning awards, getting married, having babies, getting promotions at work and so forth.  One of the unintended consequences of Facebook is that it sometimes makes you feel like your own life–with your messy kitchen and your half-eaten bowl of cereal and your pile of unfinished work–just doesn’t measure up to the lives of everyone you know.  And it’s the same thing when you read dog blogs–you read about other people’s trial successes and the cool training they’re doing and the huge ribbons their dogs picked up last weekend–and then you look over at your dog, who has dirt on her nose from digging a hole in your yard and is in the process of chewing on something alarming, and you think, “Nope. That is not my dog, that is not my life, those are not going to be my ribbons.”

So it is in the service of balance that I am now going to come over to our usually sunny and positive blog and tell you this: I went to a trial last weekend, and it was awful.  The dogs and I all performed terribly, I didn’t learn very much from the experience, and I didn’t leave feeling like, “Hey, this is something to build on, and it’ll be a great baseline for when we start practicing again” (which is generally how I feel at the end of trials: usually, while I know that things weren’t perfect, I am proud of my dogs and ready to start fixing the places where we made mistakes.)  Not this time, though. This time I left just feeling depressed and frustrated, and the thought of going home and picking up my clicker and my rally cards again just bummed me out.

My trial experience was stressful for a lot of reasons: it was multi-day, it was far from home, it was expensive, it was one of the few trials in my area that my tripod dog is allowed to participate in (which meant that it was high stakes, title-wise), it was going to be my puppy’s debut; most importantly, though, we didn’t do great when we competed at the same venue last year, and I was full of determination that I was going to Show Them This Time, blah blah blah.  So I worked hard with my dogs to prep for this trial.  We practiced the exercises to the point where all three dogs could do them in tandem anywhere we were. We trained in novel venues–the pet store, the hardware store, the busy park–and we worked a lot on focusing through distractions.  I did perch work with Nellie and Widget, working hard to get their heels nice and snappy.  We did some mock trials with a training friend of ours, and I even enrolled the older dogs in a class, just so we could get some practice performing in front of a group of people and dogs. We practiced in the hotel room the night before the trial, and everyone looked gorgeous. And I was confident! I was sure we were going to leave the trial with a new title for every dog! I put my entry forms in, paid my fees and showed up early to the venue, ready to take on the world and show everyone how awesome my dogs were.

We bombed. Every one of the dogs NQed in every event I entered them in.  And true to their natures, when my dogs NQ, they do not mess around. Some people NQ because, say, their sits are a little crooked or they misread a card and do the wrong kind of turn.  When my dogs NQ, they run out of the ring and go roll in poop under a tree, or get so fascinated by the smell of the grass that they they forget I exist completely, or they ping-pong around on leash so much that it looks like I’m trying to walk a kite in a windstorm. It was the kind of thing where I didn’t bother to wait around and hear scores afterward, because there was no possibility at all that we’d Qed. And after all the work we’d put in, and after the effort and time and travel and money….it was embarrassing, because it truly looked like I’d just walked into the ring for a lark without doing any training at all.  I left the trial early, feeling ashamed and sad and like I never wanted to do anything like that again. I wasn’t mad at my dogs–things like this are always the human’s fault–but it was definitely not the fun experience I was hoping to have with them.

And I want to submit that this is something that happens more often than we admit in dog training: sometimes you are hopeful and confident and have plans of action, but sometimes you are frustrated and sad and don’t know how to fix the problem that you’re having.   And increasingly, I think it’s important that we acknowledge to ourselves that this is a real thing: dog training isn’t a constant process of building on your successes, and even careful preparation doesn’t always result in the outcomes you hoped for.  Sometimes things go wrong and you don’t know why.  Sometimes things just suck. And sometimes you don’t want to hear people’s advice about how to solve the problems you’re having and listen to the way they got THEIR perfect dog to do the things your imperfect dog isn’t doing: sometimes you just want to wallow and feel crummy about everything.

What is important, I think, is what comes next after the urge to wallow starts to fade away.  I will admit: it’s been three days since I got home from our bummer trial, and I have had zero desire to work on any training stuff formally.  But I have thrown the ball endless times for my dogs, and we went on a fun hike, and I’ve cuddled on the couch with them watching movies and they’ve sat on my feet and mugged me for bits of my peanut butter sandwich.  They are my buddies, regardless of what they do or do not do at trials, and I love them; that is solid, always.

