Archive for dogs police dogs

How to train the recall

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2011 by guy2932


The recall is such a simple exercise and if the groundwork is carried out correctly there is no reason why a dog with the highest of drives won’t come back as quickly as he went out on a single command. This level of control not only makes the dog safer to work on the street but may well save his life should he be heading for danger.

The exercise starts at home or in a field with as little distraction as possible. Wait until the dog is away from you and when he looks at you use your body to generate interest and encourage him back to you. When he gets there reward him. Repeat several times until you are confident that your actions will result in him coming back. Don’t say anything at this stage we are simply making coming back to us rewarding.

In the next session do the same as before but this time say your recall command as your dog is coming back to you and reward when he gets there. Repeat half a dozen times.

Next say the command slightly before you do the things you do to get the dog back and reward him. Repeat half a dozen times. As you progress, increase the delay between the command and the actions. When you can say your recall command when your dog is looking away from you and he turns and comes, you know he understands and can start to progress.

As we progress you will have to do less and less to attract the dog back to you. I keep flapping both arms like I’m trying to fly as this is a good visual signal if the dog is too far away or I want to recall him quietly.

The exercise now needs to be built up slowly by recalling in the face of greater distractions. The secret is to try to never recall if you don’t think he’ll come back. You always have the option of going to get him or relying on the technique you relied on before to encourage him back. You need to try to control the environment until you have the control.

You need to think of every scenario you are likely to want to recall your dog and then break that scenario into easy versions and progressively more difficult versions. For instance if you want to recall your dog from other dogs then start by recalling him when the other dog is a long way off. Build up so the other dog is closer before you recall. Then once they are playing, wait until the dog gets bored and you can see they were about to stop playing anyway and then recall. Let the dog approach old dogs that you know won’t play and recall him. Eventually your recall will become so reliable that you can recall your dog whilst he is mid play session.

A good exercise to practice recall is to place the dog in a sit and throw his ball out. Release him and recall him. The majority of the time, allow him to fetch the ball but you can recall him and reward with a tugger.

You can have a helper some distance out in front of the dog and they can be as distracting as you like to encourage the dog out. Practicing recalls in this way before the chase and detain has been taught is a great way of creating that habit before the pull of the helper becomes too great.


How to dominate your dog

Posted in Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2011 by guy2932

The word dominance is loaded with an unhealthy attitude towards dog ownership. To dominate in everyday language suggests the need to overpower, and control.

In terms of training dogs this is not only unnecessary but when you are talking about Police dogs is a step in the wrong direction. So many dogs that fail to make the grade do so because they haven’t got the confidence to do the job. By dominating and controlling them you are hardly likely to maximise the dogs potential.

Think of that really scary teacher at school. The one who ridiculed and shouted. The one who made people afraid to speak out of turn. There was no messing about in that class. There was also no creativity, freedom of expression and no fun. That teacher dominated the class.

For you to adopt the attitude that you are going to dominate must also mean that you are looking for the dog to submit, to yield to your mighty power. Hardly the basis for a productive partnership.

Instead think of yourself as a teacher. A mentor. Not the scary dominating type but the inspirational type. The teacher who had the power to enthuse and excite. The type to reward good behaviour but with the ability to distract and refocus unwanted behaviours.

Leadership is about being clear about where you are going and how you are going to get there. It is about communicating effectively and having the ability to listen as well. It is about being calm and assertive (the only time you will hear me say anything that sounds like a Caesar Milan quote). It’s about consistency and fairness. It is absolutely nothing to do with domination. Dogs understand leadership. If you lead they will follow. Equally if you fail to lead then that responsibility will fall to your dog.

If you want to understand dominance and submission in proper behavioural terms then may I suggest you read “On aggression” by Konrad Lorenz. Or if that’s too heavy then “The evolution of canine social behaviour” by Roger Abrantes. If you don’t fancy reading either of them then perhaps you can just read the conclusion to this article.

There are only three true drives. Sex drive, prey drive and self-preservation. Everything your dog does is motivated by one of those things. Which one do you think you can control or suppress by shouting, slapping, hitting or electrocuting?  Sex drive says what it does on the tin. You may scare the dog into not showing any outward signs but the desire will still be there.

Prey drive is what motivates the dog to hunt. It is a matter of life and death. You will not be able to summon enough fear from the depths of hell to control that. It is what makes the dog what it is. You can no more make the dog control its prey drive than you can make the dog change the colour of its fur. What you will do though is provoke the third drive by making yourself a threat. This will manifest as aggression, avoidance or as most dogs aren’t free to leave then displacement behaviour. Again, you may be able to suppress the symptoms but you wont change the motivation.

Dogs need to learn how to control their drives and you need to help them learn how and when to do it. Self control is vital and this comes from the dog learning what is and isn’t rewarding. By simply punishing behaviours you don’t want you are merely adding to the anxiety and confusion that is often present during any form of training and making it less likely that the dog will be able to control its self.

