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The Difference Between Control and Obedience in Protection

Gary Patterson

Working with beginning dogs is one of the more enjoyable parts of protection training where we focus on the building and developing of drives. Over a long time, the dog is encouraged to come out and confront the helper, showing all the great temperament the trainer hoped would be there. The dog grabs the sleeve at any opportunity, confronts and fights with the helper and is willing to undertake any challenge for its level of training because it knows it will win if it hangs in there. Unfortunately, protection training is not just the development of drives, but also teaching the dog to keep its drives under control.

Now more than ever, the judges are looking for two general responses from a dog during the protection phase of the trial, control and a strong attitude. However training to produce these two pictures can seem diametrically opposed and even counterproductive. Have we spent these many months building a strong attitude in the dog only to destroy it with strong compulsion when the dog is out of control? What alternative does a trainer have when the over enthusiastic dog is dirty in the blind, doesn't re-spond to the blind search, forges during the rear transport or won't out?

More traditional protection training brings in obedience concepts at this stage and if problems existed before, they now start to multiply. Why? If obedience training works in obedience, shouldn't it also work in protection? Let's review how we properly reinforce good and bad behavior in obedience training and see if the concepts can serve us as well in protection.

Obedience is based upon the relationship between handler and dog. If the dog understands what it should be doing, it is time to bring in proper reinforcement. If in heeling, as an example, a dog starts to forge, the handler gives a correction with the lead to bring the dog into proper position. When the dog is correct, the handler can give praise with the voice or reward the response with a ball or some food. Similarly, if the dog's drive starts to diminish because of the correction, the handler can bring the dog's drive up again with a reward (again praise, food or a ball). It is the task then of the good obedience trainer to require correct work in training with good reinforcement, but also if a problem arises, the trainer can rely on rewards to manipulate the dog's drives. The important point is both negative and positive reinforcement apply to specific acts of the dog that can be immediately rewarded or corrected.

Protection training, on the other hand, relies not just on the relationship between handler and dog, but also brings in the third factor of the protection helper. Therefore, the dog must focus on the handler at some times and the helper at others; it is a very delicate balance. If the scale tips in the direction of the helper, the dog won't out or cuts blinds in the blind search. By contrast, if the dog thinks too much about the handler at the wrong times, the result is an overly sensitive dog that has a poor bark in the blind,

after the out or leaves the helper to return to the handler. Two examples will show why this problem occurs.

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One of the more difficult exercises in Schutzhund II and III is the call out of the blind. Let's assume the dog won't come to heel on command out of the blind from the hold and bark. Here the dog is clearly keying on the helper and sometimes when the handler gives the command it is as if the dog didn't hear it. So the handler puts a long line on a training collar and when he gives the command, he also gives a sharp correction to bring the dog to heel. Over time, two things might happen. The first is the dog's bark starts to diminish in the hold and bark as the handler approaches the blind for the call out; the dog is clearly anticipating the correction it knows will come. Secondly, the dog might leave the helper before the command to heel, to avoid the correc-tion. So, because of compulsion applied to a specific exercise, we have gone from one extreme, the dog ignoring the handler, to the other, the dog ignoring the helper.

The second example is the out. Suppose we have a dog that understands the out command, but won't out when it is challenged, such as following a hard drive by the helper. In this case, the handler might put a long line on the training collar and give a strong correction when the "out" command is given. Assuming this works, and it often doesn't with a strong dog, the dog might out, but continue to nip the sleeve. With each nip, the dog receives another correction and so on. Over time, conflict starts to set in as the dog was earlier taught to engage and fight the helper and now it is receiving corrections for doing exactly that. Defense or prey drive starts to lower and social drive becomes more dominant, so the result is sensitivity to the handler. In trial, this is the dog that often looks around for the handler after the out or, like the call out of the blind, leaves the helper to come to the handler.

These problems have one thing in common: the trainer used obedience techniques to train control in protection.

Each correction came in response to a specific problem (i.e., not outing or coming to heel on command), just as we would do in obedience heeling.

In these two situations there was no proper way to reward the dog for correct behavior after a correction, as we would do in obedience. When we give a correction for the dog's failure to out, the real problem is it is not responding to the handler's command. If it outs after the correction, how do we reward the dog? If we give it another bite, it simply goes into high prey drive again. With this technique, there is no way to teach it to stay under control and listen to the handler.

