First off, the dumbbell is an incredibly important part to the obedience phase of a schutzhund routine. Out of a 100 point Schutzhund 1 obedience routine, the dumbbell is worth 25 points. In the Schutzhund 2 and 3 it is worth 40 points out of a 100. This just demonstrates the importance of a good dumbbell retrieve.
There are alot of ways to teach the dumbbell successfully. This particular method has worked for my husband and my club in over 30 dogs (from start to finish) of different types, temperaments and breeds. It is also very difficult to describe it in enough detail on paper for people to understand, so if this is your first attempt please recruit a person to help you that has been successful in the past with teaching this type of retrieve.
PREREQUISITES TO STARTING DUMBELL:
Dog is biting well. (Why? Because the anxiety caused by this can be released into the bitework creating a nice release and better bitework.)
You have a good fuss.
You have a good here (called sometimes a front or 'come for').
For a good finished retrieve you can imprint the dog at puppyhood that the dumbbell is fun, like a ball or toy, before pressure is applied. (you can duck tape it or put the dumbbell in a heavy sock to keep the dog from hurting himself/herself, etc.)
Create 2 safe zones
Dumbbell in the mouth
Dumbbell in the mouth at here position
When teaching a sit or down you have one safe place to teach the dog. When teaching the dumbbell you have two safe zones to teach a dog, which is more difficult.
Examples of some possibilities of strengths to use, as dictated by dog:
Sensitive dog: Dead ring fur-saver to post and dead ring fur saver to you.
Medium to strong dog: Fur-saver to post and prong to you.
Strong dog: Prong to post and prong to you.
It is usually very difficult to start because it requires (most of the time) pressure and coordination. The beginning entails the most fighting, shutting down, flight, and\or avoidance your dog should give you. The only time you shove the dumbbell in the mouth is at this point; the reasoning is to be able to relieve pressure when it is in the mouth. They can then realize that holding the dumbbell calmly is a safe zone. Why I mention 'shoving it into their mouth is at this point' only, is because once it is made a safe zone from then on you always make them snatch at the dumbbell. They should snatch at the dumbbell as if there life depends on it. I caution people here because alot of pressure’ to people can mean many different things. To some people, alot’of pressure is abusive and to some alot’ of pressure is just saying bad dog’. The best guide is the dog must really want to hold the dumbbell.
The most common start is to have your dog tied to their fur saver to a post about a foot and a half away and a six-foot line on the prong to you. Put the line to prong in the left hand and put dumbbell in right hand. Dog can be sitting or standing, but preferably sitting. Make sure that you hold your leash just far enough away so the dog’s teeth can’t get to you by accident.
Example of the beginning of placement:
Repeat the word 'bring' or take’ and pull tight or use quick short jerks on the line and when they open their mouth for whatever reason put dumbbell in their mouth. Release line immediately. They will probably drop dumbbell when you release pressure. Be prepared to immediately tighten your line again and say 'bring' and put dumbbell in their mouth again quickly. Release line immediately. It helps sometimes to place your right hand under the dog's mouth to help them hold it. Repeat this until the dog understands there is pressure when dumbbell is not in the mouth AND there is immediate release of compulsion along with praise when it is in the dog's mouth. If the dog holds it for just a moment say 'aus' and take it out. If done properly the dog won't let go after a few sessions. Don't make a big deal about not letting go because it means you are doing the right thing by creating it a safe zone. Out your dog carefully with finger touching tongue or pulling the line tight slowly. This start can be repeated occasionally on a finished dog if problems like barking, nibbling or slowness to dumbbell arise.
If the dog is snatching at the dumbbell out of play or defense pull line tight that is not allowed. They can not be grabbing it unless it is only because you have said to get it. Any behavior that is not desirable the line remains tight. Example: barking, nibbling, growling, going to the ground after dumbbell is in their mouth, etc. There are a few exceptions that deal with handlers ability. If you have spent along time and they are finally grabbing it but mouthing it; maybe allow the mouthing for one or two times. Also, if the dog is holding it loosely in the beginning you might allow it. This is just to let the dog have a chance to win, but remember anything you allow here will continue or get worse.
When you have the dog holding the dumbbell by himself for just a moment say 'out' or 'aus'. Take the dumbbell out and praise him. Repeat this 2 to 5 times a session. Once the dog is getting the idea it is much better to do 10 one-minute sessions then one ten- minute session. Repeat this exercise until you have the dog at the very least opening his mouth for the dumbbell. Increase their holding of the dumbbell to a desirable length of time making sure they hold it tightly and calmly. Again this is the only time the handler places the dumbbell in their mouth. This should only be for a few sessions or for one day.
