K9 Training for your New Puppy

When starting young prospects , either sport or police, Begin with a dog that is about 5 to 6 months old to formally start his bite training. Now of course, always work puppies from younger ages with winning games of tug and chase, because this is an essential start. When starting young dogs, always start with the handler having the puppy on a leash. Give the puppy time to get comfortable on a leash with its handler, which usually takes 1 to 3 sessions. Start the pup on a flat collar to give as little stress as possible when he/she is pulling and lunging. The first and second sessions are brief, 1 or 2 minutes at the most. These short sessions allows the pup to get exposure but not an overwhelming feeling that a new situation can bring. Once the pup handles the session well with its handler move on, NOT A MOMENT BEFORE! When you first start a puppy's training we must focus on the prey drive only, because this is the foundation where proper bite and channeling of the drive is built. Always remember that the prey drive builds the bite. As the decoy works with the puppy, he must remember to only allow the pup to win when he has a correct full bite, usually a tug or burlap sack is preferred. Starting off the wrong way will lead to problems with the animal later, so developing the animal correctly from the beginning will save you time in the end.

Dogs are creatures of habit, if they never win the reward with a shallow or soft bite, they will always remember to bite it hard and deep to receive their reward and praise. As the pup develops over time always be thinking about where it is in its training and what is needed to do to bring it in to fight more intensely; a good session is intense, quick and always allows the puppy to win. On occasion, You can use the rag to tease the pup and allow the handler to put him away. As a rule, this will bring a level to the next session that has more fire and purpose. After the puppy has gotten the hang of it slowly move the handler out of the way. It is very important to teach the puppy to win on his own without coaxing from the handler. After the handler is moved out of the way, start to stake the puppy out on the pole. However, let the handler stay with him at first until he has been weaned off of having him present. This will help later when the puppy must be on his own with out the backup of his handler. All the handler must do here is allow the decoy to mold the puppy in the bite and then when it is needed come in and get the rag from the puppy and kick it back to the decoy.this is the self confidence stage, this will teach the puppy he can win no matter what or where the handler is. As the puppy develops we increase the rag to a puppy tug to a sleeve, this is where the decoy must make sound judgments as to what the puppy needs and how best to develop the bite.

Many times when working puppies change the sessions to keep them fresh and exciting for the dog, I have in the past had other more mature dogs staked out in a close area so the puppies can watch them work, you will be surprised what affect this has on a young puppy. Remember that the only important thing about puppies is that he must win in all situations. If this rule is followed you should have a puppy that will work. I hope this brief article brings to light the foundation of puppy bite work.

Proper scent article collection for k9 tracking.

 How to collect scent articles for k9 tracking. This subject is really not as complicated as some make it but at the same time it can cause problems when doing it the wrong way. First, some obvious rules and issues. When ever you are called to a scene find out who, what, when and where , I know this sounds silly but you would be surprised how many start tracking with no points of direction, or references to descriptions of the person to be tracked or even to how long it had been started.. Remember proper start is a big deal in tracking. Be watchful for the small details before and during the track, the little things help the percentages of successful tracks go up.

One of the most important things for k9 handlers to do, is to educate their fellow officers on the proper ways to preserve a scene of a future k9 track. Before the k9 has ever gotten out of the car he could already be defeated by police officers destroying track areas and article collection sites. If a k9 is to work properly he must have a proper place to start the track that is uncontaminated or the dog must have a way to discriminate the odor to which we what him to start. This is where proper collection of scent articles is most important. The dog can't track the proper person if he has no start or if he has no distinguishing odor to work with. Now that the base has been covered, and everyone has been briefed and everyone is on the same page as to what not to do, then it is up to the k9 officer to collect evidence for the k9 to work with. Lets take a jump and run scenario from a car, where should you start. 1 st always ask for directions of last known suspect travel, how long it had been since he or she was last seen and what the person was wearing and a basic description, get basic information that can help you get a proper start and a proper finish. When I collect articles I do it in one of two ways. I look for what I call a domestic article first this could be anything inside the car that the suspect had been wearing, touching or using ( hair brushes, sunglasses, clothes etc) If you find these make sure that they are unique to the suspect 1 st and then they have not been disturbed by anyone. When you have made a determination that the article can be used collect it with a clean plastic baggie or a clean paper baggie. I take the baggie and make a glove out of it turning the outside of it over my hand to make sure the inside is what touches the article and only the article. I pick up the article then I turn the article inside so that the original outside is exposed and the inside has nothing but the odor of the suspect. Then in conjunction with a proper area of start I can start the dog.

