Archive for Police Dogs

Mission statement

Posted in Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2016 by guy2932

I’ve been training Police dogs for 15 years and at the time felt the need to differentiate myself from other, more traditional Police dog training which contained not only a lot of physical corrections but was also structured in such a way (or not structured) that it was causing many of the problems it was trying to resolve or just not making the most efficient use of time and energy, both commodities in limited supply.

ernie face bw

Whilst there has been much progress in our understanding of dogs and their capabilities in that time, the training methodology is lagging behind. There appears to be a wealth of confusion about what is and isn’t true and hot debates about what is or isn’t an acceptable training technique. Whilst the phrases positive trainer and force free trainer are a nod towards a style of training, there are many trying to use semantics to undermine the efforts. I therefore felt it was time to set out my stall. To explain just what I am looking to achieve.

My aim is to train Police dogs to the highest standards possible in the most humane way possible . I will not sacrifice dog welfare for performance but clearly have standards to meet. I am often under time pressure and so need the most efficient way of training I can find. I am also aware that there are no quick fixes or shortcuts and good foundation training is paramount to future success. Attempts to take shortcuts almost always come back to bite you (literally) and often end up taking far more time to rectify than if you had done it properly in the first place.

My aim is to set the dog up for success and to positively reinforce the behaviours I want. I use careful management to prevent the learning of unwanted behaviours. My aim is to get the dog to want to perform the behaviours I want and to perform them reliably on cue (command). That way he is working with me not against me and it is surprising how much easier that makes things. Most knowledgeable trainers work like this these days.

I am not permissive as many seem to believe. In fact, I am probably one of the strictest  trainers I know in that I am so aware of my rules, of the dogs behaviour and where I am in the training process that I very rarely let anything slide.

Where I deviate from many trainers is when to comes to consequences. All behaviour is affected by the consequences and whilst I make my desired behaviours highly reinforcing for the dog, it is my treatment of unwanted behaviours that often causes people concern or that people can’t quite believe is sufficient to have any reliable effect.

I have attempted quite successfully to remove all physical punishments, pain and threats of the aforementioned methods and maintained the desired standards. In some areas I would say I actually exceed the standard attained by some more traditionally trained dogs especially in relation to self control around bite related elements although this is as much a part of the overall big picture as being attributable to the removal of physical punishment.

The reason I even started trying to remove physical corrections (punishment) was because it was obvious to me that it was responsible for creating a lot of stress in the dog. Stress is a block to learning and so slowed up training but it was also at the heart of nearly all incidents of aggression toward the handler. Many of the dogs subject to such treatment folded under the pressure and were washed out of the training programme. huge amounts of time and effort were lost, looking for new dogs and starting the process again. Others fought back causing harm to their handlers and in more than a few cases, resulting in the euthanasia of the dog.

I now find myself in a position where the structure of our training allows me to train the dog in a way whereby the withholding of rewards and time outs communicated through a conditioned negative punisher (quitting signal) is all that is required. So clearly my training is not positive only as anyone who understands the quadrants knows such a scenario is probably not possible even under the strictest laboratory conditions.

I also use force in that I physically hold my dogs, I put them on a lead and clearly if they lunge or pull I will use what could be described as force to hold onto them. Just as the force of gravity is always upon us, it is impossible to touch another being without that touch technically being force. What I don’t do though is deliberately apply force in a manner that would cause pain or discomfort or rely these methods in training. When I write a lesson plan for training (yes, that is what I have to do), nowhere in the lesson plan will anybody ever be asked by me to administer what would generally be known as a physical correction.

The methods used by the handler on their dog are only part of the picture for Police dogs. The role of the agitators (helpers) are also vital. Whilst close inspection of the training would show that some of the training involving the helper would fit within the negative reinforcement quadrant, the manner of the training is such that the aversive is small enough that the dog is never far from it’s comfort zone. The aim after all is to reinforce the behaviour we desire and not to push the dog into avoidance. In the same way that a trained fighter relishes the chance to pit their training against an adversary, so the aim is to produce a dog with the same attitude. Whilst some may not condone fighting or the use of dogs for law enforcement, they should console themselves in the fact that the dogs are selected because they have the required qualities and combined with appropriate training, scenarios that some dogs would find distressing are to the Police dog the eustress inducing situations that adrenaline junkies work so hard to achieve.