And I’ve slowly started going over the trial in my mind, and I’ve slowly–very slowly–started to figure out what the trial actually taught me.  I learned that my girls still need practice in the actual ring, and that the faux-ring work we did in advance didn’t quite prepare us well enough.  I learned that my own ring nerves are probably getting transmitted to them, and eventually I’ll need to figure out how to fix that.  I learned that we’ve got to prepare better for specific kinds of distractions.  I learned that the puppy can go into the ring without completely losing her mind.  I learned that Lucy, my reactive dog, is actually at a point where she can go to trials now without threatening to rearrange everyone’s face.  I learned that bringing stuffed frozen Kongs to trials is a very effective strategy for keeping the dogs quiet in their crates.  And I learned that the next venue I try needs to be smaller, lower-key and closer to home. Next week, I will take the girls back to rally class, and I will do my best to consider all of these things and to integrate them into my training. Slowly, slowly.

Ultimately, there’s no bad experience that can’t teach you something. All a trial (or an encounter with the scary dog down the street, or a practice run on a difficult obstacle, or an offleash hike in a strange place)–is, really, is information: your dogs are always learning, and if you never give them a chance to show off what they’re learning, you never get the chance to make an assessment.  Sometimes what they tell you is that they are ready for whatever it is you are asking of them; sometimes what they tell you is that they are decidedly not.  Either way, you can’t know unless you give them the chance to tell you. If you can get something out of an experience, it’s not wasted, even if what you’re getting isn’t what you’d hoped for.

But that kind of Zen-like acceptance comes later.  If you’ve just had a bad experience with your dog, be it a blown trial or a training failure or a snarky episode in the park, you have my permission to not leap into thinking What Does It All Mean? and How Do I Fix This? and How Can I Find The Silver Lining In This? right away.  You don’t have to decide to quit your sport forever, or never trial again, or never go on a walk during the middle of the day; you may decide that eventually, but for now, sleep on it.  For your sake and your dogs’ sake, don’t rush right back into training to try to fix the problem.  Go have some ice cream, take your dogs out somewhere quiet and peaceful and just be with them, give yourself a break for a while.  And know that even if you don’t see it on dog blogs or hear it from the trainers you admire, everyone has the kind of day where they just hit the wall.  Everyone has felt hopeless and like they don’t know what to do next occasionally. We’re not superhuman, and neither are our dogs. As long as your relationship is solid, and as long as you have some hope that someday, down the road at some point, you’ll be able to get something useful out of the experience, then go ahead and wallow. Because everybody’s been there, and sometimes, things are just the worst.


From the hike we took before our second day of Epic Trial Fail. They may be monsters, but they’re MY monsters.

On why I keep a training log

dahlia1In agility class the other day I was doing what I do every class: I was creating a course map in my sketch book. One of my fellow classmates, a long time competitor in agility and other dog sports, came over to ask what I was doing. “Do you recreate the courses in your backyard?” While that would be a great use for the course maps I write down during class, it’s unfortunately not what I do with them. I have no backyard, you see. So there’s little chance to recreate a course, much less a full one, for me outside of class.

So what was I doing then?

Well, I tend to be the kind of person who likes to keep track of things. Oh, I don’t keep lists or anything. But I like to document things. I like to be able to look back and relive moments in my life that I really enjoyed. And so when I started agility classes three years ago it was natural for me to make a log of what happened each class.

I didn’t start doing it with any real goal in mind but the longer I took classes, the more I realized that there were really several reasons to keep such a record and I’m glad I did so from the very beginning.

1. Tracking progress. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it all, you feel like you’ve been struggling forever. There have been days I’ve walked out of class and felt like we would never ever improve. I would come home so disheartened. I’d see all the other dogs so easily taking some complicated maneuver that we just never quite got the hang of, or that we blundered our way through with Dahlia occasionally hesitating and looking to me for help. These are the moments I go back to the log. Sometimes I go back and skim through entries from the year before, just so see where we were at that time.

Here is a course we did in class at the end of May last year. As you can see it’s a fairly simple course, one cross (change of sides), only 9 obstacles. My note on the beginning of our run was this: I got Dahlia out there and she was slow. Not like she was trotting through it. She was walking through everything. This was pretty typical of her at that time. She walked through courses, occasionally trotted. Even the easy ones without pinwheels and fancy maneuvers. She hesitated at the entrance of the second tunnel, another one of her tendencies at the time. Forget pinwheels! She would hesitate before each and every jump.