Next when you have made a determination that there is no domestic article, you can change your focus to a self made article. This is an article that you can collect from areas that are unique to the suspect inside of a car. We can make a determination that the suspect was driving the car or exited the car at some point, so we can also determine that he had to touch the steering wheel and the gear shift lever as well as the handle to open the car. These three things should be rather unique to the suspect. Then I take a 4x4 sterile gauze pad from the emergency kit and open one end of it, just enough to expose the end of the pad, taking care not to touch it to anything else. I don't even remove the pad until I am going to place it in my baggie. Then I wipe the steering wheel with the exposed end of the gauze itself or I can wipe the door handle or I can even lay it over the gear shifter and wipe it down for a few seconds. I then place the pad in my baggie and I place it in my start area and then give the dog a chance to get a sniff, this should get you started correctly. I usually teach my officers to take the article with them you never can tell if you might have to restart the dog.

Crime scene collection is similar, make determinations as to where the crime took place and if there is anything unique to the suspect. Using the same techniques as used in the car collection, domestic articles first (did the suspect leave behind a screw driver or a prying tool) only in this case try to preserve finger prints if possible. Then use the pad to collect odor from areas unique to the suspect. If you have a window that has been broken into use a window seal to collect your scent article. Anything you think the suspect might have touched or used is now in consideration for collection. This paired with proper direction and information should get you started correctly. I hope this information has helped some. This is not every situation but just a over view, remember use your common since and take advantage of what the crooks give you and you will find that your track success increases.

Police k-9 tracking where to start (part 1)

Over the years I have learned a great deal from studying dogs and how they perform and where they usually have the most trouble performing in the real world. I have trained many tracking dogs over the years and I would like to address what I think is the definitive way to train a k-9 to perform in today's tough environments.

I start with a police candidate that I have tested for his drives and proper work ethics.  I always start with the basics of hunt before I ever start any tracking, this always helps lay some ground work for the future of his training. I usually start with narcotics or some other form of hunt game to make the dog understand that his nose can be used and also to hone the skill of hunting. Once I have gotten some good ground work done I start with what I call the wagon wheel approach to training a tracking dog. The first step is to teach the dog to use his nose to track disturbed ground vegetation (foot steps). This is very common in schutzhund , If I have to use bait or balls to get the dog to foot step track that is fine with me, what ever works the best. Just remember, get away from the bait ASAP. As a rule I always start with the wind at my back for this stage.  It helps keep the dog from wind scenting from the start.  I want to track, no wind scenting or trailing at this stage. Later I can vary it up to include side winds, head winds and so on once the dog shows confidence. Schutzhund is a bit slow and really not reliable in the real street setting in my opinion, but in my system it is a very important cog in the wheel and what will make the dog reliable in the future. Once I have a dog working a track with out problems, usually 15 or 20 minuets old and around 200 or 300 yards long  start with the next cog in the wheel.

The next stage is  trailing. I start to introduce the dog to a track layer, I take the dog out to my tracking area and the track layer is presented in front of the dog and he teases the dog. The track layer runs away but soon rounds a corner and the decoy has gotten out of site. I usually use wooded areas or buildings for this. The dog is held in check until the track layer has gotten to the desired distance away usually 100 yards or so. In this stage the dog is trailing directly into the wind as if there is a funnel of scent directly into the dogs direction, this will teach the dog that he can sniff the air to find his quarry. I never start this stage first …NO MATTER WHAT! If you start this stage first the dog will be hard pressed to learn the basics of ground tracking. Once the dog learns he can sniff the air to find his quarry and he is proficient I start to mix up the track from trail to ground scent. The dog is presented with a problem along the way, it'is either track and locate or trail and locate. I usually start with a track first then it moves to the trail for the last 50 yards, the dog can abandon the track for a trail directly to the end, trust me this will build the speed for real world tracks, both on tracking and the trailing.

The third cog of the wheel is the cross tracks and hard surfaces. Once I have the dog really doing well with the first 2 stages I start with the cross tracks in various different times and lengths from the end point. When I start this part I never allow the dogs to make mistakes here. I always know where the cross tracks are, even if I need to mark the crosses with flags or some other land mark. Just make sure your dog doesn't get too accustommed to them being there and start using them as marks to work by. If the dog starts to take cross track I use a small corrections  a “phooey” or a “knock it off” I never use harsh corrections. I then show the dog the proper place he is supposed to be, then give a good dog and show my pleasure with him. It will not take long before the dog knows that he must stay with the original track/trail.

