Why We Cradle the Dog in Protection Training and How to Do it Properly
Sometimes, we do things without knowing why. It is hard for many of those new to the IGP sport ask questions during a training session. The Protection portion is frequently not explained by the Helper. Many actions are a mystery, and the Handler follows directions as closely as possible without knowing why.
After the Helper completes an exercise with the dog, he tells the Handler to cradle. It is usually explained as placing the hand under the chin and holding the dog while he has the sleeve or a tug. The advice is also to pet the dog and eventually OUT. Most of the dogs do not want to OUT and end up being chocked off every time.
The purpose of cradling the dog is, on the one hand, to help the dog catch a break and breathe and, on the other hand, reconnect with the Handler. In the dog’s mind, the Handler and he are fighting the Helper together. It is teamwork. To give the dog a break, we can also ask him to OUT and DOWN. The concept behind cradling is also to allow the dog to possess the “prey” longer while extending the process of reinforcement. Some of us prefer it over the DOWN.
Very frequently, this brief action causes the dog to get more excited. Instead of taking a break, the dog begins to growl, shake, chew the sleeve, and try to get away from the Handler. Because the Handler was told to cradle, he struggles with the dog and continues trying to get him to obey. Only by knowing the purpose of cradling can we realize that we are doing the opposite.
The answer to the problem is straightforward. The conflict is due to the anticipation of the OUT. The dog learns the sequence of actions and knows when OUT is coming. This mainly can be remedied by respecting Classical Conditioning. We can see many readers about to skip this article because of science mumbo-jumbo. Please stay with us for a few minutes longer.
If we break the link between the actions by waiting 4+ seconds, we can make things easier for the dog.
Usually, the Helper gives the command to “go ahead, OUT and kick the sleeve.” The Handler usually complies immediately. The moment the dog hears the Helper, he clenches his teeth and begins fighting the Handler even more. Next time, try to count a random number of seconds (more than 4) before giving he command to OUT.
Also, pay attention to your hands. Chances are, you are holding the dog under the chin with one hand while petting him with the other. When you are about to OUT, you move your hand to the collar. Immediately, the fight gets worse. What you can do better is to randomly hold the collar, wait 4+ seconds and then continue to pet. The dog will have no anticipation of the OUT.
Just those 2 actions will make cradling easier and help the dog take a break. Below are additional tips to help you become an expert in cradling:
- Face the Helper and do not lift the dog’s head too high. The dog feels more relaxed when he can see the Helper.
- The fingers of the hand that holds the dog under the chin can pass though the collar or the fur-saver. This way, you can prevent the dog from shaking.
- If you are petting the dog - use long and slow strokes and do not sound too excited.
- If you need more control, you can ask the dog to sit after the OUT for 4+ seconds before releasing him to the Helper.
- Randomly, during cradling, the Helper can come up and, without OUTING, continue working with the dog and the sleeve.
We also recommend practicing cradling off the field. You can play tug with your dog, cradle him, OUT, and immediately continue to play. Other times, cradle and continue to tug without OUTING.
Be prepared, that once in a while there will be dogs that cannot be cradled no matter what. There are not as many of them. Do not fight them. OUT and let them lie down for a few seconds.
Helping your dog take short breaks during Protection will allow you to complete more in that session.
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