More than Any Handler Wants to Know about Teaching the Voraus
In preface to this article I would like to say that this is a long and involved explanation of how to teach a voraus. It is important to realize that behind these basic tips are good methods the handler/trainer can use for all other exercises in schutzhund.
The voraus, also known as the ‘send out’ or ‘go out’, is a 10-point routine in the obedience phase of schutzhund. The routine consists of basically 5 small parts.
1) Basic position
2) Walking 10 to 15 paces
3) Sending the dog away 30 paces
4) Commanding the dog to platz
5) Going to the dog and sitting the dog
To get the total 10 points:
1) The basic position at the beginning needs to be straight and correct.
2) The handler needs to correctly fuss with the dog between 10 and 15.
3) When the correct number of paces has been taken, the handler takes his arm and points forward while at the same time stopping and saying ‘voraus’.
4) The dog immediately runs quickly ahead in a straight line and at judge’s discretion the handler is told to platz the dog. (Some judges will not tell the handler to platz the dog so the handler must make sure that they platz the dog over 30 paces away.)
5) The dog must immediately platz for full points.
6) After the dog platz at the end of the field, the judge tells the handler when to approach the dog.
7) The handler then goes to the fuss position beside the dog.
8) When the judge again gives the signal the handler asks the dog to sit. The dog must sit quickly and in correct position.
Training the voraus.
Teaching the voraus should be a very rewarding and fun exercise that only builds drive and desire. The target should always be a ‘safe zone’. If done correctly, it can also be used as a reward after the dumbbell routine. Only when the dog knows all of his obedience correctly, does the handler add obedience to the voraus. I say this because there are two incorrect voraus styles seen typically in schutzhund: The dog that is slow and hesitant and platz quickly or the dog that is like a bullet, but has a hard time platzing. This is important to understand. In other words this means one of two things, either the dog isn’t enjoying running platz the field or the obedience is not solid. So if the dog enjoys running down the field and he knows what the command "platz" means, then the dog should always score well. So these are the two basic components to the voraus.
There are many ways to teach a dog to do a correct voraus. The dog and handler’s abilities determine the method that works best for the team. If a dog has good food drive then the handler can use food. If the dog likes the juteroll (bitewurst) or the ball or the ball on a string or Frisbee, etc., the handler can use these toys. (If the handler can train the voraus like a blind search (voran/revier) then that method is very good, also.)
When first training to do a voraus the dog does not need any obedience. The handler can do this with a young dog or puppy, but that isn’t totally necessary for a good voraus. Some important things to remember are:
1) When teaching the dog/puppy make sure the target for the voraus doesn’t move from the original placement and when the handler needs to be farther away from the target the handler moves the dog back.
2) Set targets at the end of the training fields.
3) Make sure the voraus is fast and straight before adding obedience.
4) Make sure the obedience is solid.
Following are pictures of some good tools that the handler can have made or find that are good for the voraus.
The voraus poles or targets should be narrow and hard for the dog to see. If I use the metal upside down “L shaped” target, I always face the target top slightly pointing away and above the dog’s head so there is no chance of the dog running into the target. The handler needs to put the toy at the end of the metal pole so the dog doesn’t tear the whole thing down and drag it back to them. If the handler can hang a clip on the end, that would be the easiest and safest release. Safety of the dog and handler is the top priority. My favorite tool is taking a PVC pipe about an inch in diameter and about 2 and ½ feet long and a pencil. I stick the pencil in the ground and put the PVC pipe around the pencil to hold up the pipe. I then put the food or ball at the base of the pipe. It is hard for the dog to see, which is good, but if you are not careful in the training the dog will start sniffing on the way down the field.
In the beginning the handler doesn’t want to use any obedience with the dog while teaching the voraus. A typical scenario is to put out the desired target at the end of the field first and then go and get the young dog and put him on leash. Put the toy or food in a pocket. (I do all training with a long line, but use what is comfortable. Long lines are occasionally hard for people to work with, so a shorter leash might be preferred. The handler does not want the puppy/dog running away or around the field after he gets the toy or food. The handler can have a second toy to bring the dog back to him.)