Then hard surfaces begin, I usually start with a bit of help for the dog. I let my track layer start in vegetation with the wind at his back. Once he has gotten to the hard surface I have my decoy toss ground material from his hands across the surface first it is really heavy and obvious and then as the dog gains confidence the material is used less and more sparingly until it is not used at all. The dogs natural choice here is to trail, but using this method you will see the dog work both methods. I usually see a “S” pattern emerge, the dog will go to the track area and then swing out to the trail area where the wind has blown it back and fourth ( hot to cold, cold to hot).

The fourth cog is the final one, the use of a scent article. When ever I teach the dog this I am teaching him to be discriminating in his choices. I offer the dog a article that matches the tracklayers odor, usually a glove or a hat that they have scented well. I offer the dog the article and give him my track word, This is called the cast, what is different this time is the area has been tracked up by many different human scents, up to this point the dog has never worked this way except when he encountered a cross track, he knew then he had to stay the course but now he has to make a choice as to what track to take. Again at this stage I will not allow the dog to make a mistake.   He must pick the proper track to avoid correction, I don't mind giving him 2 or 3 corrections if he is on the wrong track, I allow him to sniff around and once he walks on the right track I praise him and usually they get the hint and take off. After several of these types of set ups You will notice the dog working quicker and figuring out the track, I think it even challenges the dog to work harder. With this combination of skills you will see a dog that can be reliable in all circumstances in my opinion. It is also my opinion that you are only limited by your own imagination, don't hesitate to try something.. Remember never let the dog lose and always take a step back if needed. One bad lesson can wipe out one good week of training. I hope this helps you in training and it provides you with some good hunting.

I will be following this article with proper scent article collection in my next post.

Raising the police candidate.

Over the years I have talked to many people that went out and got themselves a puppy for either sport or police work. Most of them went blindly without even considering some important factors. I would like to address some of the most basic questions. Ones I think are important to picking and raising a puppy for the working future.

The most important question to ask when you are about to start looking for a puppy for either police work or sport is pedigree …Remember folks chips don't fall far from the tree when looking for working class puppies. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at mother and father of the litter to tell if you will most likely have a fighting chance of getting one good working puppy. As a rule if mother and father of the litter have good strong working drives, good nerves and good athletic abilities(good structure) most likely they will have a decent chance of passing that good genetic trait. If you are going to go out and find Uncle Joe's back yard breeding operation where there is no working pedigree, then most likely you will get just that, minimal chance of the puppy ever developing into anything. If mother and father of the litter show signs of fear or aloofness, it would be best to reconsider the purchase. If you are going to pay 200 or 300, even 500 dollars for a puppy and in 1 years time the dog will be passed off as not having what it takes, what have you done but wasted your time and efforts. The next thing to consider is testing the pup in the litter.

Many have their own test procedures but I have 3 or 4 tests that will help you make a decent decision. The first thing I look for is play drive and the willingness to play tug-retrieve, even puppies have drives to test. As the puppies grow it will only get stronger if worked properly, If you test puppies and they don't show signs of willingness to play and tug I can assure you they wont at a older age. I also test for noise sensitivity, if a puppy is scared of noise as an 8 week old then most likely he will have it the rest of its life, I usually drop a pan on the floor near by or slap two boards together for my test, it is my opinion that this sensitivity is hereditary. One other thing I will look for in puppies is pain sensitivity, I like a puppy that is willing to take what his owner dishes out and also can forgive the owner afterward. I usually do a scruff shake or pinch the webbing of the foot on the puppy, any yelping or signs of unforgiving I eliminate that candidate.

