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Canine Trauma

Notes from Phil Hoelcher Seminar

By John Snively

Phil Hoelcher, Schutzhund trainer and competitor, movie animal trainer and 1997 DVG Schutzhund III winner, was in town for one of his typically informative and entertaining seminars a couple of weeks ago.

It was raining when we tracked in a plowed field. Niko (age 16 months, and tracking for 8 of those months) and I did a very slow track as he tried to scent the boot-sucking mud. I let him alone to work things out for himself. Phil commented before the track, "I want him to have a good experience out here today."

That pretty much set the tone for his critique: It is more important for a young dog to be successful in form and in attitude than to show independent decision-making skill. From a practical standpoint, that means bending over the dog, walking at the dog's right hip, keeping a very short lead in the right hand, and keeping the left hand at the dog's left hip. The dog is boxed in and you keep moving.

Phil did another track with Niko to demonstrate. He used no corrections -- only the touch of his left hand -- and very light lead pressure. Voila! A faster but still solid track, as if Niko were relieved not to have to make every decision. We've since done the same thing under better conditions with similar results.

Copyright 1997 by John Snively.

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