Send Away – Training
“Go” “Away” “Go out” “Vorous”
Goal: The dog must run away from the handler as fast as it can and in a straight line until the command to lie down (or Sit) is given. The dog must immediately respond and hold that position until the handler gives another command. It is a competition exercise in Obedience Class B and C, in working trials and in IPO/ Schutzhund.
The send away is a difficult exercise to teach because in all the dog’s previous training it had to always be close to the handler, watch him, listen to him, move with him and come to him. Instead we want him to happily run quite far away with speed and down when outside his handler’s area of influence.
You cannot “send” a dog that doesn’t want to go! That is why the way the command is given is very important. “Away” must sound like a release command and not a “do as you are told” threatening order.
Success in the send away depends upon patience, plenty of time and getting to know the different approaches. You need to know how to break down the exercise in its different parts and to find the right one for you and your dog.
A traditional way of teaching the send away is based on the retrieve exercise that the dog already knows. A toy, (prey article) is, over time, placed further and further away in the grass. This is known as a placed retrieve. This is fine over a short distance but when the dog cannot see the article he begins to lower his head to “scent” for it. Not only does he now slow down but he also veers off the straight line and begins to run in circles searching for the article when he cannot see it. The dog is often so intent on searching that he does not obey the down commands given to him and loses more points in a trial.
The goal in the beginning remains to get the dog to go out quickly and in a straight line. Nothing else is taught until this is achieved. The place to which the dog must run each time is known as the target spot. It can take the form of a visible stake or dowel in the ground or a soccer cone that will not be moved once the training session has started. The dog will always be sent to exactly the same spot and associate it with a reward. Putting the target spot against a physical barrier such as a hedge or fence may be a good idea. It teaches the dog to keep going until it cannot go any further and helps with “dropping short,” running out of steam on a lengthy send away.
My innovation, which combines a stake/target and allows for a ball hanging from a peg , gets the dog to run straight with head held high towards the ball. Because the dog is “ball-crazy” he charges to his own reward on the command to go out.
When the dog happily retrieves the ball and is enthusiastically praised, the same procedure is repeated. Dog sits while the handler takes the ball to the target spot, leaves it there, returns and sends the dog again. Over several training sessions the placed retrieve is repeated but each time the handler retreats a little further from the target spot while the dog is making the retrieve. Soon the dog is running 30 – 40m or more and enjoying it.
Using this method, the dog always finds the ball in the same spot. He knows exactly what is expected of him. He runs with speed, straight, head held high over longer and longer distances. He has identified the stake/dowel or soccer cone with a reward – ball or food. However, the dog also goes out because each time he has seen the handler go to the target spot. These sends are called, “hot” ones. By leaving the dog in the car, so that he cannot see the ball or balls be placed at the target spot, the sends are known as “cold” ones. The send awayat a trial is always “cold.”
Dogs can discriminate but have difficulty in generalising. (See “My dog is perfect at Home.”)
What was done on the home training field is not the same thing to a dog when he is at another venue. Trying to send a dog on a cold run on a strange field can be a disaster not only because it is a different venue but also because he still expects to run to something. A target spot must be indicated for a few short sends before running at long distances. When possible I used to take my dog to the trial venue beforehand to get a feel of the ground and to select a target spot for the send away. Making an existing football post your target spot can be a clever solution. To work under floodlights on a strange field can be even more confusing for a dog if you did not practice it.
Once a handler has taken his dog to four or five different locations and has taught him four or five different target spots on each, the dog will be more able to understand that the command to go out also applies to other fields and not only to the home ground.
Down (Drop on command)
Before the send out is taught the dog has already learnt the down at a separate training spot. Now the dog must, depending on the exercise, either go down at a marker facing the handler or go down instantly when commanded (on or beforethe target).
Shorten the distance to the marker to 15-20m. At the “send,” run with the dog and as you both reach the target, give a down command. Reward with food or the ball. Repeat a few times but gradually begin to lag behind as the dog gets the hang of what is required. Finally you can stand still and wait for the dog to down and then walk to him before giving a reward.
Alternatively, you can practice a few retrieves by placing a few balls a short distance away. Each time the dog brings a ball he is formally sent to get the next one starting from a heel position. Soon you will send him to an “empty” target spot where the balls were. When the dog gets there shout “Down.” The instant the dog obeys, throw a ball over his head up the field. Over time the dog realises that if he gets a “Down” command there will be a ball on the ground or the ball will come from the handler. He now learns to turn facing the handler as he drops down for a ball reward or a recall.
I always teach my dogs that there is a “wait period” before sending. In Schutzhund my dog is placed in a down facing in the opposite direction to the target before the start of the exercise. In the Class B and C exercises and in working trials I position myself astride the dog that is in a sitting position. With my hands on either side of his head I form a narrow field of vision in the direction of the target while repeating, “Look straight… Look straight.” Performing this ritual, which is legal, and when I also whisper “Vorous,” the dog begins to predict/anticipate the send awayand he knows exactly what is going to happen.
Some dogs are not ball driven but prefer food as a reward. Place a small bath towel, instead of a peg or cone, a short distance away at the end of the field with treats on it. Give the send command and lead the dog to the food and allow it to be eaten. On repeats of the exercise you can run with the dog to the towel. Gradually you can lag behind and finally stand still while the dog runs to the marker in a formal “send away.”