Many books are laden with rules that you should or shouldn’t do such as eat first, don’t let the dog go through doorways before you and don’t let them on the sofa. My take on it is this. If you have no rules and no boundaries then you will likely have an unruly dog. Adopting many of these rules is the first step to having some form order that the dog understands.

Allowing your dog to go through a doorway before you isn’t a problem in its self. I often want my dog to go ahead of me whilst working. I have the ability to stop him though if that is what is required. My rules are clear to both me and the dog. If I get there first I will go through first and the dog is not allowed to push past me. Equally if the dog gets there first I will afford him the same respect. If however he gets there first but I tell him to wait then wait he must do. I don’t however just expect these rules to be known or obeyed. I train them. I set up situations that allow all the above scenarios to take place and I reward (positively reinforce) the behaviours I want. Once I am happy that I have communicated the rules and ensured that I have made it worth the dogs while to comply, then and only then will I use any form of compulsion to enforce my rules.

I’m not harsh or vindictive though. I will give the dog a very clear warning that he is breaching a rule (I say aagghh). I have done prior training to let the dog know that aagghh means “what you are doing or about to do is not going to be rewarding”. How I do that is the subject of another post. He has a choice then. Continue with his current course of action or not. If he does I will invariably stop him, if he doesn’t I will invariably reward him.

Some people may be horrified to hear me say that I reward him after I have had to tell him off but he has complied with a command. The one that means “don’t do that”. You have to have faith in the fact that as a social animal the dog is programmed to fit in and to be a productive member of the group. They aren’t looking to oust you from power in a doggy coup. If you help them understand the rules and make it worth their while, they will comply with the house rules.

I am not afraid to enforce my rules or maintain my boundaries because I know that I have done everything in my power to ensure the dog understands them. I know that I am not vindictive or spiteful and I also know my dog knows this too. He isn’t afraid of me in the slightest and that’s just the way I like it. He isn’t afraid to try new things because he knows I am there to help and guide him.

So when asked how best to dominate a dog I reply “don’t”. Lead and your dog will follow. Consistency is king and remember that training is your responsibility. If you don’t train it you won’t get it. Be aware of your punitive nature, it’s the human condition, and learn to overcome it. The rewards for both you and your dog are immeasurable. It takes time and effort to learn the new skills and practice to become good but as they say, nothing good comes easy. If you like this article and want to read more then you can purchase Positive Police dogs:Philosophy HERE.

Should I alpha roll my dog?

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 27, 2011 by guy2932
  1. NO.

If you can successfully alpha roll your dog then it serves no purpose. If you’ve got the kind of dog that you think would benefit from being rolled then you will do nothing but create distrust and fear in your dog.

People often feel that the alpha roll is the appropriate course of action after their dog has growled, snapped or made some other gesture that necessitates the dog being put in his place.

The dog must have perceived some form of threat, hence the warning. If you go in with physical chastisement and fighting you are merely confirming his suspicions. The ensuing fight will go one of two not very successful ways.

You will either win and your dog will give up, full of resentment, distrust and fear or he will fight back and you will get hurt.

Both scenarios result in a dog and handler with trust issues and trust as we should all know is the basis of all healthy relationships.

Better to heed the warning and back away. Find a distraction to defuse the situation and when you can, safely put the dog away. THen analyse what went on.

Use your superior human brain to work out what could have happened to make your dog feel threatened by your presence or something you did. Then work out a way to stop your dog feeling like that.

The issues are quite often around valued objects or locations and in my experience, rare in dogs whose handlers attempt to primarily use positive reinforcement.

Anger breeds anger and fear breeds fear. We reap what we sow and what goes around comes around. We live what we learn. I’m sure there are other sayings that are appropriate but my brain has gone numb.

For a bit more on this subject, check out dominance theory is outdated or to really get the full picture you can purchase Positive Police Dogs: Philosophy by clicking here. The book contains everything you need to know about training theory and what makes dogs tick.

Dominance theory is outdated

Posted in Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , on March 10, 2011 by guy2932

The debate about the right and wrongs of dominance theory as a methodology for dog  training appears to be gathering momentum. The terminology can often cause confusion and so we decided to clarify where we stand on the issue.

The word dominance has a scientific meaning. Dominance can be understood as social aggression. The understanding of aggression put forward by Konrad Lorenz is still the most useful way of looking at aggression. He describes aggression as a drive aimed at eliminating competition. Competition is anything that poses a threat to the health and well being of an individual. For example, a strange wolf near anothers lair poses a threat to its young and so they must be chased off. Even straying onto another wolfs territory means competition for resources and is therefore a threat, albeit indirectly.

In a social context it isn’t about eliminating the competition, more a case of controlling or suppressing it, albeit only temporarily. It is about relationships and as such they aren’t fixed in stone. A relationship is about a series of encounters and some things will be more important  to some individuals than to others and this will dictate how hard an individual pushes to get their own way.

