35601 Old Post Office lane.  Eustis, FL 32736, United States
German Shepherds Florida

GSF Basic Training for New IPO Schutzhund Dog Handlers


The following training steps are designed for the first time IPO Dog Handler to prepare for the IPO 1 regulation tracking phase.

STEP ONE - Associate the Search command with Finding Food.

  Equipment Needed - Dry or Moist Dog Food 

Begin your tracking training by teaching your German Shepherd dog to associate the search command with the finding of food. This can be accomplished by spending a week or so placing your dogs food in small visible piles on the ground in different areas of your driveway or another similar hard surface where the food is clear and visible requiring no effort to identify.  Next walk your dog to the area. Once your German Shepherd finds the food and begins to eat it, give the command "search", in what ever language you plan to train with.  The dog will eventually associate the search command with the finding of food on the ground.  Some trainers prefer to skip this step and go immediately to Step Two thereby training the search command in grass or dirt from the beginning.  We include Step One for the purpose of increasing your dogs ability to comprehend exactly what you are conveying to him at this stage.  You want to establish very clearly that when you say "search" that the command relates to finding food.  This first step should not take more than a few sessions and in my opinion is worth the extra effort for clarities sake.  For training purposes we recommend you do this with your dog's morning rations as tracking is usually worked in the morning in Florida due to the ants which tend to invade the afternoon tracks.  Also if you follow the German Shepherds Florida IPO Foundations Training Schedule you will use your dog's evening rations to work obedience.    


.STEP TWO - Set up the Starting Area and give the Search command.

   Equipment Needed - Dog Food, Small Marker Flag

Now that your dog is associating finding food with the search command you need to make the dog work a little harder for his meal.  For this step you will have to prepare a small scented starting area outside in a location that is not traveled upon routinely and where the food is not so visible; perhaps in a field or empty lot.  Some trainers prefer to start in dirt, but you may also use a grassy area.  With your German Shepherd Dog secured away from your location, move to an area and place your marker flag on the ground.  Next, begin to stamp in a starting area approximately two foot by two foot directly to the right of your marker flag.   This trains your dog to conduct the focused search for scent in a specific location with regards to the flag.   After stamping in the starting area, add bits of his morning rations to the stamped in scent pad you have created.   Next, go retrieve and then lead your German Shepherd to the scented starting area and give the command to search.  Your dog should immediately begin searching for the morning rations.  You may add additional bits of food to the starting area as your dog works.  Your  goal is to keep the dog interested in the search of the starting area which contains both the scent of the food and also your individual scent.   To vary your training through this step you can also set up two or three starting areas and work them one after the other until your dog has found and consumed his morning rations. Eventually your dog will rush to the flagged location in anticipation of finding his breakfast, which will only be consumed if the dog puts forth the effort to find it within the grass.  You will soon see that hunger creates sufficient drive for tracking without the need for extravagant bait.  When you are convinced that your dog is successfully working the starting area and finding all of the rations you dropped without loosing interest in the search, move on to the next step.  


STEP THREE - Set up and run a Short Straight Track.

   Equipment Needed - Dog Food, Small Marker Flag, 15' Tracking Leash

Now that your German Shepherd is doing well finding his food at the starting area, its time to begin to teach the dog that the food is not only on the starting area, but that it also can be found on the track.  For this step you will first set up a starting area as described in step two, only this time leave a smaller portion of the food at the starting area.  Next, begin stepping forward off the starting area in short toe to heel steps in a straight line.  Place a couple pieces of food in each step, taking about 30 steps and leaving food in every single footstep. At the end of the twenty paces place a small pile of food.  After the short straight track is set up, retrieve your dog, lead him to the starting area, and give the command search. Allow him to work the starting area, and once the area has successfully been cleaned of food, allow the dog to work his way down the track.  The dog should naturally find his way onto, and follow, the track if he has been sufficiently trained on the starting area.  At this point you will want to stay close to the dog to insure he does not wander.  A good German Shepherd from decent working lines should have the nose to accomplish this task without much assistance from you.  Remember your dog finds his breakfast on the track. Do not give your dog additional food off the track in the morning if he is loosing interest in finding the food on the track.  You are not starving your dog, only requiring him to work for his food.

      *Note - The Tracking Line should be routed under the body and between the legs of the German Shepherd if attached to a collar. 


STEP FOUR - Extend the Straight Track.

