Two Sides to Everything - Part 2

Continued from Part 1

The Hold and Bark

I would say that the easiest exercise to practice with an arm on the right is the hold and bark. It does not involve a lot of mechanics from the helper. The picture of the helper with the sleeve on the left is a familiar one. The dog gets used to setting himself up a certain way, and he settles into a hold and bark. Change the picture, and it will unsettle the dog. The whole set up for success the dog has learned is off. Try it in your own club, watch the look of confusion on many dogs? faces when they first arrive. Depending on the quality of the dog and his experience level, there will be differences. But if it is the first time the dog sees the sleeve on the right there will be a reaction. I wouldn?t want him to see it for the first time at a club I?m visiting for a first time trial. It is relatively easy to work this into regular training. Many clubs have an ambidextrous sleeve sitting in their equipment shed, or if not, then they should invest in one; or stuff a few old sleeve covers inside each other and use that- that allows enough protection and can be worn on either side.

The Re-Attack

The next exercise that should be practiced is the re-attack from the hold and bark or guard. Again, the dog has a certain way to set up on his favorite side for the guard, and expects the attack to look a certain way. There is quite a bit of technique involved for the dog to come out of the guard and target the sleeve well on a helper who is attacking towards him. After all, the dog is only inches from the helper. You will notice that the dogs require a considerable amount of practice to have the same skill and technique when the direction of the attack is reversed. Again, this is a short move and we can use "make-do" equipment to at least expose the dog to the picture. The helper has to work on his mechanics to coordinate moving the stick and setting the sleeve, but that should be fairly simple. The key is to incorporate this into training enough to make sure the dog learns to accept this picture from both sides. Once the dog is trained totally one sided, it becomes much harder to get him to accept a change.

The Frontal Strike

The frontal strike is a difficult exercise for any helper to begin with, never mind trying to do it on the side that we are not really comfortable on. Many clubs don't have the luxury to have at least one helper in the club who is left handed and wears a right sleeve. So the options are much more limited. Under no circumstances should we risk injury to either dog or helper. The only option you may have is to travel to a club to work on a helper who can catch on the right or attend a seminar with someone who does. I found that in the strike the dogs don't show the effect of the different side presentation as much, since there is a certain amount of triggering by the helper involved anyway. For dogs who are heading to big competitions where a helper who uses a right sleeve may be a possibility, I would say some exposure is a must. But that does not happen often enough to warrant taking risks.

It is something every helper has to decide for himself if he wants to give it a try and be able to help his club dogs deal with this difficulty. But do it carefully and safely. All-out courage tests are not required here. All it takes is for the dog to see the sleeve on the other side and learn that he can enter as he always does. I am talking about exposure nothing more. Keep it short, and practice with the sleeve well presented for targeting, the dog will do the rest. Once a dog has done it a few times, it seems not to interfere with their normal striking technique in the least.

The Right-Side Drive

Finally, there is the driving the dog. This takes quite a bit of coordination from the helper if he is not used to working on the right. It is particularly important for dogs who have shown grip deterioration during the drive in the past. Most of the time the cause for this grip problem is the helper - dog conflict (Getting a Grip). And since it is the helper who is the cause, anything the helper does can be a factor. We teach the dog how to deal with the pressure he faces during a drive and get him to overcome the problem. But in order to do that the dog has to be confronted with the pressure in order to learn handling it. So it only stands to reason that the dog has to be exposed to being driven on the right so he can learn to handle the stress he faces during this exercise.

As helpers, we have to first learn the mechanics how to drive a dog on the right. The optimal way to learn is to practice on dogs who are very solid and who allow themselves to be driven. It is easy to trip and stumble in the beginning, so having to really fight a dog is not optimal. Start slowly with a slow skip drive, and increase the speed as coordination improves. The running drive should be left until later, as it requires more speed and coordination. Once the helper has the technique to drive a dog on the right, he has to start teaching the dogs in training to deal with being driven on the right. So again things have to be slowed down to expose the dog to the picture of being driven on the right, without having to face the pressure of speed and intensity. As in driving a dog on the familiar side, we can't teach when we are out of control, so we have to be able to increase or decrease our speed and intensity as the dog allows us to.


This article is based on my observations. Over the years I've dealt with injuries and sometimes my arm just got tired, so I put a sleeve on the other side. The difference it made to me and the dogs had an impact on me. I've always had ambidextrous equipment around, and I've used it too. But never as deliberately as in the last few years. Working dogs that were better than my abilities showed me that I have to work on myself too, to keep up with the dogs. Making sure that my limitations as a helper don't become the dogs' limitations in their sport careers. Those were the things that made me work on catching to both sides, and using sleeves on both sides. I thank the people and dogs who allowed me to work on myself, and hope that I can repay it now by helping dogs to be better prepared on the field.

The point of the article is as always to highlight an observation that I feel has importance in training. By sharing information and ideas training continues to get better. People share their dogs with me by bringing them to the field. I like to share what I learn from them by writing about it.

Armin Winkler has been the instructor at many schutzhund training seminars. He has been training schutzhund dogs since 1976 and is a USA member who lives in British Columbia. His English translation of Dr. Helmut Raiser’s Der Schutzhund is available from Armin Winkler Publishing, 3503 Lakeshaw Road, RR#7, Duncan, BC Canada V9L-4W4 or by phone (250) 746-8989.

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