The main reason obedience doesn't work in protection is the handler is working on each exercise and not the main problem, the lack of balanced drives on the protection field. The "V" winner in protection can immediately shift its focus from handler to helper to bite within fractions of a second and then switch again when the rules require it. In short, we don't need a pinch or electric collar so much as a program designed to teach a dog to control all of its drives on its own. Before getting into specifics, please note none of these methods are perfect and good reinforcement, including praise and correc-tions, will still be an important part of any phase. Sometimes, especially with drive control, strong corrections are required, but only as a reminder or to polish what the dog should already have learned.

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Starting to Balance Drives in the Novice Dog

In channeling, we teach the starting dog to control its defense drive by forcing it to constantly shift from prey behavior to defense and back again. The theory behind this is to teach the dog to control its level of defense and prey drives. A dog that allows its prey drive to run rampant is the dog that, later, will not heel properly, constantly nip the sleeve or not out. On the other hand, when the defense drive goes too high, chewy bites and stress can result.

Confidence building, on the other hand, teaches the dog that doesn't have a strong defense drive to learn how to deal with pressure in a confident way, without going into avoidance.

Both techniques rely on good training helper work, where the helper reads the dog on the arc and responds by shifting between prey and defense moves, With channeling, the helper carefully reads the dog from a distance while making threatening defense gestures. When he feels the dog is too high in defense, he immediately shifts his movements into prey (running sideways or swinging the sleeve) which lowers the dog's defense drive and eventually shifts it into prey behavior. Over time, the dog learns to deal with its defense drive as the helper continues to move it into ever higher levels of defense. In contrast, confidence building moves the dog only high enough in defense to make it realize it can win through aggression, instead of avoidance. As the helper senses the dog's insecurity with the threat, he shifts the dog into prey to relieve this stress. Similarly, the helper might give a dog a bite and then drive it in a threatening way, only to release the sleeve and make the dog run with the sleeve in its mouth, a pure prey move. While this work can take some time, if done properly, the result will always be the dog that can control its drives, although less than perfectly at this stage.

Another aspect of drive control training at the novice level is the self out. Here the helper will release the sleeve to allow the dog to run with it. The dog is brought back to the helper who stands passively while the handler gives the dog an out command. At first, this is often slow, but as the dog calms it will eventually out. The helper then immediately raises a threat against the dog, forcing it to ignore the handler and sleeve to confront the helper. Again, we have a situation where the dog was in strong prey drive (carrying the sleeve) and is forced to shift into defense against the threatening helper. How does this carry over into our advanced work? In theory, during the out, we would like the dog to fight strongly with the helper, but when he goes passive the dog's drive would start to diminish for the out. When the dog does out, we would again like for the dog's defense drive to come up again so it doesn't loose interest in the helper or start thinking about the handler. Yet this simple novice exercise does exactly that. The dog's drives subside when it is carrying the sleeve, but immediately come up again when the helper agitates the dog after the out. It may not be perfect, but in the first few months of protection training, we are already teaching the dog what it should do with its drives in training.

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Drive Control at the Advanced Level

This is the level where the real difference between obedience and control training becomes apparent. If we understand that repeatedly correcting a dog on specific exercises creates sensitivity during that exercise, we now must abandon the general concept of giving corrections for specific errors and focus on the greater problem, the dog's drives not being under control.

This work should only begin when a dog understands the basics of the trial procedures including the hold and bark, rudimentary blind searches, rear transports and clean outs. These exercises may have been properly taught and even rewards or corrections used to develop the proper response, but we now should consider rewards and corrections as secondary to our principal goal of controlling the dog's drives and making it focus on the task it must do. If the dog doesn't have a good understanding of the procedures, then any corrections will only confuse and stress the dog. Our goal at this phase is not to teach the procedures, but to keep drives under control and teach the dog what it should focus on during various parts of protection.

