New rules recently promulgated in Germany affect all Schutzhund competitors. It's especially important that trial helpers know the rules and especially how to apply them to their helper work during competition trials.
The Pacific Northwest Regional Helper Seminar gives helpers the opportunity to learn all about the proper procedures for trial helpers for Schutzhund 1, 2, and 3 work. "A lot of helpers are currently not familiar with how the new rules are supposed to be carried out," observes former Pacific Northwest Regional Director, USA Judge and seminar facilitator Willie Pope. The seminar is "a clarification on how the work has to be done," he adds. He teaches from his personal experiences and point of view. "What needs to be done according to the regulations, based on my experiences as a helper, and from a judge’s point of view," he explains.
Pope plans a hands-on approach over the two-day seminar that will help both the novice and the experienced helper to fully understand what is expected on the competition field. He believes that this is an appropriate seminar both for someone who’s never done any helper work, and for someone who has a good deal of experience as a trial helper.
"What I’ll do is run through from a judge’s standpoint, and from a helper’s standpoint, the proper procedures for the trial work," says Pope, "and train the helper to do what is expected of them in the trial." A significant part of the seminar will be reviewing the new trial rules for helpers in the protection work.
Pope has been the facilitator of several such helper seminars in this region and across the country. While the individual participants at each seminar present a unique opportunity for particular training approaches and methodology, Pope plans "to basically explain my experience as a helper, and my experience as a judge." From his own firsthand experience, Pope knows "what I like to see in the helpers and what is consistent with all the other judges and helpers in the country." The goal is to prepare helpers so that there are no surprises come competition time.
Pope developed his helper seminar format from two aspects. From his own experiences as a helper, he prefers to teach "from the helper’s point of view for the work and the regulations." In conjunction with that, he also teaches from his own experiences as a judge and "knowing what I want to see from the helpers."
He believes that videotaping is an indispensable tool for capturing the seminar and the critiques that follow each participant’s work at the seminar. This provides an opportunity for continued playback, review, and learning. In the past, Pope "would take different helpers and have them go out and I say OK, this is what my opinion of a proper escape is," Pope recalls. "I’ll go and show it, and then I’ll call the next helper up -- OK, it’s your turn."
While he was instructing each helper and correcting any errors during these seminars, the video camera captured the entire action. Afterwards, a seminar participant can review the critiques of each helper doing the exercises. "When you get something like this on video," Pope advises, "It is a very good training tool."
At his prior seminars, Pope would take about 15-18 helpers and their dogs. "I would break everything apart," he recalls. The logical place to begin is standing in the blind. "There’s a proper way of standing in the blind. A proper way of posturing in the blind for when the dog comes in," he advises. "Looking somewhat over the dog’s head, but not eye to eye contact with the dog." There’s a trick to being able to endure long stands in the blind, especially in hot weather. "Stand not straight legged, but bent legged," Pope counsels. "When it’s real hot, sometimes a person that stands real stiff legged gets real light headed."
Pope also covered the nuances of the escape. "A lot of judges want to see something different on the escape. The way the attack should come," he adds. Pope’s approach in prior seminars was to break things apart, "step by step," and demonstrate "where the movement should be, where the placement should be, how far you should drive the dog, where the stick should be laid, catching a dog, taking a dog one way or the other." Perfecting the art of helper work involves "a lot of sometimes small, but very important parts," Pope emphasizes.
Delivering helper work according to the regulations is just one aspect of correct methodology. The helper must also at all times consider the safety of the dog and of himself. At the PNW helper seminar, "I’m going to show the safest and most intense way, but it’s going to be the correct way to assess the dog's courage, hardness and fighting drive," explains Pope. He has observed some helper work in big trials that is incorrect. "The most experienced helpers can catch a dog properly," he explains," but the average or inexperienced ones have problems running down the field at a dead run, and catching a dog at a dead run, and absorbing the dog at full speed."
Pope compares some of the helper work he has observed to his own experiences as a helper. "In the past, at full speed, the dog connected with me [when] I was at a small trot," he recalls. "That’s enough threat to the dog." He asks, "The other way, what are you trying to test? How well built the dog is as far as sustaining a hit? Or how well its teeth are in its head?"
Safety-conscious help encourages clean trial work and gives the helper more control over the situation. "If you want to see the power of the dog going into the sleeve," Pope explains, "then the threat comes and the dog goes in and he takes the fight to the helper."
He does not see much of a problem recently with safety on the trial field. A potential problem when judging a trial is helpers who do not test the dogs properly. "I have to insist that they either do it again, or in the next exercise they have to push the dogs stronger." A trial helper who is unfamiliar with the trial procedures or who has not been adequately trained can disrupt the progression of a trial -- an unnecessary distraction for the judge and an added stress for the competitor. A judge "shouldn’t have to explain step by step, and exercise by exercise, to the helpers when they’re in trial. They should know these things," Pope observes. From a judge’s viewpoint, and from that of a competitor, it’s always advantageous to have "a helper who goes out and knows his job."
Pope encourages helpers from new clubs to attend helper seminars offered in their own regions. "The clubs that are inexperienced -- those are the ones that actually need the help," he believes. "When they have their trials, these helpers do the trial work." Potential competitors are understandably leary of putting their dogs in a trial if the helper is highly inexperienced. Pope believes that in the Pacific Northwest Region, "there are several helpers who do an excellent job."
To achieve this level of proficiency at the competition level, new helpers must learn how to do the work properly according to the regulations. And a helper seminar taught by a highly skilled devotee of the sport with years of experience as a handler, trainer, helper, and USA judge is an outstanding opportunity to do so.
Copyright 1997 by Working Dogs. No reproduction of any kind without the express permission of the author.