Now the do's and don'ts!!! Most of the time folks think you must start with obedience on a 5 or 6 month old puppy. Well this is absolutely the worst thing you can do to a working puppy. It is my opinion that a puppy selected for a working program should be taught to work and to enjoy his work. The puppy must learn basic things first before he is ever started on the obedience aspects. Hunting, retrieving, exposure to all environments is the absolute most important steps to be taken with a working puppy. It is my opinion obedience at an early stage kills drive and heart. Remember this… Never let a young puppy lose . This will ensure you later that his full potential has been reached. At early ages I think it is best to take the puppy to every slick floor, dark room and stair well that you can find. Loud noises( starting slow) and every situation you can think of will only make your puppy sure of its self in the future. Also when you start with a puppy remember what job he is going to have in the future, if he is single purpose make sure you teach him retrieve, make sure he is good on the hunt inside rooms, outside fields, exposure, exposure, exposure. It is imperative!!! If a puppy is struggling with a task try, try again and keep it simple, until he is confident with it then move on. Make it all a game. If the dog is going to be dual purpose make sure you incorporate the tug game and then when he is 6 or 7 months of age have someone start him on proper bite work, a good decoy is very important the dog should never lose in any fashion when doing his work as a young dog. I hope this has helped some and made since to others. I have seen many fine puppies ruined by a strong hand to early in the game of training and exposure. It is important to have a good balance in all phases of the game so don't neglect the puppy stage, I think you will see a great deal of success if you start slow and work upward with proper care and patients. 

Training passive indication for evidence recovery

Over the years police have more and more relied on crime scene evidence and how it is treated during its initial recovery. In days past police k9s have been taught a myriad of ways to help locate potential crime scene evidence . Dogs were taught to pick the articles up and bring it to the handler, or to scratch and paw at it until the handler could make a determination as to the location. It is my opinion that if this is still being used today then it is time to creep into the new age of forensics and crime scene preservation.

The first thing that a new dog must have before ever starting into this type of training is a good hunt and retrieve drive. If the dog is not good at this, basically you are going to be wasting your time and training. Remember the clay must be moldable if you expect to get the expected finished results. The dog must have some pre training in obedience, the direct correlation we will get into later. My first attempt at training a dog for this, is to start with woods or some type of area the dog can see well in but at the same time is obscure enough to make the dog use his nose. I always start with an object that the dog will not like to pick up such as metal or even a brick. We only want the dog to get an odor from the object so don't spare the odor!!! Load it up for a few minutes, even your breath can be used. I want to make sure I have the dogs favorite toy as a reward. The dog should be on lead and choke chain. I lead the dog to the area of training with my object in hand. Once I get the dog to the area I will let him see the object and I will let him see me throw it into the wooded area, at first only a few feet, basically to give the dog the idea that it is out there and he can easily find the object . The dog should be told a search command before he is let go, I use the word aport (personal preference). The main thing here is be consistent in your set up. If you sit the dog down before you start then do it each time thereafter. Remember dogs are creatures of habit and it aids in the training if you are being consistent. Once I let the dog go search for the object, he will most likely get to the object and try to pick it up or paw at it. Once he figures out he is not comfortable with it in his mouth, the dog should be encouraged to down or sit. The previous teaching of obedience comes in handy here. It is tough to teach searching and a proper down or sit at this point so have a base of obedience first. I use down as a personal preference, but sit is fine if it is what you prefer. Once the dog downs he should be rewarded with his toy right from the origin of the article. This later will cause the dog to point to the article with his nose as if pointing to it in anticipation of his toy. I always do sets of three when attempting new training with dogs,. It just seems to be a level that they learn and still have fun learning with out being too much. Usually if you are consistent for three or four sessions you should have some positive results. 

In my opinion there is no reason to ever use any aggressive alerts in this exercise. Even if you have aggressive alert dogs on the narcotics, it is still easy to teach the passive response here. A lot of people ask me what do you do at night or what happens if the dog leaves the article, my answer is easy! If I am searching at night, use a strobe light attached to the dogs collar, (SAR has them all the time). Just make sure you train with it to get the dog accustomed to it. One other point about the dog leaving the article, make sure the dog is taught to stay with it from a early stage. Let him know that if he stays with the article, the toy will eventually come if he waits. Sometime you might have to bring the dog back to the article to let him know that that is where he should be, almost a semi-forced retrieve. I have seen dogs stay with the article for 45 minutes, so it is not hard to teach. After I have taught the dog to search and indicate, this is when I start introducing other objects. Other than hard ones, I start with handbags, wallets and so on if you have a problem with him trying to pick it up, correct him for his wrong doings. I always correct with a no and then the down to show the dog the action I want him to take. It won't take long for him to learn. After I have gotten to this point I want to start introducing odors of others, even blood scented articles. You should not have much of a problem here. One thing you might notice is the dog not understanding he is to indicate on anything other than your scent. Just encourage him when he makes interest in it or you might want to encourage the indication and then you will see him catch on quickly. After I have this accomplished, I move to two articles, then three. That is usually my max but it is entirely up to the handler here. Remember never reward the dog if he is not directly in contact with the article it should be like any other scenting drill reward for the source. It is my opinion that this is the definitive way to teach this exercise, the positive many times outweighs the negatives. If you have further questions feel free to contact me at anytime.