The first rule during this work is the dog will always be under the handler's control until the dog is released to search, hold or attack. Therefore, during each session from the time the handler and dog enter the training field to the time when they leave, the dog will never be allowed to become unfocused in its drives. Let's assume during a particular train-ing session, the handler wants to practice a trial routine. He stops at the edge of the field with the dog on a lead and training collar. In the past, the dog has probably immediately keyed on the blind holding the helper and ignored the handler. In this situation, the dog is told to pay attention to the handler at heel and if the dog should look away, the dog will be corrected and told to watch the handler. The handler then starts down the field, on lead, to begin the blind search. If, while heeling, the dog again becomes distracted and starts to look for the helper, the handler gives corrections and tells the dog to focus on the handler. When they reach the first blind to be searched, the handler raises his hand, but requires the dog to sit at heel and look at the handler's hand and the direction it is pointing. The handler then gives the command to search. The dog is not sent until it is looking at the trainer or his hand. If the dog should break off the search and attempts to go to the blind holding the helper, the handler recalls the dog and starts the blind search over. If the dog successfully goes around the first blind, the handler recalls the dog and repeats the procedure to send the dog to the second blind. This continues down the field until the dog is sent for the hold and bark or other training variation used in the blind. While corrections can and should be used for the dog failing to pay attention to the handler, keep in mind that our goal is to keep the drives calm during this phase, so the handler should also stroke and calm the dog when it is at heel if its drive should increase. Watch the dog's face and, particularly the eyes, for any indication the dog's drive is coming up and immediately start to calm it.

Another example is when the trainer wants the helper to drop the sleeve after the bite so the dog can carry it. Always do this work on a long line and training collar so when the helper slips the sleeve, the dog can run with the sleeve, but then the handler reels in the dog and commands the dog to heel. Often this may take several commands and corrections, but the point is to get the dog to heel either with it holding the sleeve or not. If it should still have the sleeve in its mouth, start to stroke and calm the dog in the heel position and then quietly tell it to out. If it should try to come out of the heel position, give an immediate correction and tell it "sit" and then repeat the calming with the quiet "out" command. During this work the helper is totally passive with no eye contact. When the dog outs the sleeve, have the helper quietly pick up the sleeve without any threat and walk a few feet away. When the handler has control over the dog at the heel position, the helper will immediately start to agitate the dog while the handler holds the dog on lead, away from the helper. The work then continues as in regular training.

The point of all of this work is not correcting the dog for any act except the failure to pay attention to the handler. To effectively apply this concept, the handler must always be in a position to correct and calm the dog when it fails to pay attention. If the reader studies this phase of training, you will note what is really happening is that from the time the dog entered the training field, its drive was never allowed to get to a level where it was out of control. Therefore, this training is generally directed toward controlling the drive of the dog instead of trying to make it obedient on any specific exercise such as the out or blind search. By taking this general approach, the chance of conflict that so often follows corrections for specific mistakes is minimized and, if you are lucky and a good trainer, even eliminated.

At the end of a training session, the trainer continues to make the dog work under control by heeling the dog off the field after it has been outed from the sleeve. If you want to give the dog a little fun, heel the dog off the training field, require it to sit and then give it an attack command against the waiting helper on the training field. The helper then slips the sleeve and handler and dog both run from the field.

This is not a quick process and must be an integral part of all advanced training. This is not to say you work on only this part of drive control in all sessions, only that it should be an important phase of early advanced training and one to which every trainer should return from time to time over the years. Certainly there will be those sessions where you are trying to build drive and just letting the dog have some fun, but never put it in the position where it must respond to the handler's commands during these other parts of training.

Remember in control work we are not attempting to craft a beautiful obedience performance. If the dog is roughly at heel, paying attention, then the work is perfect. It may take several commands and corrections initially, but be patient and don't over correct the dog as this works against our goals of maintaining calmness and avoiding conflict.

For those who believe this work will only kill the spirit of the dog, we think you will find just the opposite. As the dog works under control, focused on its handler, its drives do not disappear but build-remember we are controlling drive, not killing it. This process is called "capping the drive". When the dog is finally released from the handler's control to, say, search a blind or do a hold and bark, it is not unusual to see greater intensity in these exercises. It is if a dam has broken and all of the built up power is released to focus on the helper. This idea of focus also becomes a more important part of the picture of the finished dog. When the dog is clear and focused on what it should do, it will do it with greater confidence and authority. The most amazing result, but clearly a goal for this training, is that the general nature of the control training will carry over into specific exercises. Often dogs that were dirty before will start to become clean, without any corrections for dirty biting. Where the handler had a problem on the call out of the blind or during the rear transport, the dog will suddenly start paying attention without conflict. If the trainer sees this result, and he should, then he knows that control training is working at the highest level. In the end, both trainer and dog are enjoying training as never before.

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