I feel strongly that dogs should be treated with respect and this includes training them in a manner which puts their welfare above performance. This invariably means seeking ways to ensure training methods are as humane as they can be and as such the ethos of all training regimes should be to strip out any training that could be achieved in a less intrusive way. Only by being as professional and ethical as we can be in training dogs for military and law enforcement can we justify placing dogs in harms way whilst they live out their lives in servitude to us.

That’s where I’m at. That’s what I’m trying to achieve. That’s what I’m trying to encourage others to aspire to as well. Ask yourself this question. If you were a dog, would you be happy being YOUR dog?

HierarchyofDogNeeds this one

This great visual by Linda Michaels really captures my approach to living with and training dogs.


Puppy. Week 2

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2016 by guy2932

I had from Thursday evening until Monday morning to get done all the things I usually like to take a week or two to do. Crate train, toilet train, teach isolation, travel and of course bond and get the pup feeling comfortable. Whilst I had less time than usual I know that the early days are the foundations for all future training and development so rather than cut corners I just gave the task in hand my undivided attention. No gym, no out with the boys. Everything was geared around what the pup needed including in the early days letting him out for a wee every 15 minutes and after every play session and whenever the pup wakes.

All this hard work has paid off because we have had only three accidents in the house with the pup now whining if he needs to go out to the toilet. He is sleeping through the night and had my bed not been full of sick kids I could have left him alone sooner than I did.

I needed all this done because once I return to work the routine begins and if the pup can’t travel, can’t be left and isn’t toilet trained it doesn’t take a genius to see the sort of problems I may have to start dealing with (toileting in the crate, anxiety at being left, mat chewing, whining/howling, sickness and drooling, and a general unwillingness to get in the van).


The day starts with the dog going out for a wee as usual. I then scatter fed him whilst I had my shower. I then played tug for a few minutes because he always gets bitey after food. I then smeared some cheese in the dips in the bottom of an egg box. I placed him in the crate with this whilst I sorted out my food and had breakfast. It is all about management and trying to prevent unwanted behaviour. If I don’t occupy himself and you can bet that won’t be a behaviour I want. Barking and biting whilst I try not to wake the rest of the household. This bought me enough time to get ready. Eventually the dog will become more self contained  and I won’t have to bother entertaining him like this. But for now, he is a puppy and needs guidance (benevolent leadership as Linda Michaels calls it in her Hierarchy of dog needs).

As it was everything went well. The journey to work on day one was slightly vocal but soon settled. Arrival back at base obviously reminded the pup of the feelings he had when he arrived there the previous week. He was noticeably subdued but settled within half an hour.  I sat in the back of the van with him on our journey to the training venue and again after some vocalisation he settled. I did give him attention because as I have stated before you can’t reinforce emotions, so if he was scared then the attention would hopefully allay his fears and resolve the problem at root cause. He settled down and I fed him some happen, reinforcing being quiet and hopefully making a good association with the journey. The rest of the week the travel has been absolutely fine and like most of our dogs he will soon start to associate the van with going places and really enjoy it.

Pretty much everything about day 1 was new and so we did very little. It is important to bear this in mind as pups can get easily overwhelmed. I very much try to balance busy days with quiet days to avoid stress trigger stacking and give the pup to regain his composure between exposure. This is how we build resilience.

The week included the first trip to the vets. This is somewhere that it is important the pup have good experience. Later I will teach him to stand and lie for examination as there is no way we will go through life without needing to come to the vets. It is so much easier for the vet and less stressful for the dog if it knows what is expected of it and just as importantly it is comfortable in the environment. Being ill or injured often lowers a dogs tolerance and without training, visits to the vets can become traumatic for all involved. Prevention is better than a cure as Grandma used to say.