Here is a course we did in class in May of this year. Notice the difference. 17 obstacles and that wasn’t even the hard part! The beginning consisted of some crazy handling maneuvers that required a bit of a serpentine into a rear cross with the dog taking both jumps 3 and 4 from the same side.  The sequence of 8-9-10 required a front cross and a strange turn that sent the dog wrapping tight around 10 before moving on (and then getting them to commit to jump 11 so that you could front cross before 12!). We struggled with this. I won’t even pretend otherwise. And I remember feeling a bit out of my element while out there. But we did it. It was messy and not perfect, but most importantly we did it. A year ago that would not have been possible. So even though we struggled with it, the fact that we could even contemplate doing it was a huge thing.

I enjoy comparisons like this because it reminds me that this really is a journey and that we’ve traveled along from where we were before. We’re not at our final destination (we never will be), but we’re constantly moving forward. It reminds me that the journey is the important part of all of this.

agility342. Assessments. I also keep track of what happens at trials so I can compare those notes to what happens at class. Being able to see it all written out in black and white gives me a chance to see what is consistently going wrong (both at trials and at class) and allows me to try to fix the issue. For instance, back a year or so ago, we realized that Dahlia wouldn’t take the A-Frame or Dog Walk in a trial situation. That gave us a chance to work on more confidence and more distractions on her contacts.  We also know that Dahlia shuts down a bit at trials. She doesn’t have nearly the verve and excitement she does in class, so we’re working on that one as well. Having specific notes as to why you didn’t Q each time allows you to see if there’s a pattern causing them. Is your dog always taking an off course jump or tunnel? Then maybe your handling is not clear enough or maybe the dog hasn’t been taught to turn properly at a cross. Is your dog taking off to sniff? Then maybe he/she finds the trial atmosphere stressful and you need to work on stress issues. Does your dog like to go greet the ring crew? Then more distraction training is needed! On the flip side, if your dog has several Q’s in a row, seeing what happened to cause those can help you continue doing what you’re doing right! If you don’t write these things down, will you remember them from one week to the next? I’m not sure I would. And so having them there to re-read and find the patterns, both positive and negative, is very important to me.

3. Memories. This one is a little bit sad. But someday my best girl is not going to be here. She’s going to be nothing more than memories and so instead of saying “Yeah I used to do agility with my girl” and allowing those memories, the triumphs and the frustrating moments, to fade I have them all written out with complete clarity. The courses we did, the trials we went to, the moments of triumph and failure. I can relive all those wonderful moments with my girl sometime down the line. It’s like keeping a diary. Sometimes it’s wonderful to look back, even if it is bittersweet.

dahlia34. Future dog’s training. Dahlia will not be the only dog I train in agility. I plan to get another rescue dog sometime down the line and do agility with that dog too. I hope to even have a yard at that time so I can do some training at home! But having all those struggles outlined with Dahlia, including what we did to help her through certain things, will really help when I run into stumbling blocks with Future Dog. Yes, I’ll have an instructor (hopefully the same one I have now, unless we have to move from the area), but when I’m working on things at home it’s nice to know I can go back and look at suggestions that were made for issues Dahlia was having to see if I can find anything to help me work with Future Dog.

Do you keep training logs? What reasons do you have for keeping them or even not keeping them? Come share your thoughts in the comments!

Schutzhund and the German Shepherd Dog


In an effort to keep the German Shepherd Dog following down the path that Captain von Stephanitz had laid out for the breed, the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog), most often simply known at the SV, was founded in 1899. This governing body would oversee the future of the breed, and ensure adherence to the Captain’s primary goals- the breed some of the best working dogs. The breed standard was laid out and later elaborated on in a book published by the Captain himself titled The German Shepherd in Word and Picture. This written work, still highly coveted by breeders and enthusiasts today, laid out everything Captain von Stephanitz knew and desired for his breed, including breeding, training, raising, kenneling, and the importance of form and function. In his later years the Captain made a request of the German Shepherd community, and that was to, “Take this trouble for me; make sure my shepherd dog remains a working dog, for I have struggled all my life long for that aim.”