The next step is to have them grab for it at a distance. Hold the dumbbell a few inches away say 'bring' if they don't immediately snatch it apply pressure quickly until they do. It is important to do the pressure immediately so they do it quickly to beat the correction and release the pressure immediately when they have accomplished safe zone.
SOME PROBLEM SOLVING:
Some dogs grab the dumbbell and shake it or take it to the ground, this is not to be allowed. Compulsion is to be brought in until behavior is gone and they usually refuse to take it at this point. Then you start at the beginning.
If dog is barking at dumbbell or grabbing it because he thinks it is a toy use compulsion to take that drive out in the beginning. You bring back this drive later to balance the dog.
If dog is nibbling or chewing try to get rid of it with compulsion at the same time saying 'hold it' with your right hand under his chin. In the very beginning, you may allow this for one or two times to let the dog be successful in the safe zone.
Compulsion or pressure always for fighting or growling or avoiding or fleeing.
When the dog is always snatching at the dumbbell when it is a few inches away from the dog and they are then holding it calmly for a long period of time it is time to bring in the 'here'. Again, once you have absolutely established the dumbbell as a complete safe zone, the next step is to create the 'here' with dumbbell in the mouth. Say 'bring' they snatch it and then you step into them placing their chin on your lap. You can even have your legs apart and slightly bent so the dog is snug up to your body. Praise the dog with 'good here' if he remains calm in this position.
If they drop the dumbbell immediate tighten line. If they nibble on dumbbell immediately tighten line. Only when they are calm praise them say 'good here' stroke them on the head. You can sometimes tell by the eyes if they like it there. If you can get them to relax and enjoy being in the here position with dumbbell in their mouth you have done an excellent job. That is the perfect safe zone and if you can teach the dog that when pressure is applied that the quicker he gets the dumbbell and returns to here position the 'safer' it is, then you have done your work well. If this is what you do properly you have won the whole battle. At a trial when a dog gets nervous or preoccupied or distracted he knows how to make himself feel better by running and getting the dumbbell the first safe zone and going to his wonderful 2nd safe zone. Stay at this step awhile. Make sure this is perfect before going on. Fix all problems from this level. The number one place dogs lose points is the speed of the return. It is important that the position in front of you is very safe. I believe if you don’t have A’s in Kindergarten it is harder to get A’s in first grade.
Review to know you're done with this position:
Say 'bring' they snatch the dumbbell a few inches away and you step into them and they snuggle up to you in 'here' position.
In the next step they actually have to move their body. Make sure the back line to post is now 3 or 4 feet long. You hold dumbbell away from them say 'bring' after they get up to snatch it you make them come to you for the here position. You may back up a step and if he frantically tries to get in 'here' position this is a great sign. If he drops dumbbell or won't move off a sit there is compulsion, but when he gets to you the pressure is gone and 'good here' and you may stroke the dog’s head. When he has been successful and knows this step back up a little and if the dog is glued to you in here position you have done it properly.
Next, increase the length from dumbbell to dog. You have to let out the line and increase the distance from the post to the dog by about 5 or 6 feet. You are going to a heel position now on the outside of dog. You present the dumbbell now at an arm’s length.
If you see drive for dumbbell recede or diminish at any time. Say 'bring' and hold dumbbell out enough he can not reach it because the line to the post isn’t long enough and won't let him. Say 'bring' when he goes for it and when he can not grab it then you can legitimately tighten the line because he doesn't have it in his mouth. Say 'bring, bring' like "hey, you better get it!" When he is crazy for it you can put the dumbbell within reach. You can throw this type of action in whenever a dog is losing motivation. This creates drive.
Stay at this level until you are absolutely 100% consistant.
The next difficult step is for the dog to grab dumbbell off the ground. Start this in stages:
Dumbbell is snatched closer and closer to the ground.
Dumbbell is taken when it is touching ground only on one side while you are still holding it at an angle.
Dumbbell is fully on ground while you are still holding it.
Dumbbell fully on ground while you are pointing at it and touching it with the tip of finger.
Bring pointing finger farther and farther away untill your tossing it on the ground and not pointing at all.
Sometimes resting one side of the dumbbell on your foot on the ground helps the dog get through the transition.
Make sure you are still saying 'bring' when dog is suppose to grab it. When pointing at the dumbbell about a foot away say 'bring' without moving hand or body.
The perfect picture to the last part of this step is when the dog can hardly sit still when you place or toss the dumbbell on the ground in front of him. You stand up and without moving you say 'bring' and he rushes to it and back to you in here position.
