How to Successfully Train Your Dog for IPO Competitions

IPO Dog Sport is a very challenging and time-consuming sport.  Training dogs in tracking, obedience and protection is not easy and requires a lot of dedication and time.  Unfortunately attending a club once or twice a week will be nowhere near enough to succeed in this sport.


If you are interested in IPO Dog Sport you are obviously going to need a dog.  I highly suggest that you go to an IPO Club before you purchase a dog. The last thing you want to do is purchase a dog that is not suitable.  The most common breeds used in the sport are German Shepherds and Belgian Shepherd Malinois.

In saying that not all German Shepherds or Malinois are suitable.  Other breeds can be used but make the challenge so much harder if not impossible.  Clubs should be able to offer some advice as to which breeders breed dogs suitable for the sport.

Many breeders will make false claims to sell you a puppy so best to get some objective advice.  Breeders who are actively training dogs and using dogs in their breeding program that have already gained IPO titles is another good place to start your inquiries.

AGE- A common question we get asked is what age can you start training your dog?  The simple answer is 8 weeks.  Just remember though that an eight week old puppy has a limited attention span and should be trained in very short time intervals.  The main focus when training a young puppy should be to have fun.  Puppies love to work and feel great when they earn themselves a reward.  Food is a great motivator for young puppies and makes the training process very rewarding for a young dog.


WHAT MARKER YOU ARE GOING TO USE; CLICKER OR WORD – Modern training uses a technique called marker training.  Markers are used to communicate to your dog when they have offered a desired behavior.  For example if you ask your dog to sit and it sits you would then click your clicker or say your marker word to let your dog know that it has done what you have asked.  After you have “MARKED” the behavior you reward your dog with some food or a toy and the exercise is finished. It is important to note that you need to mark a behaviour straight away so the dog understands what behaviour earnt the reward.  The “marker” tells the dog that the reward is coming.

Different trainers prefer different markers, some like clickers, some use a word like “YES” or “OK”.  Some use a combination of both clickers and words.  Which is best?  The simple answer is what you feel most comfortable with.  The important thing is that you are consistent.  If you are unsure what you want to do perhaps you could watch some trainers working their dogs and that might help you decide which marker appeals to you most.  We will refer to this marker as your primary marker or primary re-enforcer.

Along with your primary marker you are also going to need a secondary marker.  The secondary marker is nearly always a word (often good) and communicates to your dog that it is offering behaviors that will lead to your primary marker.  Confused?  Let me give you an example.  We are trying to teach our dog to remain in a down position for a period of time.  So we ask the dog to down and being a good dog it downs, if we were to mark that behavior with our primary marker that would then mean we have to reward the dog and the exercise is over.  That is not what we want, we want the dog to remain in a down position so what we do is we say down and when the dog goes into the down position we use our secondary marker (such as good) this gives the dog information to reassure it that it is doing what we want and the primary marker is coming, after a few seconds you may then mark the behavior and reward the dog.


When we talk about key words we are referring to words we will use when asking our dogs for certain behaviors. Key words are great for starting training and finishing training sessions.

Some common key words used to start training are, “ready”, “work time”, “want to do working”.  These words are used to set the mood and hopefully excite your dog. Training should be fun and exciting for your dog so when they hear these words they should expect to have fun.  To finish training you can say something like “finished”.

COMMANDS – The commands you plan to use is something else that needs to be determined before you start training.  Some people like using German commands and others prefer English, once again it is a matter of personal preference.  The important thing is that you are consistent and use the same command each time.

The basic commands you will need include:

  • Sit (German Sitz)
  • Drop/Down (German Platz)
  • Stand (German Sh Tay)
  • Heel (German Fuss)
  • Come/Here
  • We don’t use a stay command as we teach the dogs to maintain positions until such time as they are released.


Before you run out and buy equipment speak to club members who can offer advice on where to get quality equipment.  A lot of leads sold commercially are not suitable for large working dogs.

  • lead (150cm -180cm  obedience line) 4m long line
  • fursaver/flat collar (ideal for a puppy)
  • treat bag
  • motivational toy (which is used only for training)
  • clicker (optional)
  • training vest (highly advisable)


CHARGING THE MARKER (CLICKER OR WORD) –  One of the first things we need to do is what we call charging the marker.  This involves giving your marker word or your clicker some value to your dog.  This is a very simple process that involves basically just using your marker (word or clicker) and then rewarding your dog.  For example if your marker is a clicker you click and give your dog a piece of food.  The dog then learns evertime you click it is going to get rewarded.

TEACHING THE NEGATIVE MARKER (NO) – We don’t punish out dogs as such.  The punishment is the withholding of its reward.  We teach the dogs that the word NO means you will not be rewarded, as you have not done as I have asked.  After giving the  dog a “no” we can try the exercise again.