Some individuals(any species) are just pushier, stronger characters than others and although it may be fair to describe them as dominant, we must bear in mind that it is the result of individual encounters that matters. A dog that is primarily dominant towards one dog may be largely subservient to another and because relationships aren’t fixed, this can change with time and circumstance.

On that note, submission is best understood as social fear. A drive to avoid conflict from social aggression. Not permanent fear of another individual, merely a reaction to a threat or challenge that signals submission. This signal, in a well balanced individual will result in the cessation of the threat.

The aim of any social animal is to live in a safe, stable environment where individuals cooperate to the greater good of the group. The rules of engagement must be clear and known to all. This is the process of socialisation where the young learn from their elders all the things they need to be able to live constructively within the group. Social animals have evolved with the ability to learn these skills and are pre- programmed to be social if the proper introductions are carried out. To this end, conflict should be limited.

The fact that parents are older and more knowledgeable, puts them in a position where it their responsibility to teach, guide and care for their young. The young slowly learn the skills required to become useful members of the group. Yes, there will be conflicts along the way, but this is part of the learning process, and how the young learn about boundaries. It is how disputes are resolved. Conflict is not how overall dominance is gained. Dominance is a by product of a system whereby someone needs to lead and others need to follow.

In a relationship between man and dog, it is the human who knows the rules and controls the daily routines and so has to take on the role of leader or teacher if you like. Our job is to teach the dog the house rules and how to behave with others. We have responsibility for ensuring the dog is correctly socialized and habituated to allow it to live happily in the human environment. By leading and teaching, our dog will generally allow itself to be guided by us. Yes there will be times when the dogs exercises its will but it is for us to make it more rewarding for the dog to follow our rules and not do its own thing.

Nowhere in this process is it necessary for us to use harsh, violent or painful methods. We need to be clear about the rules we wish to teach and ensure we have the skills and abilities to teach them. This will avoid frustration which is what usually results in trainers using punitive methods. The fact that you are confident and taking control will result in what is often referred to as being dominant. A good teacher has control of the class but also has respect. The students are also confident and with police dogs this is imperative. You could be one of those domineering, scary teachers but you wont have confident, happy students.

So, no need to alpha roll your dog. I have a good relationship with my dog and as long as I wasn’t being aggressive to him, I could tip him on his back and pin him down. It would serve no purpose and he would probably wonder what the hell I was doing.  If you have a bad relationship with your dog the alpha roll will make it worse and because it will inevitably be done in anger, any dog worth his salt will fight back. All you will end up doing is worsening the bond, making him more wary of you and run a very real risk of getting bitten which will in turn make you more weary of him. If your dog threatens you for any reason, heed the warning and back off. Do something to distract such as call him away from the area and then take a long hard look at what it is that you did to make your own dog feel so threatened by you that he felt the need to warn you off.

In terms of all those other thing s that are often advocated like walking through doorways first and eating first, I think they are just ways to get an owner to start making decisions and working on taking the lead. They are a means to an end not the end in themselves.

In conclusion, you do not have to be domineering or aggressive to be in control of your dog (or wife or kids). You merely have to take responsibility for what needs to be done and ensure you have the skills and conviction to do it. It makes no difference how young, old, boisterous or aggressive your dog is. Operant conditioning provides the tools to teach in a calm, systematic way. Anyone that tells you different is lacking those skills.

Wild Horses

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , , on October 5, 2010 by guy2932

Negative reinforcement is where an animal is subjected to an aversive that it dislikes enough that it will work to avoid that aversive. Only when the animal has performed the task you require will the aversive cease. The stronger the will of the animal, the harsher the aversive will need to be in order to make the animal work to avoid the aversive, rather than fight against you.

This is the method of choice for the majority of horse trainers and there is a term used to describe the process of taming a wild horse using this method. It is called BREAKING a horse. Breaking his spirit to be more precise. Removing his spark for life until he has no fight left, no free will.

Only then will the horse meekly accept future negative reinforcement with no fight. A broken horse will accept every whip, every jerk of the reigns and every kick of the stirrup.

Is that what we want from our dogs? Broken spirits. No lust for life. I for one want a dog that is as confident as he can be. I want a dog that feels free to try new things in the ever changing operational environment, without fear of being lashed. When I shout I want my dog to look around to see who I am shouting at and join in by barking not cower by my side, fearful of being hit.

Positive reinforcement training produces confident, willing dogs. Negative reinforcement, which carries with it all the negative side effects of punishment such as stress and displacement activity, produces the exact opposite. Wild horses couldn’t make me choose negative reinforcement as my training tool of choice.


Nottinghamshire police dog handler court case result

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by guy2932

The Nottinghamshire police dog handler accused of killing his two German Shepherd dogs by leaving them in a hot car has been found guilty. In his defence the officer stated he was stressed and distracted, and that due to his state of mind he forgot about the dogs. Against the trend of making examples out of police officers, the courts did not issue him with a custodial sentence.
Similar cases not involving police have also not resulted in custodial sentances and so whatever your feelings on the matter, the courts appear for once to be consistent in their sentancing.