In addition to obedience, all of my dogs compete in the sport of IPO – formerly known as Schutzhund. IPO stands for Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung.
IPO is a three part sport which includes Tracking, Obedience and Protection phases – the dog must pass all three phases in the trial. To succeed in the protection aspect of the sport, the successful IPO candidate must possess a basic level of instinctual drives, solid nerves, desire, and willingness to perform the work with their handler.
The specific drives which must be present are prey (desire to chase an object based on visual cues) and fight (desire to defeat the prey object). While it’s helpful if the dog possesses other drives, they are not nearly as essential as strong prey and fight drives.
When we talk about “nerves” we are referring to the dog’s core confidence. A “nervy” dog is one who gets stressed and worried easily – often flipping into forward aggression or fear inappropriately or very easily. A dog with “solid nerves” does not see a threat easily, and is much easier to train in the sport. Personally, I would think twice about training a dog with weak nerves in the sport of IPO.
Ok; that’s your introduction to the sport – boiled down to the absolute basics.
Now for my personal philosophy.
I believe that IPO is a SPORT – I have absolutely no interest in creating a personal protection dog. I do not want my dogs to feel angry or defensive when working in the sport of protection – I want them to percieve the helper (person doing the rag or sleeve work) as a friend – a worthy foe who takes all of their attention for a difficult but rewarding game. I want my dogs to believe that if they fight their hardest – giving everything they have, then they will win the fight. I want them to believe that any pressure moves shown to them (yelling, hard frontal pressure, waving stick, etc.) are all threat but no substance – nothing they cannot overcome with the correct countering moves. Trained this way, IPO is no more than a very hard game of tug of war – between friends.
Understanding this philosophy is critical to understanding the videos I will share here of protection training. Trained well, all of the principles of good motivational training apply to the sport of IPO. The dog should remain happy, clear headed, forward and social. At it’s most refined, a dog working in IPO has no conflict with either the handler or the helper; we are a team of three. The dogs bite, release and perform obedience with confidence, acceptance, and a great love of the sport. Indeed, it is watching my dog’s reactions to the sport that causes me to keep coming back – my dogs are bred for this work and it is obvious that it is their sport of choice. They do the game of obedience for me and I offer the game of protection in return.
I owe the protection sports and several top notch helpers a great debt, since that is where I learned about drives and how to play with a dog using toys. Since that time I have played with hundreds of dogs and I have learned from all of them. I still believe that the root of all good play is based in the drives which are expressed in the protection sports, and therefore I continue to study protection work carefully to refine my own techniques and play skills.
If you decide to pursue protection sports with your own dog, it is important to understand that there is more bad training going on than good training – so pick your club and helper with great care. Watch several sessions before bringing your dog out. Check to see how the dogs are being trained and how they are reacting to that training. Note the interactions between dog, helper and handler; do you see teamwork or conflict? Think about ten times before working your dog in a seminar with someone you are not familiar with – the damage a helper can do in five minutes can takes months to repair.
To introduce you to the sport, this first video is of my eight year old dog Raika – she’s currently preparing for her IPO 3 title. Here you can see very good protection work; the helper knows exactly what he wants to see, and he knows how to communicate that information. He is kind with Raika, and in return, she adores him. Before the session began, the helper and I discussed what we would work on in this session, how we would accomplish those interests, and which “faults” we would ignore for the time being.
This video is two minutes, clipped from an eighteen minute session. That is a long training session for protection work, but because Raika knows how to switch from a driven state to a calm one, she is able to work for a very long time with a clear head and a calm mind. Indeed, she was asking for more work within thirty minutes of being returned to the car.
Raika is working on several skills. First, I insist that Raika heel with attention onto the field with a clear head. She tries to “sort of” heel – that is not acceptable, because it suggests her drives and control are not in balance – left unchecked that will become hysterical or out of control behavior. By holding the line, I can communicate to her that she must remain in control of herself, even in this sport where all she really wants to do is go to the helper. She is corrected several times for failing to heel with attention – note how I drive her backwards with my body. Compulsion is not required when a dog respects pressure – in the end I always win, regardless of the sport I am teaching. Raika knows that and “gives” to me within thirty seconds or so. That thirty seconds of “do it my way or don’t do it all” paid off – for the rest of the working session she was obedient to me and completely without conflict. We are a team.
Second, we are teaching her to bark in the blind but to be silent on the open field – a “silent guard”. This is a change from what she learned originally; in the past she was allowed to bark on the open field, so now she’s unsure of what is expected of her. To teach this, she receives a bite when she barks in the blind but when she barks on the open field the helper turns away from her – she knows that ends her opportunity for a bite. I reset her and we start over. This is her sixth or seventh session working on this skill and she performs flawlessly, so you cannot see a correction for barking at the wrong time – by now you probably know that my corrections never involve pain compliance or physical coercion. The third skill we are working on is maintaining quiet confidence when I walk up to her side; I do not want Raika to look at me when she is guarding the helper, so she must be taught that my presence in heel position signals a bite is coming. That is motivation enough for her to ignore me and she performs very well. Fourth, we are working on the stick transfer in preparation for the “side transport”. Raika must maintain a vigilant and quiet guard as I remove the stick from the helpers hand. Finally, Raika is expected to maintain heel position next to me but with her eyes on the helper when we move around the field together – this is preparation for the “back transport”. To accomplish this goal, the helper is walking in a small circle with Raika and I in the center; if she maintains “contact” heeling with me but visual contact with the helper, she receives a bite.