Take the dog and go to the target and let him sniff it if the dog desires. If the trainer uses food, let the dog know by letting him smell or eat some of the food before placing it on the target. If the handler is using a toy, then build drive with the dog for the toy. After the dog is showing a lot of drive for the toy/food place it on the target while holding the dog back by his collar. The dog is only a few feet from the target at most.
Soon as the handler places the food/toy on the target say “voraus” and have the dog get the reward. It is important the handler teases the dog as he places it on the target. After the dog understands where the toy has been placed, the trainer can say things like “you want it?” or “where is it?” or “good boy” before he sends the dog. The handler can pat the dogs side or chest to create more drive. Depending on the aptitude of the dog and the age of the dog it should take only one session to get the dog to understand that the target is a desired place to be. As the dog understands the handler can drag the dog backwards from the target trying to keep him facing the target and let him go at more distance with a voraus command.
Now here comes the part that is the most difficult. This is the part of timing and correctly reading the dog that this magazine article can’t teach. If the handler drags the dog back harshly or if the dog has to fight with the handler, the dog might start spinning and losing direct sight of the target or he might start avoiding the voraus because of the ineptness of the handler. If the handler is able to read the dog and let him go at the height of his excitement they are going to add greatly to the speed and direction of the voraus. If the handler starts adding too much obedience too soon to this exercise he will decrease the dog’s drive. As the dog builds drive and understanding the handler can add some obedience. As an example, after the trainer has the dog running 10 paces or more to the target with speed he can start fussing the dog directly away from the target. So as the handler holds the dog’s collar and places the toy on the stand he can ask the dog to sit. The handler then gets into basic position and fusses to the left away from the target. (Don’t ask the dog to come and fuss into basic position this is asking for too much.) After the trainer gets the number of paces away from the dog, that he ‘feels’ is right for the dog in his training, he can turn around and stop and grab the dog’s collar and excite him and send him to the target. But the handler can only add obedience if the obedience is correct and solid. This is extremely important because if the handler doesn’t have a solid fuss the dog will not be in correct position and he will either be rewarded for incorrect obedience by letting him voraus anyway to the target or the handler will have to do some training before the dog is sent and that might discourage the dog from leaving. If the handler has correct obedience then he can have a win/win situation because he can reward the dog for good obedience with the voraus. Until the voraus is a 100% do not ask for a platz. If the dog refuses to platz the handler must stop the voraus training and teach the platz correctly and separately.
Now this is another part of timing and the ability of the handler. The handler must develop a program where he lets the dog build drive enough for the voraus, but have enough control for the platz. Maybe the dog needs to do 10 voraus’ with little obedience to every one voraus with some type of obedience to make the perfect picture. There might be a time where the trainer has to ‘chase’ the dog down the field yelling ‘voraus’ and pointing down the field, because the dog doesn’t think the toy or food is out there. The handler has to be careful if he uses any type of compulsion, to make sure he builds the dog back up.
Ending any obedience training with the voraus is a good way of creating drive in the voraus. If the handler has to add any pressure to the dog in training he can end the session by doing a voraus by holding the dog’s collar and sending him. No matter the age or the title of a dog the handler should do this occasionally. Again, it is up to the handler to read his dog correctly to know what is needed. Maybe building the dog up for the voraus and dragging him off the field would be the best for the occasion.
If the handler has a solid platz, then he can ‘platz’ the dog before the dog gets to the target and then when the handler goes to basic position and sits the dog he can send the dog on for the reward. This helps maintain a down that is facing the target. The handler must have a perfect platz or the dog will actually be rewarded for not platzing by being able to get the reward. This will just make it harder for the handler to platz the dog the next time.
Some trainers have successfully trained a puppy or young dog to go out and actually platz at the tree, bush or sign that is on home field. But obviously, off of the dog’s home field, this method falls apart.
Proofing the dog is important by going to strange fields and training the voraus in all types of weather and under different distractions and in different directions. The handler, when proofing the dog, should start with a close voraus’ so the dog is successful.
