As far as raising a puppy for Schutzhund,
there are a lot of conflicting ideas and theories. Here are some thoughts:
- Get a crate - far from keeping the puppy caged, this is a bed for your puppy,
a place of safety, peace and quiet and food and chew toys. Throw a dog biscuit or
treat in to entice your pup in, and occasionally hide a few pieces inside, and soon your
pup will be going in quite happily. Dogs are den animals, they like small places to curl
up in. You will also need some peace and quiet periodically while knowing that your pup
is in a safe place.
- Get a clicker - and learn how to use it. Reward-based training is
a great way to start and experiment with your puppy, you will learn
the importance of timing and hone your skills. Even if you move to other
methods later, timing is crucial in all training tools.
- Go to puppy classes - Choose a class where they don't let all the
puppies off leash together. A good class is excellent socialization
and teaches puppy from a young age that there are going to be other
dogs around him all his life, and they are no big deal. In addition,
joining a class will make you take specific time out of your schedule
to spend with your pup at the earliest stages of his life. The more positively
based classes are best for a first time Schutzhund handler. They help
build confidence in the dog - avoiding harsh corrections helps build
a good relationship between the pup and his owner. You will also learn
basic dog ownership skills and theories of training.
- Socialize, socialize, socialize - take
puppy everywhere with you. Take him to lots of places and meet lots
of people, if your puppy is a little timid, do this gradually, don't
overwhelm him at a dog park. In the early stages, keep in mind that moving
slowly with good experiences is more important than proving what a wonderful
temperament he has! Let him meet a friendly neighbor's dog
first. Don't encourage or reward him if he is showing fear, growling
barking or backing up, in any new situations, but give him plenty of
praise and/or food when he steps forward. Later in life, the benefits of socialization
at a young age will evidence themselves in how well your dog works under distractions
and off his home field
- Don't leave toys with the puppy all day - encourage your puppy to
play with toys, but do not leave the them with him. You can leave bones
or kongs to keep him occupied when you are at work, but reserve balls
for playtime with you. We want the dog to view the ball
as a reward and you as the "fun person who has toys" to help us with our training later on.
- Get a prong collar - contrary to first thoughts, this is not a medieval torture device
but a useful method of controlling a big strong dog, which your puppy will grow up to be.
Get an experienced person to show you the correct way to use it. Many people suggest you
wait until a year old before you introduce this collar, but I use it as soon as puppy is
strong enough to pull me around (generally, around 6 months old)
- Enjoy your puppy - have
fun and take lots of photos and don't get too hung up on the details,
do some basic obedience, sit, down, stand, article indication and most
importantly focus. Do some scent pads and tracks and encourage playing
with balls and a leather rag. Then let him grow up, repeat step 4.
- Find a mentor - choose a trainer/handler whose dogs work in the way
you would like your puppy to work, watch them and ask questions and
try with your own dog. Choosing one mentor helps you to get a start
without being confused about all the conflicting advice. As you learn,
you can tailor the methods to suit you better.
- Find a Schutzhund club that suits you. Contact the club contacts for
several clubs nearest you and see which one fits your style and personality.
Each club in your area will have a different "feel" to it and will promote
different training styles.
Aim to stay with one club/training director until your dog achieves SchH1, so that you
both learn one style and have consistent training towards your first
title. Try to find an open-minded club which will let you use the training
methods you feel most comfortable with.
Get a wide leather collar/harness - so you can start rag/prey work
with your club, and your puppy will be comfortable. Building solid prey drive
(i.e., the desire to catch/capture a moving object such as a rag or a ball) will
be one of the first building blocks of his protection training. In my experience, the
harness is preferable to the leather collar because it does not restrict the
pups breathing when he is in drive - keep in mind, this is another area where
we are building a foundation of good experiences (and choking is not much fun).
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