I am often asked, where do I start training my new dog that I have picked for dual purpose. My answer is usually very simple, but one that needs explaining. When I have picked a k9 and thoroughly tested him, I always start the dog with his nose work, and I have a certain sequence of training events that I follow. And I will try to explain my reasoning for it here.

When I have laid out my plans to work with a new dog, I have already decided what job he is going to have before he's even started the training process. This means I have already gotten a plan as to what kind of alert he is suited for, what kind of tracking he is best suited for, and the direction of the bite work. Once I have my plans, I always start the dog with the odor training ( Narcotics or Explosives). It is my opinion that the odor training must start indoors. My reasoning for this is I can control the environment better, wind, humidity and other factors, I want to keep to a minimum. I want the dog to only work a source of odor, I don't want wind to cause the dog to learn bad pin pointing skills or get confused as to where the odor is coming from. He will only find an odor and be rewarded for the type of indications at the point of origin not some down wind odor 3 feet away. I will eliminate that problem by being inside, if the dog learns from the beginning of training to go to source, he will less likely have a problem pin pointing, when I move outside.

Once I have taught the dog this basic hunt game and he is following the process, I move to the tracking. I have studied the dog and gotten an idea of the type of dog I am working with. Is the dog an extreme hunter, is he super possessive, is he fast on his retrieve, or is he a more methodical type slower on the retrieve. These are all questions I will ask myself, and base my training accordingly. A fast dog I would do an up beat type of man tracking /trailing, tracking through drive comes to mind, this means a dog that has such a high hunt drive that he will work in any situation to get the end result. A dog with a lower hunt capacity and slower mentality on the retrieve I will most likely work the dog on a foot step type tracking at first, then move on from there quickly. Just a piece of advice here If you must use food to motivate the dog move from it quickly, allow just enough time to get him the idea and then move on.

Once I have the dog tracking well I move back to the detection, only this time I move to the outside, usually cars. I start with the outside of cars as a rule. Cars have a very finite number of places where an odor can be hidden. I always separate odors and only use one car for one particular odor when starting. If I find an odor that isn't being detected in the cars, I will move that single odor to a scratch box or pre-scented toy and play games to reinforce that odor. Then work the odor again until I have a response. The basis of my theory is this. Teaching the dog basic hunt games will help in the rest of his training, it just sets the foundation solid before I move on to the building searches and the area searches. And when I do start these exercises, I start with the building search first. The area searches are outside and the same principles apply. The basic hunt for a person that is hidden, will set the dog solid once I move to the outside area searches.

The bite work is something that has, as a rule been established and the dog has a good grasp of it, training of this moves quickly and most of the time it is a matter of making the dog street worthy civil agitation, muzzle work, hidden sleeves and tons of work in different situations usually prepare the dog for what he will encounter in his real life job. It is my opinion it is all about molding the individual dog, move from one step to the next always building on a basic then move foreword. As a rule if one does his homework first and studies his dog the training principles here should make for a solid working dog.

Picking a dual purpose police k9 prospect

Over the years I have seen many working k9s on the street that didn't have the proper drives, nerve or athletic ability to be a police dog. I will share my ideas on how to choose the proper dog and testing/evaluation procedures to ensure credible police dogs for all officers. I don't judge a dog on a point scoring system. The dog must survive a pass/fail test or be eliminated from consideration. Essentially, I look at him/her with the perspective that the dog will fail and has to earn a passing grade. I do take into account the testing procedure is usually being done on a green candidate. This means a dog that has been well socialized, exposed to different environments and taught some basic aggression work (biting a sleeve) and some basic obedience, usually manners. I always give a dog the benefit of the doubt, for example, if the dog has never been exposed to slick floors or dark stairwells, I will try the dog on the situation more than once to see if he recovers and works his way through the situation. If the dog seems to learn that he can overcome his reservation then and only then will I move on to the following task. This, in my testing, shows me the character of the dogs nerve and his willingness to overcome obstacles that he has never seen before, which we know happens a lot in police k9 work. The situation changes daily!