After the dog is going out correctly because he sees the toy or saw the handler take it out on the field at some point, the handler must have a buddy sneak it out occasionally so the dog realizes that it will just appear. The handler can also sneak it out on the field themselves before bringing the dog out.
During the actual trial there are two teams on the field for obedience at one time. Before the voraus, the other team on the long down is instructed by the judge to go and get their dog. This gives the handler, who is about to do the voraus, a short time to prepare their dog. With some experimentation before the trial, the handler can find the best way to prepare their dog for the voraus. Two ways come to mind that have been successful in the past:
1) Get into basic position ready to begin the voraus and pet the dog and say “you want to go”. Then step a pace or two away from the dog and wait until it is time to go. Then step back to the dog and wait until the judge’s signal to begin.
2) Face the dog the opposite way he is to do the voraus a few paces behind the start position and ask the dog “do you want to go” and excite the dog. Facing the dog away can sometimes build drive in the dog, if he is correctly trained, by having the dog get excited that the handler is facing him the wrong way.
Problems that typically occur and ways to fix them:
The dog is slow:
1) If obedience has been applied, the dog needs to have the obedience taken away from the exercise until his drive is built back up.
2) The dog needs to have drive created in him by making him hungrier or more interested in the toy. The handler can go back to holding the dog by the collar closer to the target.
If the dog doesn’t platz:
The handler must go back and create a solid platz separately from the go out. A platz that is respected by the dog should happen anytime and anyplace and even on Sunday.
If the dog sniffs the ground on the way down the field:
1) At some point during training the handler might have moved the target away from the dog instead of moving the dog away from the target.
2) Sometimes when people put the food or ball on the ground the dog is trying to find it with his nose instead of running full out. Start hanging the toy or putting the food on some type of pedestal.
When the dog truly understands, the handler can see that the dog will go quickly down the field not knowing if the target is out there or not. Then partway down the field the handler can see that the dog has spotted the target. That means the dog is trusting the trainer and going on faith.
Forging on the build-up:
If the dog forges on the build-up the handler will want to correct that one of several ways.
1) Every time the dog forges on the build-up the handler can make a small circle away from the target and not until the dog is in correct position will he be sent . Even if this takes awhile to accomplish.
2) The trainer can just teach the dog that there will be at least one small circle before he is sent on the voraus, but on trial day the team does not circle.
3) The handler can use an appropriate correction to make sure the dog stays in the proper position. If the dog loses drive then separate the fussing and make it correct.
4) The handler can use a combination of the above.
When the handler puts their hand up and points for the voraus they should keep their arm up while the dog is running. If the dog looks back or if he is confused it might help him keep going without an extra voice command.
The handler should keep their
arm up while they say “platz”. It can be construed as ‘double handling’ if the
handler says platz at the same time as they drop their arm.
The handler should walk straight to the dog to take up fuss position. If the handler is wide approaching the dog and then comes into fuss position they might get a deduction depending on how wide they are.
I have created my own philosophy in obedience. (Although I am sure I just reinvented the wheel.) When teaching people in my club, I have found this to be the best way to explain what I need from them. This obedience theory is good for all three phases: obedience, tracking, and protection. I will address obedience in this article.
There are many good and great obedience trainers that use a myriad of different methods. Take which one works for you and your dog. It is much easier if you are personally comfortable with the formula you use in training.
Important note before beginning obedience: each handler and dog are different. When mentioned ‘never do such and such’ or ‘always do such and such’, remember for some dog somewhere it might be appropriate.
It is important to divide obedience routines into safe zones. Make each piece perfect then put them together in a test. If the test works only combine whole routine on trial day. If test fails, find out why and fix it and test again.
Safe zone training is pretty self-explanatory: The dog is unsafe out of the position asked for and safe in the position. Example: If you say 'sit' and the dog isn't sitting he should be unsafe. Safe zones can be created through praise, ball, food or bitewurst. Unsafe zones can be created by stimulation through choke collar, prong, lack of ball or food, etc.
Everything for a dog should be black or white. He is either wrong or right: Correction or praise.
First step motivation:
Start with recall or voraus from puppyhood only with food, ball, etc.