The SV set up requirements for the breeding of German Shepherd Dogs, and first and foremost on that list, was the requirement of titles for all breeding stock. A puppy from parents that did not meet the breeding requirements are not granted full registration papers. In this way the SV hoped to ensure the quality and continuation of the breed.

In modern German Shepherd Dog breeding, a dog must have a KKL rating, obtained during a ‘breed survey,’ in order to be bred and produce puppies that are able to be registered as purebred German Shepherd Dogs within the SV. The breed survey is the last step in a long line of tests to ensure the dog is breeding quality and that breeding that dog will be an asset and produce an improvement in the breed. The very first title a dog must achieve is a minimum of a Schutzhund 1 title. This important first requirement illustrates how important the working aspect of the German Shepherd Dog’s breed standard is. As Max von Stephanitz said, “Utility is the true criterion of beauty.” Once a Schutzhund title is achieved, the dog can then be entered in conformation shows. In German-style conformation shows, ratings are given to each dog independent of what they place in their classes. Every dog gets the rating the judge feels that dog deserves, regardless of what other dogs are competing against it that day. For a dog to be considered for breeding, it must be awarded at least a rating of G- ‘good.’ A dog can also score higher- SG- very good, or V- excellent. Anything below a rating of ‘good’ does not qualify a dog for breeding. A conformation title alone is not enough, under Captain von Stephnitz rules, to qualify a dog as suitable for breeding. As he once said, “Breeding worth and Exhibition worth are two fundamentally different things which need not have anything to do with each other; and further, an Exhibition award must never be taken as a judgment of Breeding value but only, and this too with reservations, as an opinion that a dog might possibly be suitable for breeding.”

Dogs wishing to be breed surveyed must also pass an “AD” endurance test, consisting of a run of 20 kilometers (approx. 12.5 miles) at a pace of around 12 – 15 kph (7.5 – 9.5 mph). The dogs run this test next to the handler, who rides a bicycle. A dog that consistently falls behind is removed from the test. After the first 5 kilometers (8 miles) the dogs are given a 15 minute rest period while each dog is checked by the judge for fatigue. Dogs that are removed from the test due to sore feet, fatigue, falling behind, or not having the ability to finish the test are given a ‘not passed’ rating and do not receive their AD award.

In addition to the temperament, working ability, conformation, and endurance requirements, the SV also takes the health of the dogs very seriously. At some point in the young dog’s life, the owner must also x-ray the dog’s hips and present the x-rays to the SV for inspection. A dog showing no signs of hip dysplasia is given an “a” stamp on their pedigree. A dog without an “a” stamp cannot be bred.

Once all the requirements have been met and the dog has a minimum of a Schutzhund 1 title, a minimum of a G conformation rating, an AD endurance award, an “a” stamp certification for their hips, and is at least 2 years old, they can be brought before a Koermerister for their official Koerung, also called a breed survey.

Similarly, a dog can fulfill his endurance and working requirements by completing a “HGH” title, which is a German-style sheep herding competition. In a HGH (pronounced ha-gee-ha), the dogs trainability, working ability, obedience, temperament, and endurance are all tested as part of the test while the dog, in tandem with an second dog that is not being judged, moves a flock of 300+ sheep through the required exercises. (But more on this particular sport in a later post).

The Koermeister is presented each dog individually after a gunshot and bite work test. The Koermeister will have received copies of the dogs Schutzhund title, AD test (waived in breed surveys for dogs over 6 years of age), conformation title, registration certificate and 3 generation pedigree (with “a” stamp on it) prior to the breed survey. The judge will go over each dog individually, inspect their paperwork, and place them into one of three categories- KKL1, KKL2, or Not Suitable for Breeding. A KKL1 means recommended for breeding, while a KKL2 means suitable for breeding. A dog can be re-presented to the same Koermeister the following year and try for an upgrade from a KKL2 to a KKL1. The dog can also be downgraded on a subsequent inspection but this is rare. The original survey is good for two years, after which the dog must be represented for another breed survey. The second time the dog is breed surveyed the rating is good for the remainder of the dog’s life.