After the dog is getting dumbbell without you moving any part of your body and just saying 'bring', it is time to lengthen distance and line. Use the inside of the circumference of the circle to throw the dumbbell. Example of some dumbbell placements:
If the dog loses drive throw the dumbbell outside of circle say 'bring' when the dog can't get to it apply pressure and walk up still adding pressure and push it within reach with your foot. Back the dog up to a here position after he has grabbed the dumbbell.
Final stage is when you take the dog off of the post and use two long lines. The handler has one and a second line person has the other.
It is not wise to use any compulsion at the here position after the dog has gotten dumbbell in this situation. If the dog's here position ever starts to break down seperate it from whole exercise. You do this by fussing the dog with the dumbbell in his mouth and doing a 'here' from the fuss position, separately. If he drops it at any time there is compulsion. Even if you hit the dumbbell with your knee as you are walking they should hold it tightly. Every 'here' off of the fuss position has to be perfect or compulsion. This is were you add pressure to the here not when doing dumbbell. If the dog is still not putting it together sit him a few feet infront of you with the dumbbell in his mouth and say 'here'. Use compulsion to bring him into a here position quickly. At this point your reestablishing safe zone at here position.
STEP 6: (The Last Step)
Bring back the speed and enthusiasm by tying the dog to a post and using the soft stick for stimulation and noise, in protection type moves, to create drive back into the dumbbell. The whip’ sound is not always necessary. It would be like using the dumbbell as a sleeve. You can tie the dumbbell to a leash and throw it around like a puppy rag. If you put an eyehook in the end you can clip a leash to it. Any problems that develop during this stage you must go back and repeat the steps again. If the dog starts chewing the dumbbell then go back through the steps until that behavior is gone.
When doing the dumbbell in this drive you must make sure not to hurt the dogs teeth. Be very careful not to play so hard with the dumbbell in the dogs mouth it is uncomfortable. When tying the dog back to the post you still have a short line on the dog’s other collar when you let the dog win’ the dumbbell and release it to him, keep ahold of your line and when you want the dumbbell call the dog to here and out the dumbbell from this position only. After his outs, jump back and make him strike at the dumbbell and miss it and do bark and holds for the dumbbell. Play with the dumbbell so he has his drive back for the dumbbell or if he didn’t have drive for the dumbbell he will have it after playing with him. This is where you might want to wrap the dumbbell in something so as not to hurt the dog’s teeth or gums. I am working on developing a hard rubber dumbbell that looks like a wooden dumbbell or even rubber coating a real wooden dumbbell. I hope I can find a way to do this.
Go back to post if problems.
Use offset dumbbell if you can't stop the chewing. (a dumbbell that is really heavy on one side)
Also when dog mouths dumbbell at the here position you can push it back in their mouth sharply. (only do this later when the dog understands that holding the dumbbell is safe or this will not make him want to come to the here position)
Not putting pressure on quick enough so the dog is quick also.
Not releasing pressure quick enough so the dog understands it is safe.
Keeping a tight lead when the dog is correct, you must make line loose so the dog understands that his behavior is correct.
You are doing something wrong if this drags on for weeks. It should be done in 2, 3, 4 or 5 short sessions a day and the dog should be picking the dumbbell off the ground and coming back in as quick as two days to one week.
In closing, when you run into a problem you really only have one of two choices:
Apply pressure when the dog is incorrect
Release pressure and/or give praise when the dog is correct.
More info about Ann Marie Chaffin
Ann Marie is currently a USA Judge, UDC Temperament Tester, and the Secretary for AWDF.
Ann Marie has been involved with dogs since the 1970's when she earned her first CD while 12 years old. She went on to be youth 4-H obedience instructor at the age of 15.
Started one of highest titling clubs in the US called High Plains Schutzhund Club, Inc. in the 90's High Plains has over 190 titles to date.. Titles including some AKC titles. High Plains has hosted National events in Denver including the World Qualifier in 1994 and AWDF Championships in 1999 and 1999 and 2000 UDC Championships. Helped secured titles in the club on Bouviers, Dobermanns, Malinios, Rottweilers and German Shepherds.
Has done many seminars on dog safety with Christian organizations, 4-H and neighborhoods.
Is in USA's Owner/handler Club and has 12 Owner/handler Club trainers started in High Plains.
Has done many articles for dog magazines and USA.
Schutzhund Trial Chair of the 1997 UDC Nationals in St. Louis
Schutzhund Trial Chair/Secretary of the 1999 and 2000 UDC SchH Championship in Denver
Trial Chair and Secretary of many USA and UDC National events.