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By Eugenia Kellenberger


April 4, 2010 The setting was 4 beautiful spring days at the Phoenix Shutzhund Club. In attendance were German shepherds, American Bulldog Terriers and of course their handlers . The work was intense but fruitful and thanks to Elmar, his philosophies and expertise there were apparent changes in the dogs in a few days. At the end of the seminar a whole discussion ensued, the focus was in protection and how the dog and handler team could achieve the highest levels. Following is a synapsis of the discussion.

1. Question: Can you talk about imprinting and teaching the puppy in the early stages of protection training.

Answer: You ( the owner) can do a lot of work in the first few months, you can start by playing with a soft material like a sack, a tug or burlap; avoid hard items as they can cause pain and have a negative effect on bite development. elmar working puppyI have seen people use a fishing rod make the dog catch, then pull , then give it. The helper must not give it for nothing, the dog must pull/fight to win.

These activities give the dog it's first ideas on how to fight. The first impressions are the most lasting in the dogs life. The most important is to teach the dog how to pull and win through pulling. Through play the dog learns how to fight through the pulling. The pulling develops the fight for later in life and prevents the dog from moving the grip and gives him success and in turn makes the dog more secure. If a dog is started properly it makes it easier for the helper to start because the dog knows everything. All dogs can be started this way.

2. Question: Can you talk about developing a dog in the protection phase of shutzhund.

Answer: The most important thing is the mixture of drives, prey drive and aggression. The right level for that one dog. Some dogs are nervous and you should not give more pressure, instead you may add more prey drive to make the dog more secure.

The drive is like a "muscle" you have to train each properly. If you overdevelop prey drive you won't get real fight drive. You need a balance between drives, if the prey drive is to high then you have to train the other side; helper and handler need to read their dogs well, this is one of the biggest problems in our sport.

Today there are many sportive helpers that focus on prey drive to make the dogs look good and to make the handler feel good about his/her dog and the helper. These dogs are so high in prey drive they don't learn how to fight. The work is done by the helper not by the dog. When the helper is not moving the dog does not know what to do.

elmar working puppy

That is why I can work 15-20 dogs without having a problem, because I am not jumping around. It is the helper's responsibility to give the dog the right attraction for working. It is a game for a helper to appropriately read and react to the dog, the dog tells you what it needs. And the helper should react.

When I work dogs in protection, my goal is to try and make the dog bring the fight to me, no movement of the sleeve unless it is necessary to make the dog secure or to add more prey drive. When the dog pulls then I make the sleeve loose by a loose shoulder. Careful use of the whip can make the dog astonished and bring fight against the helper. Improper use of the whip can also make the dog insecure. So helpers be careful!

3. Question: Why are some people uncomfortable with having their dogs hit during training?

Answer :There are different reasons for hitting a dog. It may be to stimulate the fight drive or to make the dog more serious. It is also important to think about where you are hitting the dog. The hit is not for damage it is to develop drives, the main thing to understand is to develop the dog with slight touches. The dog doesn't need more. The dog must feel self assured from inside.

Also if the helper is afraid of getting bit then he/she moves and the dog learns from that that the helper is unsure so the dog will not show the right reaction. The dog will test the helper at the trial and learn out of his reactions how to impress the helper. As a helper you must be security.

4. Question: Can you talk about the presentation of dogs at trials during protection.

Answer: In protection the biggest problem is that many dogs are too high in prey drive and they lack real fight. This is seen when there is a strong helper in a trial and he is coming to the dog hard and giving a stick hit for the defense portion the grip loosens and the dog backs up. elmar working puppyThe dog then becomes nervous. In training the dog needs to learn how to counter the stick hits and fight into the helper.

With that being said, the same mistake could be made with overdoing the aggression. Within the defense drive the grip moves and it is not calm. If the dog has weak nerves and doesn't know how to fight you see the same problem. The dog does not know how to counter the pressure from the helper. Hence the picture is very similar.

5. Question: What is your philosophy in protection? How has the "work" changed?

Answer: I started in 1966, in those days in the protection work we used no prey drive, it was more of a philosophy of "bite or no bite". The dogs used to bite anywhere and the stick was used for the out and for keeping the dog away from the helper.

We would hit for a bite and the dogs did not win the sleeve. Today, our training has changed and the dogs are very clear of the work. The dog needs to be stimulated using the different drives appropriately.

6. Question: What are some common misconceptions that concern you in dog sport?

Answer: Many people look at dogs with top scores and want to use them for breeding. But these dogs are not necessarily always the best dogs for breeding. I talked with many top dog handlers. They don't like the handler strong dogs. They prefer the weaker prey dogs, because it is easier for them to bring them to a higher level. They are easier to handle and people look for points. Many strong dogs out of good breedings may have problems in obedience. Strong dogs will typically have problems in obedience and be harder to handle. The quality of breeding has been going down because people go to the winner for breeding because it is easier to sell the puppies, but the quality of breeding and the strength of the German Shepherd Dog will go down very soon if this continues.

7. Question: Becoming a helper

Answer: I feel that helpers are brought up to positions too quickly. They lack experience. The most important is to pair a young up and coming helper with an experienced helper. Each helper must develop through working dogs. Each dog teaches that helper something new, every dog shows you a different reaction. If the helper is receptive and sensitive to the dog's changes and reactions during the work he will learn. I have been doing this sport for forty plus years and I still learn from working different dogs. You are never finished learning! If you think so you will be finished soon!

8. Last Question, Lets switch gears from protection to obedience. What do you think about using the ball in obedience training?

Answer: The owner should be more involved in playing with the dog and developing a connection/bond with the dog. It makes you the interest when making that interaction. The focus should be the handler and not an object like the ball. The ball is a good tool but should not be the primary motivation for the dog. elmar hold and barksIf you are the focus in these beginning stages, later the dog will be happy to work for you., not the ball the ball is dessert. It is the difference between a parent giving a child ten dollars to go to the movie or actually going to the movie with him.

In closing, Elmar's focus is on balancing a dog's drives and appropriate training to get the final result, an excellent dog with sound nerves and a balance between fight and prey drive.