If you are lucky, after all that work, you’re left with a litter of cute, fluffy little German Shepherd Dogs that you can start the whole process over with! While Schutzhund and the entire process was primarily developed for the German Shepherd Dog, that’s not to say that many other breeds don’t compete and excel at the sport today. Dobermans, Rottweilers, Boerboels, Dutch Shepherds, all types of Belgium Shepherds, Mastiffs, Bully breeds, even Standard Poodles, Airedales, mixed breeds, and several famous Jack Russel Terriers have all competed in the sport of Schutzhund. While some Schutzhund trials are designated for one breed, many club level trials are open to all breeds and mixes. Like many other dog sports, not every dog is suited for the sport, but for dogs that are suited and enjoy the work, Schutzhund is open to them.

Schutzhund: A Brief History


Schutzhund- the triathlon for the working dog. A trust test of one’s character. Courage and obedience under stress. Schutzhund is not a sport for the faint-of-heart, but rather the ultimate test of one’s mettle. What is Schutzhund? Where, and more importantly why, did it originate? And who is crazy enough to compete in this demanding sport?

Schutzhund, which is German for protection dog, is as old as the breed it was designed to protect- the German Shepherd Dog. To understand Schutzhund, and the origins of the German Shepherd Dog, one must travel back to the late 1800s and meet the founder of this noble breed- Captain Max von Stephanitz. A German Cavalry officer, Captain von Stephanitz also spent time serving at the Berlin Veterinary College. When he started his own dog breeding program using the knowledge he had learned about form, function, movement and breeding, his goal was to create the ‘ultimate’ working dog- a true blend of loyalty, courage, stamina, intelligence, and a dog that not only excelled at any task put to it, but also one that truly enjoyed the work. Not the best at any one thing, but second best at everything.

For his foundation stock the Captain turned toward the best working dogs of his time and his area- a regional breed of mixed ancestry known simply as “The German Shepherd’s Dogs,” hence why the breed name, to this day, still includes the word “dog” at the end. These dogs were bred for herding and protection of the German shepherd’s flocks, and Captain von Stephanitz greatly admired their intelligence and work aptitude. He purchased his first dog from a local shepherd, named him Horand von Grafrath, and set about creating a standardization, what was often referred to as his ‘grand design’ of what he was trying to produce in his dogs.

In addition to his exacting breed standard, Captain von Stephanitz wanted to be sure these dogs could work- what good is a good-looking dog if it can’t do the job placed before it? German Shepherd Dogs were to be a working dog first and foremost. As the Captain once wrote, “The most striking feature of the correctly bred German Shepherd are firmness of nerves, attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability and incorruptibility together with courage, fighting tenacity, and hardness.” As none of these desirable traits were something that could be judged in a dog show ring by simply looking at the dog, a way to test the potential breeding stock of future generations needed to be developed.

A 3 phase test was developed, one that would test a variety of traits but that boiled down to three basic things- the dog’s ability to work on his own, the dog’s ability to work for his handler, and the dog’s ability to work under stress. These three tests would be turned into the three phases of Schutzhund that we know today- tracking, obedience, and protection. These would be the tests placed on any dog that would be a breeding prospect, and although some minor changes have been made, over 100 years later these trials still stand as the truest test of a dog’s working ability and are fundamental in the breeding of future generations of German Shepherd Dogs. As Captain von Stephanitz said, “The breeding of shepherd dogs must be the breeding of working dogs, this must always be the aim or we shall cease to produce working dogs.”

So what is Schutzhund? Often hailed as the triathlon for the working dog, or 3-day eventing for the dog world (although most trials do not take place over 3 days), Schutzhund is, quite simply, a 3 phase sport consisting of tracking, obedience and protection phases. There are 3 different levels of Schutzhund, starting with the basic Schutzhund 1 title, and progressing through to the more demanding Schutzhund 3 title.

Prior to any dog’s ability to enter a Schutzhund trial, they must first pass what is known at the Begleithund, or “BH” test. A simple obedience routine done on the Schutzhund field in the presence of the judge and an honor dog, the handler must prove that his dog is under his control both on and off leash. The BH consists of the dog moving with the handler at heel position around the field, through right angles and groups of people, and at slow, normal and fast speeds. A gun shot is fired and the dog must not react to the sudden loud noise. The dog must demonstrate the ability to ‘sit’ and ‘down’ in motion, where the handler does not stop walking but commands the dog to both sit, and then later to down, and the dog must comply and stay rather than continue to walk next to the handler. Finally, the dog must demonstrate a firm recall to the handler. Once the routine is over, the team will switch with the honor dog on the side of the field, and will demonstrate the dog’s ability to stay in a long down while another dog performs their obedience routine on the field. Off-field exercises for the temperament portion of the test include the dog heeling calmly while a car, a jogger, and a biker pass, going past other dogs, and allowing a group of people to walk up to the handler and converge on the team. The final test involves the handler tying out the dog and disappearing from sight. While the handler is gone, another dog will be walked past and the testing dog must not act aggressively, whine, cry and must remain quiet while the handler is gone. While not an obedience title, the BH routine proves to a judge that the dog is trained and under control and enables the dog to enter future trials to compete for Schutzhund titles.