   Equipment Needed - Dog Food, Small Marker Flag, 15' Tracking Leash

As your German Shepherd Dog's skill in working the starting area and small straight track become firmly imprinted and your dog is showing consistent work with good drive on the track, you can now begin to separate your footsteps and lengthen your stride.  You will gradually lengthen your stride to a normal pace over a period of a couple weeks while you work on extending the tracks overall length at the same time.  Give the normal search command and follow your dog down the track using the 15' leash.  If you are having success in your tracking training then with each new session you should challenge your German Shepherd by going a little further than you did the session before in your track length.  Be sure you continue to place food in each footstep for now, your dog needs this scent anchor and incentive as a new tracker to build drive and enjoy the work.   You may also build drive by placing a nice reward of food at the end of the track or perhaps even your dogs favorite toy.  If you use the toy be careful not to allow your dog to blow through the track just for a play session. You must insist on precise work from start to finish.  If adding the toy adds too much drive then remove it and keep the exercise a food incentive based project.  You may always add the toy later to build drive.  The goal of this step is to work on extending the track to a good 100 paces in length.  Once your German Shepherd is confident and consistently reaching the end of this track without problems you should move on to variable food placement.


STEP FIVE - Begin Variable Food Placement on the Straight Track.

    Equipment Needed - Dog Food, Small Marker Flag, 15' Tracking Leash

At this point your German Shepherd should be easily negotiating the 100 pace straight track laid with a regular stride.  To this point there has been food on the starting area, in each footstep along the track, and at the end of the track.  It is time to begin to show the dog that in order to find his food he must track your scent to its location and not rely on the scent of the food placed in every step.  Placing only a small amount of food on the starting area, mark the first couple steps off the starting area by placing food in those footsteps then begin to withhold food on certain steps.  Start by skipping one step, then three, then six, then only two, then one, then five, and so forth.  Your German Shepherd should NOT be able to anticipate in which step he may find his food.  In the first few sessions of variable food placement you will want to avoid withholding food from more than seven paces at a time.  The amount of steps you withhold food from can increase once your dog learns to rely on your scent as the scent anchor rather than the scent of the food.  Remember though, that even when the dog has experience as a tracker, it is good to sometimes put food back to back or to only skip one to three steps.   This will keep the dog focused and in drive insuring the dog works along the entire track.  At the end of your track place a good bit of food and reward your dog with praise for his hard work.  It may help you to keep a training log of your tracking.  You can record wind speeds and direction, humidity, terrain type, temperature, distractions,  etc...  Once your dog is able to negotiate the extended straight track with normal stride length and variable food placement you are well on your way to getting the basics of footstep tracking for IPO sport.   You may now move on to Step Six - the Right or Left Turn and Second Straight.


STEP SIX - Add a Right or Left Turn and a Second Straight.

    Equipment Needed - Same as above.

At this point your German Shepherd is tracking with variable food placement down a straight track approximately 100 paces long.  You will now begin to add a right or left arching turn somewhere between paces 80 - 110.  For this step you will bait heavily though your turn while simultaneously shortening your stride back to a toe to heel distance as you make your arch to the left or right.   Shortening your stride length and adding more food to each step will increase your dogs ability to follow the track through a turn and introduce him to the idea of a track that changes direction with the least amount of conflict and the best possible chance for success.   Always remember that as the Dog's Handler and trainer it is your job to set him/her up for success on the track rather than failure, especially in the beginning of your German Shepherd's tracking training.   You may begin with a large arch and move towards a tighter arch, or begin by teaching a tighter regulation arch.  Eventually, as your dog demonstrates proficiency in turns to the left and also to the right you may decrease the food in the turn some and extend your stride, but don't be in a hurry.  In a trial you are not allowed to place food on the track, but you are allowed to shorten your steps in the turns.  Your dog with become accustomed to the shortening of your stride to mean a turn is coming - that's a good anticipation, but must not occur before the turn, only at the onset of the turn and through it.  once the turn is complete to the right or left your stride should return to normal and at that point your second straight should begin using variable food placement.  Be sure to not add to much distance on the second straight at first, but slowly build your German Shepherds Tracking Endurance.  With each new training session you may add distance a little at a time.  It is also good to go back from time to time and give your dog a small simple straight to build his/her confidence.


STEP EIGHT - Add a Second Turn and a Third Straight.

    Equipment Needed - Same as above

This should be accomplished in the same manner as Step Six and should occur in different directions; sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, so that your dog gets familiar with negotiating turns in either direction.   Add the second turn and final straight as soon as your dog shows proficiency withStep Seven and then continue to add distance to your third and final striaght.   Your goal is a complete track made up of three straights and two turns that is approximately 300 paces.   It is good in training to go beyond the 300 pace mark and begin building your dogs tracking endurance by working towards 400, 500, and 600 paces and to continue to add distance.   Always be training with the future, more advanced tracks, in mind. The IPO 1 track will end at the end of the third straight and will usually be accompanied by the second article which the dog will have to identify.  Article Identification is covered in Step Nine.

STEP NINE - Introduce the Articles on the Second Straight and at the End of the IPO 1 Track.

 - At this point we recommend you seek a club training director or schedule a tracking session with an approved GSF Trainer.

STEP TEN - Proof your Dog in Variable Terrains.

 - This is self-explanatory and involves insuring your IPO Dog is not bias to specific terrains or environmental conditions.


At anytime in your training if you have questions or would like assistance in IPO Tracking, please call or schedule a tracking training session: Steve Gregalunas at  352-357-5802