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What is IPO?

Spotlight on IPO

As we now have a very keen and committed IPO group at CRC, we asked our IPO trainer Larry Jones to answer some questions about the sport for those of us who would like to know more and perhaps get involved:

What is IPO and what is its purpose?
The IPO trial is an internationally recognized working trial comprising three disciplines, namely tracking, obedience and protection work. The title is offered at three levels of increasing difficulty, starting at level 1 with high level competition taking place at level 3. The original purpose of the trial (in the original format of Schutzhund) was as a tool to assist German Shepherd Dog breeders in selecting for desirable temperament as required of a working dog. Traits such as an ability to deal with pressure, having a steady nerve, good balance of drives, clear-headedness, biddableness, courage and fighting spirit are important considerations to this end. It is now used mostly as a dog sport. When correctly officiated the trial can be demanding but with correct and consistent training and suitable temperament/genetics (dog and handler!) it remains well within reach.

What training methods are used in the protection element?
I will answer this with respect to what I consider to be CORRECT protection training for IPO sport. It is unfortunate but true that there is a lot of incorrect training taking place, particularly in this country.
By far the most important drive in protection training is prey drive (as when a dog chases a ball or a cat). It is an instinctive energizing drive which is the main motivator in protection training as well as in quality obedience work. When working in this drive the dog is not stressed and experiences high satisfaction levels when “making” prey i.e. chasing and gripping. This stands in stark contrast to the type of protection work in which the dog is placed under stress by being made to perceive a threat to itself i.e. the dog is worked in defence drive. Unfortunately there exist some trainers who simplistically equate defence drive with pain. THIS IS STUPID AND UNETHICAL and will never lead to a clear-headed sport and family dog.

Fight drive (think complex tug-of-war) which emerges from prey drive is extremely useful particularly when competing at a high level and is in most cases a pleasant and clear space for the dog. It is the drive which I attempt to illicit most with my more advanced dogs.

Will IPO make my dog a good guard dog?
Dogs, like people, are fallible. IPO training can never take a dog with weak nerves, low drive levels and generally poor temperament and turn it into “super-dog”. Creating good temperament starts with the breeder and will also be impacted on by the owner. People who are interested in IPO only as a means to guard their property should rather use ADT. Having said that, it is worth noting that correct training will serve to build confidence, control and appropriate behaviour when the dog is under pressure. It is reasonable to expect the dog to be a deterrent and an alarm but no more.

Are dogs with aggression problems good candidates for IPO?
Unprovoked aggression generally reflects a lack of mental clarity and a weak nervous disposition. Correct training may be helpful but in general these animals struggle to cope with the demands of IPO, particularly at the higher levels. Unfortunately there are many people who see this type of aggression as a desirable trait reflecting strength of character while quite the opposite is true. In any case, a dog that demonstrates inappropriate or untoward aggression in a trial will be immediately disqualified by a competent judge.

What time commitment is required from the owner to do IPO?
This is a very important question. IPO sport is not for the dabbler. There exist many activities within the Kennel Union for those that wish to simply participate. In addition some people find the show ring more exciting and rewarding. The sport generally demands a reasonable time commitment. To me consistency of training is far more important than total time spent. Quality will always trump quantity and it is in fact very easy to over-train, especially with young dogs. This may lead to dullness and a generally poor picture and outcome.

Here follows my estimate of time use in training:
Tracking - depends on how close one is to the tracking grounds – could be 30 minutes or more each way. The laying and ageing of the track may take between twenty minutes and an hour for the more advanced dog while the tracking itself shouldn’t take more than about 15 minutes.
Obedience – should be broken up into short high activity sessions negating the danger of overtraining as mentioned earlier. Some handlers expect their dogs to routinely train obedience for an hour – not a good idea for quality IPO. Training should be between 5 and 15 minutes per session.
Protection - this depends on age and temperament of the dog. Working with a puppy or doing remedial work with an older dog will generally take between 5 and 10 minutes. For the more advanced dog one may train for about 15 minutes, often less.

If one looks at IPO as a sport which is taken seriously then the time commitment when compared to other sports is reasonable in my view.

Will IPO make my dog aggressive towards people?
See question 5. If the dog is genetically of sound temperament and has not been damaged by poor early training or other experiences, then the answer is absolutely not. The abuse that is able to turn a steady dog aggressive has no place in IPO training and I personally will charge both owner/handler and trainer with animal cruelty were I to witness such training.

How do I choose a good IPO trainer?
There are not many quality IPO trainers/clubs in South Africa and the few that there are do not easily accept unproven members. Obviously this is a problem for the novice. I suggest that interested people attend high level trials and seminars and gather as much information as possible about the sport – demonstrate your bona fide’s. Also beware of charlatans (a certain “dog whisperer” comes to mind) – a quality trainer should have an education in behavioural science, learning theory etc and should also have practical experience with a CV that includes dogs that have been successful in the sport at a high level.
Beware of people with ego problems / macho man syndrome – they may irreparably damage your dog in one 5 minute session. Beware the “quick fix” man who claims to be able to title your dog quickly, usually for a substantial sum of money and away from your supervision!

What is the biggest mistake one can make in IPO training?
Not thinking! IPO is a complex and demanding sport requiring a thoughtful, consistent and intellectually humble approach. Beware trainers who claim to have all the answers.

Exerts from the preamble of the 2012 FCI Guidelines for IPO.

“Through the domestication of the dog, a close social relationship was formed with mankind and [the dog] is in some respects dependent on him. With this comes a certain responsibility on the part of man to ensure the well-being of the dog. Directly when it comes to training the physical as well as the psychological health of the dog is top priority. It is imperative then that the dog be handled in a fair, orderly and humane way…… there is an additional duty to the dog to properly socialize him and to ensure exercise to meets his needs.”

“During the course of history, the dog has had various jobs to help man. In the modern day world, many of these duties have been relegated to technology. For this reason, the dog owner has the responsibility to ensure that the dog has other activities …. that offer close contact to people.”

“The dog should be occupied according to his abilities and capabilities. Besides adequate exercise, he should have intense work with activities that take into consideration his learning ability, his exercise requirements as well as his other abilities. The various forms of the dog sport provide these excellent venues.”

“A person who trains or does sport with his dog, has to undertake a method of careful training with the goal in mind to achieve the best possible harmony between himself and the dog. The goal of all training is to convey to the dog what it is we want him to do in such a way that he can understand. The harmonious agreement between man and his dog, regardless of the dog sport one does, is the basis for all activities.”

“It remains the ethical responsibility of man to raise and adequately train the dog. The applied methods must meet the standards of behavioural scientists, especially in regards to the breed. In order to achieve the upbringing, training or training effect, it is important to not utilize force and to use positive methods for the dog.”

“Using a dog for dog sport has to be oriented to his capabilities, his competitive spirit and his willingness. Influencing the dog’s learning capabilities through the use of medication or animal cruelty is to be declined. One must carefully acknowledge the capabilities of his dog. To demand work of a dog that does not have the capability to do so, contradicts every ethical level of consciousness. Only someone who takes the responsibility to be a true friend to his dog will take a healthy and capable dog to trials, competitions and training.”

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