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Leerburg Dog Training Blog

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

More on the state of the biting dog sports and the working dog.

It has certainly been an enourmous change for the breed clubs to completely turn the performance test over to the FCI and the international interpretations of the IPO rules.

We have seen arguments over the stick hits, changes to a very logical progression in the IPO 1,2 & 3 routines. But, really it is the intangibles that have changed the most. IPO is no longer a breed test or a individual training goal. It is simply not a breed test any longer nor does it seem to fulfill the original goal of furthering the working dog through testing and training. It is a thing unto itself. In some respects it almost seems to be performance art. Lets look at heeling, or what we seem to be promoting as heeling today.

“Under discipline or control” is one definition of heeling. Let’s look at the term bring to heel: this certainly explains the term “heel”. Does this today appear what is displayed in IPO? Not, really. I am trying to avoid comparing the old schutzhund routines to todays and yet I cannot help but remember the SchH2 heeling routine… was forever…..both on lead and off lead. Two trips into the group as well. It was more difficult by a long ways than SchH3 (which many people bitched about). In comparison to other related sports such as the DPO2 routine which had on lead and off lead heeling patterns (not including the out of motion/change of motion) that totaled around 360 meters of heeling, compared to the heeling today in IPO3 of under 100 paces (not including the build ups in out of motion exercises).

Today we see highly animated and often exciting performances in heeling. Huge effort goes into the “style” of heeling with a completely unnatural muzzle up, neck stretched, forced position which changes the gait of the dog and the topline does not stay level with ground. This seems to work pretty well with quite square dogs. Yet, I question whether the energy of such a performance could be held under older rules? Or, whether it is just stylistic…….what can we make these creatures do for us? How far can we push? Is the current fad the heeling equivilant of the Bulldog? A grotesque mutation of discipline and control?

This heeling fad certainly does not lend itself to “work” which I will define as something non-points related. Like getting from point A to B or controlling a dog in a ever changing environment while the handler proceeds about their given tasks.

In the past part of the criteria in observing a dog teams performance was observing the discipline and control under non-drive tasks such as heeling, positions, and the long down exercises verses drive exercises such as the recall, the go out, and the retrieves. It seems today that all exercises are judged only as drive exercises. This amounts to a huge change in criteria.

It also begs one to ask are we going to change the breed. The hallmark of a good working dog is the ability to move from a drive based behavior at will, to demonstrate that balance between drive and discipline that makes handling working dogs and especially living with working dogs a joy. Or shall we create dogs that are only capable of being in drive whenever in contact with hits handler. Performing continuously in drive, no common sense balance in the work or the genetics of the animal.

There may be places for such dogs, such as detection duties in large facilities, and a few other duties which take immensely active dogs. But, for working dog ownership and enjoyment are we barking up the wrong tree??



  1. Avatar
    January 4, 2018

    Thank you for this! In training I have felt that invisible pressure to keep my dog animated while in heel, where she is more balanced and empowered without the hype.

  2. Avatar
    kyle jackson
    January 17, 2018

    Thank you for your thoughts on this topic. As you mentioned we are changing the GSD breed. We have created “prey monsters”. Some of whom’s nerves are not the strongest. Are these types of dogs good for patrol work? My mentor told me many years ago that the GSD is not the best dog at doing protection, its not the best at doing obedience and its not the best dog at tracking. But its the best at doing all three. Give me the golden middles, for a quality life on and off the field.

  3. Avatar
    August 15, 2018

    Thank you for stating this so succinctly Kevin. As an owner of a working class Rottweiler I gravitated to dog sports for the love of my breed, the need for a dog purpose and the beauty of the trainer dog pairing. I worked with two different trainers; one focused on the points associated with head/shoulder/touch positions and such and the other, drive to control transition, hardness and stability under pressure. Neither focused on both. It was like two different sports altogether. The school I chose was Schutzhund based with OLDER training methods, practices and scoring including stick-hits, gun shots, separation etc. The dogs I train with are stable and hard and perform in and out of drive beautifully. The current IPO programs are fun to watch but at times the dogs seem to be just acting; going through the motions. If you are researching before you purchase and train your dog, do yourself a favor and attend both kinds of events, check out the dogs, talk to people. You can train any dog to do many things, the dog’s genetics might limit others but knowing what your desired end game looks like will help you in your first decision.What type of dog (breed, drive, bloodline, physical characteristics) your new puppy should possess and which training team you should follow. Great job Kevin.

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