Schutzhund 1 titles, abbreviated SchH1 (and sometimes IPO1, if following International Trial Rules) are awarded after a dog proves his/her ability to track a handler-laid track that is 20 minutes old, 300-400 paces long and includes two right angle turns and two articles which must be properly indicated. The dog may be tracked on a 10 meter lead or may complete the track off-leash. The obedience routine for a Schutzhund 1 is similar to the BH except performed completely off-leash, and also includes a retrieve both on the flat, over a hurdle, and over the scaling wall (a.k.a. an A-frame), as well as a send-out, where the handler commands the dog to run forward away from them until given the command to down. The protection phase includes the blind search- where the dog must search through all 6 blinds on the field until they find the “helper” who is wearing the bite sleeve. The dog must bark and hold until the handler arrives, then the dog must leave the helper on command of the handler. The dog must also demonstrate the ability to prevent the escape of the helper without being given a command- when the handler is not looking the helper will try to run and the dog must chase and apprehend the helper by biting the bite sleeve. The dog must “out” the sleeve immediately when given the command to release the sleeve. The final test is the courage test, where the helper will run threateningly toward the team from the end of the field and, on the judge’s command, the handler will send the dog. The dog must make contact with the helper by biting the bite sleeve, and the helper will ‘drive’ the dog, by moving forward and delivering two hits on the back with a padded stick to ensure the dog has the courage to maintain the bite when threatened. When the helper stops the dog must properly release when given an ‘out’ command. The handler takes the stick away from the handler then, with the dog between them, the handler will ‘transport’ the helper to the judge. During this walk the dog is not allowed to make any more contact with the helper.

For a Schutzhund 2 title, abbreviated as SchH2/IPO2, the requirements get a bit more difficult. The track is increased to 400 to 500 paces long, 30 minutes old, laid by a stranger, with two articles that must be indicated. The obedience phase includes everything from the Schutzhund 1 routine with the addition of a stand in motion exercise where the dog is told to stand and must stop and stand while the handler continues to move forward without a break in pace. The retrieving dumbbells in each level of Schutzhund increase in weight and size for the retrieve on the flat exercise. The protection phase also has some additions which include an exercise known as the ‘back transport.’ Similar to the transport exercise in phase 1, the helper walks in front while the handler and dog walk behind the helper, ‘transporting’ him to another location on the field. At the judges signal the helper turns to attack the handler and the dog must defend the handler without being commanded to.

Schutzhund 3, abbreviated SchH3/IPO3 is the highest level title attainable for all 3 phases combined. The Schutzhund 3 track is 800-1000 paces long, laid by a stranger, aged for 50 minutes, with four right-angle turns and 3 articles which must be indicated. In the obedience phase the sit, down and stand in motion are now down at a running pace rather than a walking pace, and the long down is done with the handler out of sight hiding within the blind. The protection phase includes everything from a Schutzhund 2 routine, but also includes a re-attack after the courage test, and a second escort back to the judge after the completion of the re-attack.

After attaining a Schutzhund 3 title, there are two higher level tracking titles available to dogs that excel at tracking, and those are the FH1 and FH2 titles. The FH1 track is 1400 paces long with seven right-angle turns, cross tracks which are laid 30 minutes after the actual track is laid, must go over terrain changes such as a road, is aged at least 3 hours and has four articles that must be indicated. The FH2 is the most difficult of any track, averaging between 2,000 and 3,000 paces long. Unlike all other Schutzhund tacks, in which the starting point is indicated by a flag, the dog must find the start of the FH2 track within a 3 minute window of time. The FH2 track also consists of terrain changes and a cross track which is laid 30 minutes prior to the dog running the track.