Detector Test

My first test with each dog is the retrieve. I usually start in the field or the woods. For this testing, I also do inside buildings, slick floors, open and closed stairs and cluttered spaces, tight and dark areas, high and lows spots, even cars. I try to see the dog in uncomfortable settings to make sure he will not get rattled and stop working. The dog first must pass the outside evaluation to move to the inside testing. If he/she doesn't pass the outside, it would only be worse inside, so the dog has failed consideration. I want to see if the dog is willing to retrieve different objects, from the Kong to metal pipe and all in between. If a dog will retrieve metal he will retrieve anything. Back years ago it was very popular to see a dog retrieve many different objects, but it really has gotten down to the PVC pipe, canvas bag and the Kong now days. Basically the objects he will be rewarded with in his work later on. If I am going to use PVC to reward the dog, then it is a must he retrieve the PVC pipe during my test. If not then he must be rewarded with something else like a canvas bag or a Kong. During this test I look for a dog that is willing to hunt and retrieve unconditionally, depending on what he will be trained for later (explosives or narcotics). I look at the dogs overall willingness and style of retrieve. Is he calm or frantic? Is he really hard on the retrieve or is he soft and easy but still working well. This tells me later on what aspect of detector work he will do well in. I usually don't like a frantic or hyper dog working around an explosive odor. This only adds to the work later. (I will address this in future articles). The only thing I think is common with both types of detector dogs is possessiveness, they both must have the desire to keep his/her toy at all costs, I describe it as an obsession like state. The dog has such a desire to keep his toy that nothing else seems to matter to him/her. Once I see the dog work the retrieve I look at the overall possessiveness, if the dog during this time drops the ball/toy to go look at something or loses interest in it for any reason I consider this a failure. I have been asked by tons of people if possessiveness can be built up during training. In some cases yes, but for the purpose here I don't take the chance. These dogs must be able to perform without question. Maybes never seem to work out. Too many times the “maybe” part comes back to haunt me.

Patrol Test

If a dog has passed the hunt and retrieve part of the test, the next area I get into is the patrol. Only the dogs that made it through are allowed to move on to the patrol test, unless I am only looking for a patrol dog then the retrieve is not as important. If I find problems during the hunt and retrieve, rest assured there will be problems later on in the patrol work. I usually start the dog on a pole on a flat collar without the handler around. I want the dog to work independently of his handler and to be able to defend himself. Here is where I can evaluate the dogs fight, courage and his prey drives. I usually like to see a dog that is indifferent to a person that is not showing any kind of aggression or threatening movements. If the dog is calm at this point, I am fine with it. Most dogs have seen this situation before and know the routine. After this initial look of the dog, I start to challenge him/her. Will the dog stand out on the end of the chain or leash and start barking and challenging a decoy with no equipment, no sleeves, just a man that is trying to back it down or trying to intimidate the dog. If the dog backs down or shows avoidance, for example; spinning, turning to its side, showing fear or any weakness during the pole test I don't go any further. It has already shown me that he/she can't take a man in a one on one situation and in my opinion shouldn't be considered. If the dog passes this initial test I go to the next step, I introduce equipment to test the bite and see if he has issues with the stick or gunfire. I want the dog to bite hard, confidently and deep during the added stress of the stick and the gunfire while working on the pole.

If the dog passes the pole work, he goes onto long distance bite testing. I usually do the long bites where the dog has to engage the man at a good distance usually 30 or 40 yards away challenging with gunfire or a stick. I always like to see the gun fired 2 or 3 times in fast succession while the dog is on its way to the long bite. Any deviation of the dog during the gun fire sends red flags up for me and I usually start to watch more carefully on following tests for signs of weakness. If I ever have a slight question about the dogs ability to defend himself I always keep working the test to see if he will fold on me. If there is a training issue I can address that, but if there is a trait/character problem, I can't fix that. Remember, you can't mold something that has no spine! After I have worked the dog on the pole and seen the long attacks, I work inside a buildings usually in tight places, dark rooms, slick floors and stairs (open and closed) even gunfire. I usually try to challenge the dog again by him/herself void of the handler (tons of dogs will fight when it has backup by a handler). If the dog will engage a decoy without its handler present during these situations, it will be a dog that is very dependable in the actual street setting.

