Precisely because of the spirit and energy demanded on the schutzhund field, obedience is arguably the most difficult of the three phases of the sport. In addition, every season the obedience phase becomes increasingly important in deciding the outcome of competition. For the last few years, the major trials in both the U.S. and Germany have been won and lost in obedience.
Because many of the dogs in the top ranks of competition are nearly perfect in tracking and protection-scoring 98s and 100s-and are therefore basically equal in these phases, now it is heeling, retrieving or jumping that championships are decided.
Why? What is the difference?
Tracking and protection training are based upon the dog’s powerful and instinctive urges to eat, to hunt, and to fight. The trainer’s role is merely to activate the animal’s urges and shape its innate behavior.
Obedience, on the other hand, is primarily inhibitory in nature. Obedience is mainly concerned with preventing the animal from acting like a dog; it restrains its impulses to roam and explore, to hunt and to try its strength against other dogs. It is much more artificial than either tracking or protection, and for this reason it is difficult to train obedience really well.
Good obedience depends upon creating motivation in the dog. Therefore, the animal’s willingness, its eagerness to please us, is absolutely essential. We can not do without it. In addition to this basic requirement in the dog, the animal’s handler must take care to:
Ø Use, at the proper moments, a great deal of vigorous, sincere and unselfconscious praise
Ø Practice emotional restraint and self-control
Ø Be patient and meticulous
Ø Have the sense and the skill to apply the least amount of force to the animal that will accomplish his purpose.
Used together in a thoughtful way, these guidelines will help to produce a dog that is lively and free-moving in obedience-a pleasure to look at and a pleasure to work with.
The great challenge is to bring to obedience something more, something of the intensity that the dog carries in bite work. We do this by harnessing the animal’s prey drive- the dogs urge to chase, catch and kill prey.
Retrieving a ball r a toy is founded on precisely the same instinct. The strong retriever does not chase a ball simply because it pleases its master, or because it has been taught to retrieve. The animal does it because it because it is a hunter, and the act of chasing an erratically moving object and biting it is intensely satisfying to an impulse very deep within.
For many dogs, especially those bred for work, retrieving is a serious endeavor, much closer in nature to hunting or aggression than it is to play. These dogs pursue the ball with an awesome intensity of purpose. This is the sort of animal we need for schutzhund obedience because, when it chases the ball, it experiences an intensely strong physiological rush of excitement. The dog comes alive with spirit.
We call this arousal, and our basic method of motivating the dog for obedience is to associate arousal with the obedience exercises, so that they are infused with its energy. We make the association through extensive use of a prey object like a ball in training, using it to reward well-performed exercises and also to help establish eye contact between the handler and the dog.