Finish every obedience session with a recall, preferably when someone else is holding your dog. Be wild, be an actor when leaving the dog. The funnier you look the more drive you will get. Use a ball or bitewurst or yourself to entice. This imprints the dog with speed in these exercises. When the dogs comes to you throw the ball or let them jump on you or turn and run so they try to catch you or throw the ball between your legs.
Progression of recall:
1. Run not very far for puppies flailing arms and making noise. Call them while moving and maybe roll on ground when they catch you. Keep moving to keep interest. Try using a ball or bitewurst if possible. Have the person holding your puppy let go when you say, ‘here’. Over time you will use less enticement through body movement or reward.
2. Run farther with the same enthusiasm as for the puppies. Stop and turn and say "here". Have the person let go when you say “here”. Throw toy behind you so puppy doesn't slow down.
3. As a dog becomes better, pause more before you say the “here” command to create suspense in the dog thereby creating drive for you.
4. One of the last things to throw in every once and awhile is to run directly at dog after you say "here" with toy in front of you. Back up when dog gets to you. (Prelude to courage test) This stage doesn't have to be done. Only if it works.
Again, all trainers have different ideas about obedience, but the type of obedience that can hold up under good protection drives can not start until the dog has great grips. (1 year to 1 1/2 years) IF you see the bite deteriorate then stop obedience. IF obedience is not making a difference, or even better, if bitework has improved, it is time to continue.
First exercise is the sit. I personally don't imprint the sit or down because I need it to be a very serious exercise. I find that these two exercises become very fast and correct and incredibly sure with no beginning imprinting. Some imprint everything. Imprinting is where through motivation only, you teach an exercise. You physically place or help or bribe a dog into the sit position and give them a reward. The idea is that they sit when told because they expect a reward.
Whether you imprint or not when you start the sit you correct up until the dog sits. The quicker and more precise the correction the quicker the dog understands safe zone. If the sit isn't a safe place he won't want to get there and if the unsafe place isn't that uncomfortable he won't want to get there either. Everything that isn’t a quick sit is unsafe.
It is important to understand bribe versus reward. We train initially with the bribe: If you do this you can get this. The dog sees the treat and responds to the bribe. The end result needed is the reward: The dog does everything in hopes of a reward at the end. A reward that he doesn’t see or smell.
When the dog can sit for a reward under any distraction then you can go onto the sitting fuss. Again you bribe the dog into the position you want by a toy or food, when they are in the position you release them with bride. When the dog understands what the sitting fuss means, you put the bribe away and ask for the safezone 'fuss'. If they don't go to the safe zone, fuss, a correction comes because they are out of safe zone. Soon as you have a perfect sitting fuss under distraction you move on to the walking fuss.
THE IMPORTANT THING HERE IS WE ONLY BRIBE THE DOG TO IMPRINT HIM TO UNDERSTAND THE POSITION WE WANT. IT IS NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY TO DO THIS, BUT IT IS A NICE TRANSITION FOR THE DOG. AFTER A FEW BRIBES YOU MUST GO TO REWARD ONLY TRAINING.
An excellent way to tell if your bribing a dog is if the dog will not work unless the toy is insight or within smelling range you are bribing. As long as your fanny pack is there or the food or ball is in your pocket, or you trick them with a kerchief around the neck or your fist with a hidden ball or moving your mouth to spit food you are bribing. You might notice a dog losing interest in a few minutes because his bribe hasn't been shown to him yet. The reward is given when the dog pleases you.
Practical hints for most teams:
Ever wonder why when you take off the lead your dog doesn't pay attention? He respects the leash not you.
Only practice with lead off when completely finished.
Never recall a dog off a long down or sit.
Never give a command to fuss or sit and then walk off dragging the dog with you
without releasing the dog or giving him another command.
Never use same commands at home or let spouse or child use the commands.
When paying attention to the instructor never stop paying attention to what the dog
When practicing a routine do the sit before the down. You can do as many sits
as you like and then to a down. If you do a down or a stand don’t do
a sit afterwards. This helps the dog relate to a pattern.
Picture what the perfect exercise would be in your mind. Everything your dog does outside that picture is unsafe and everything he does correctly is very safe.