Choosing the right dog for dual purpose police k9 work is very important. Spending 45 minutes or more going through the Detector and Patrol evaluations will result in the best dogs being selected. Any question in the dogs nerves and character during evaluation should be considered a candidate not worthy of street work. Only dogs with impeccable character will perform in the stressful and unpredictable situations of police work.

Police K-9 Training: Effective muzzle fighting

A real street bite is the one thing that as police dog trainers, we cannot actually set up and practice as it would happen on the street. Because of this, we have numerous techniques that we use to simulate a real street bite. One of those techniques is the muzzle attack.

There are numerous brands and types of protection muzzles. Be sure you have an actual agitation muzzle and not just an everyday-wear muzzle. Most agitation muzzles have a reinforced steel bar framing the leading edge of the muzzle to keep the leather from collapsing on the dog's mouth when he makes contact. The typical agitation muzzle you see is a “Dondi” style three-strap muzzle, which buckles behind the ears (this is the part that secures the muzzle) and one strap that goes over the head, between the ears, and secures to the head strap. There are also “Belgian Ring” style muzzles of similar design but these often come with bite-bars covered with leather and affixed to the inside of the muzzle for the dog to grip during a muzzle fight. Some muzzles only have the two straps that fasten behind the head, and not the over head strap. These muzzles are safe to use if properly secured. The over head strap is not the key part of the safe operation of the muzzle.

Make sure you choose a muzzle that fits comfortably. The dog should be able to breathe and pant normally, and even bark and clack his jaws inside the muzzle. Manufacturers make many sizes. You should try a few different ones and settle on one that secures nicely and is comfortable for the dog. An experienced trainer can help you select the right size.

Addressing Safety Concerns

Once the muzzle is secure, a safety check must be performed. The handler should grab the muzzle underneath and gently but firmly lift the dog straight up by the muzzle. The muzzle should stay securely fastened. Next, grasp the muzzle top and bottom in both hands and try to “roll” the muzzle down off the dog's snout to mimic the pawing action the dog can make to insure that the muzzle cannot be taken off by a determined dog. Do this gently but firmly, and don't wrench the dog's neck. Some people allow the decoy doing the actual muzzle attack (since it is his ass on the line with no equipment on) to make a secondary safety check. I don't like doing this because it ruins the realism of the encounter to some degree. I do like having a second person (most preferably the training instructor presiding) do a safety check. I also encourage some back-up by having a decoy with a sleeve hidden in close proximity just in case the muzzle comes off.

It goes without saying that before doing any muzzle fighting the dog should be conditioned to be calm and accepting of the muzzle. This part of the training should not be rushed, but unfortunately, it usually is. Put food in the bottom of the muzzle, a number of times a day, and allow the dog to dip his nose down into the muzzle and pull out food. As he gets accepting of the confinement, strap him up for a few seconds letting him eat the food like he has on a feedbag, and then reward him when you take it off. Strap him in the muzzle and do short, quick, obedience, ending with rewards. If the dog tries to get the muzzle off by pawing at it, try to redirect his behavior into some heeling or a recall, something active, rather than correcting him for pawing the muzzle. Punishment will only serve to create a negative association with the muzzle.

You can also muzzle him and let him watch some decoy work on another dog, and when he is barking in the muzzle, pull it off for a bite or two. Take your time with this part, and make it a positive experience. If you watch a Belgian Ring dog do muzzle work, you will see the dogs generally enjoy the muzzle, and willingly stick their heads into it for you to strap them up, because they are taught to expect some fun when the muzzle comes out. Take your time so you will not have a career of fighting your dog over the muzzle. Further if the dog never learns to accept the muzzle, he will never put his all into the muzzle work, but rather be preoccupied with always trying to get the encumbrance off.

Using Skilled Decoys

Many times I have witnessed muzzle training where the dogs are sent off leash, and the dog and decoy roll around on the ground. I do not allow any dogs to be sent completely off leash for muzzle work or hidden sleeve work, simply because it is too dangerous to not have a way to positively control the dog. I will send the dog dragging a long line so the handler can pick up and work the line. If there is no line, and if the dog breaks off the attack because he is unsatisfied or he is pawing at the muzzle, there is no way for the handler to control the session. The handler may end up chasing his dog as it moves away from him upon approach. Intensity can go from 60 to zero quickly. In such a case, if the dog leaves the engagement, there is nothing to do but have the decoy attempt to attract the dog back into the fight.

