Owners, dogs enjoy protection training program

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Stacy Vogel
August 15, 2009
— To the uninitiated, Schutzhund sounds intimidating.

The highly regimented program teaches dogs to ignore distractions and protect their masters and homes. The trainers issue German instructions that include cornering and biting attackers.

But the intimidation quickly melts when watching Fritz Gates praise his dog, Rasko, for completing an exercise.

“That’s a boy! Yes it is,” he cooed to the 4-year-old German shepherd, who looked as if he couldn’t ask for more out of life than to chase down a wooden dumbbell and earn his master’s approval.

The O.G. Edgerton Schutzhund Club is one of three groups of its kind in southern Wisconsin. It meets Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at Kenlyn Kennels, 397 E. Hemenway Lane, Edgerton. People come from as far as Milwaukee and northern Illinois to take part.

Schutzhund—the word means protection dog—started in Germany as a breed evaluation test. Today, any dog can participate in the training, though only German shepherds were present at a recent meeting of the Edgerton club.

It includes three components: obedience, tracking and protection. After passing obedience training, dogs can reach three skill levels, known as Schutzhund I, II and III.

Some owners use Schutzhund to train military and police dogs, but Edgerton club members train their dogs as a hobby. They participate in competitions but get the most benefit from having well-trained dogs, members said.

Dogs of all ages and skill levels mixed at a recent club meeting. Rose Barke, Milwaukee, trained her 14-week-old puppy, Bella, to spin around for a morsel of food. A couple of dogs sat in the far side of the field, waiting to be called, as their owner taught them patience and obedience.

Lucy, a German shepherd belonging to Dottie Renier of Milwaukee, chased Gates around partitions in the field. She cornered him and barked sharp, urgent yelps to warn her master that an intruder was present.

When Gates, Stoughton, came toward the dog yelling and acting aggressively, she bit the protective padded sleeve on his arm.

The protection training came in handy for Barke when she was outside her home one day with Lucy and Bella, she said. An intoxicated man started walking toward Barke and threatening her as he passed the home, she said. Lucy barked at the man until he left.

“He apparently was threatened enough to keep moving,” Barke said.

Trainers make sure their dogs know the difference between intruders and friends, they said.

“We teach them to be social and like people,” said Lori LeMahieu, Stoughton.

They also make sure the dogs enjoy the training. They use positive reinforcement and don’t force the dogs to do things they don’t want to do, Gates said.

In fact, trial judges look to see the dogs exhibiting the “joy of work,” he said.

“The dog has to look happy, wants to participate, wants to please,” he said. “You can’t do that by brutalizing.”

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