Wrong, wrong, and more wrong! The problem with this is that we want the dog to bring the energy to the fight — not vice versa — and in fact, as with all our work, we want the dog to bring enough energy to the fight that we can do a passive muzzle attack and expect the dog to remain engaged until the handler removes the dog. Too many decoys even in non-muzzle work start the session with agitation to attract the dog, rather than making the dog alert and load first to make the decoy move, or load enough to send the dog on a passive bite. If your dog needs agitation to start his bite session, you need to retrain that before doing any muzzle work. Muzzle work is proofing work for civil aggression and passive biting. For these reasons we must use skilled decoys and keep the dog on line during this training, and work with dogs that have had proper foundation in their aggression training.

One of the big problems with muzzle fighting is that it requires excellent decoy work to make it worthwhile to the dog. In most instances when I watch muzzle work, the dog will engage briefly, is usually unsatisfied with simply punching the decoy (the dog knows he is restricted by the muzzle because normally he would bite), and break off the attack to return to the handler or try to paw the muzzle off.

This is especially true of the decoy is unskilled in doing a muzzle attack. The worst thing a decoy can do, given that the dog is restricted by the muzzle, is to not react to the dog's aggression. The decoy must act realistically and submit to the dog's aggression. But most decoys are at a loss as to exactly what to do during the engagement.

One thing which I teach at my decoy seminars is to have the decoy use the dog's natural opposition reflex to keep the dog engaged. Often during a muzzle fight, the decoy gets hit on initial contact, and falls to the ground, and then the dog will come in on him again on the ground. When the dog comes in to tag the decoy, the decoy must both give ground when punched with the muzzle, but also the decoy should push the dog away, and then let the dog come in with another punch. The “fight” then involves a flow of energy from the dog onto the decoy, and then back at the dog in a pushing motion, where the decoy opposes the dog to make the dog drive in, and then the decoy pushes the dog away in a constant, flowing, but not sharp motion.

This act of pushing the dog results in keeping constant tension in the forward press of the dog, and it acts like a tight back line in bite work training and causes the dog to want to continue forward in the fight. This is the nature of opposition reflex. Pushing the dog away makes him want to come forward. All the while the decoy is moving in response to the dog's attack, staying vocal, and keeping tension on the dog's chest and lower neck (the area that is to be pushed). The decoy can also manipulate (pinch) the dog's skin as he pushes against the dog to create some discomfort to peak the dog's aggression.

Getting Your Dog Street Ready

These engagements should take place for a matter of 10 to 15 seconds at a time (at most), and then the handler should pull the dog back by the line and collar when the dog is aggressively pressing forward. The handler keeps a loose line during the fight, and only snatches the dog out when he is most aggressive. This should be done on a variable (length of encounter) basis to increase the dog's focus.

A good decoy can use this technique to keep the dog engaged. The handler can snatch the dog out of the fight when he is at his peak of aggression in order to further frustrate the dog, and then let the decoy escape for a short distance. The handler will then have the dog chase the decoy for a short stretch (holding him back a little to make the dog dig hard against the back pressure) and release into another attack. The whole thing should be very fast and intense sequences of ground fighting and then frustration which can then be lengthened into longer, more intense sessions of engagement. Using this technique will help you develop a more focused and intense muzzle attack.

Important note: The handler should keep the dog from floating to the face of the decoy during each encounter (which seems to result often as the dogs get highly frustrated, and since the decoy is on the ground) by handling the line properly. This is one more reason why good solid targeting work needs to be taught on the suit and hidden sleeve. Don't allow your dog to learn something you don't want him to learn.

At the very end of the muzzle session, the decoy should escape as the dog is being held back. Too many times I see muzzle sessions end when the dog gets frustrated and aggression is low. Our goal is to keep the aggression short and intense. Once the dog is pulled from the encounter by the line, the decoy can escape behind a door, where a sleeve is waiting, or a hidden sleeve can be slipped on, and the dog then is taken out of the muzzle quickly and sent to bite around the corner of the door, where the sleeve or hidden sleeve can be used. Sometimes, just let the dog lose the prey — he doesn't need the bite every time.

Mixing this technique with pure civil aggression sessions with no equipment and passive bites on hidden equipment (hidden sleeves, hidden suits) which then result in very satisfying fights, will go a long way to getting your dog street ready.