The work routine is now well established and I couldn’t be happier at this stage.

A lovely day for training!!





Pup, now renamed as Kylo is very confident. I had an industrial team of tree surgeons working in my garden on Friday and was careful to take him to the front of the house for a wee etc so as to not spook him. He wasn’t bothered though and scratched at the back door to get to them. I let him out and he approached them (chainsaws only going in the trees so no danger). He was not bothered at all.


That being said, all things come at a cost and so we remained home that day and did very little. I entertained him by trying to encourage him to retrieve a ball. He will happily chase anything but only really likes the feel of tennis balls at the moment. I assume this is a texture thing, it is then strange to see him pick up metal objects and carry them. Either way, no concern.

We also spent more time locked in the crate than usual whilst not tired. This is a fundamental change needs to be given some time and attention. Perfect timing as I was home making coffee for the army of tree men anyway. There was some vocalisation but it very much felt like protesting at being locked in. Combined with pushing at the door it was very different from his initial cries when he was distressed at being away from his siblings and then in the next phase, away from me. This is the time to be aware of reinforcing unwanted behaviour.

I know the pup is watered, fed, can cope with being alone for small periods, is familiar with the crate and so wanting to get out of the crate is the most likely explanation. Whilst I am trying not to create a situation where he does this, it is almost inevitable at some point. What was nice is that it lasted only seconds before he settled down quietly watching me. So I let him out. Then a few minutes later I put him back and he lay down straight away. I threw him some ham.

This process has continued over the weekend and I can now confidently leave him locked in the crate whilst wide awake for short periods of time. I will still give him things to occupy him from time to time, especially if he hasn’t done much and is likely to be a bit more energetic (it is still early days and preventing unwanted behaviour is still at the forefront of my mind).

So with the settling in period done successfully and the working week routine established, what a fitting end to the week than a last minute call to go and work the stand at Crufts. Being such a confident little thing I knew he would cope with the crowds but peoples love to tickle a puppy rapidly became too much even for him and when I saw him give a little yawn which can often be a stress signal I rather abruptly announced my departure. It is often necessary to be abrupt when protecting a puppy as people often oblivious to the pups body language and their desires to greet the little furry thing are often strong. Your loyalty is to the welfare of the pup though.

We managed three short visits of around 5 minutes where he coped well, even wanting to get down and explore. As always though, a busy day is followed by a quiet day and today has been a day in the garden biting the kids. Fun for the puppy but not so much for the kids. More on that next time.


Puppy. Day 3. Brothers reunited.

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2016 by guy2932

Following our 0400hrs wee, the day started in earnest at 0600hrs. Up and out for a wee in the usual spot. This works for me at the moment because I am trying to get into a routine ready for work on Monday. I am aware however that he is always toileting on the same type of surface. In this case it is a pile of leaves/mud under a laurel tree. It is sheltered when raining and he has been using that spot from day 1. I will soon give him the opportunity to toilet in different locations and can encourage this with my classically conditioned “be quick” which if he is able, will help him go. It is easy not to realize that your pup only toilets on concrete or grass, or will only do it at home. Most people don’t give this a thought until they have a problem so I thought I would give it a mention. Police work is all about generalization in terms of dog training and toilet training is no exception.

Breakfast was served at 0620hrs today, in the van as making a good association is still a priority. Slightly earlier again today because I will want him to have his first feed before I leave for work. My trip to work is often shorter than my journey to the training venue and I can use my arrival at work to socialise with the horses, other trainers dogs and all the other novel stimuli that can be found there. After breakfast he explored and I encouraged him to play with a ball of screwed up paper rather than bite my trouser leg. Biting will be an important part of his life and so I do not want to punish or discourage biting at all. I will teach rules later but for now I simply distract and divert onto something more appropriate. This is in essence the ‘dead for live’ routine which we will look at later and is how I will progress the biting but just as importantly the ‘out’. For now though, I simply keep still and make the other item more interesting. Pups are easily distracted at this stage.

At 0730hrs I placed him in the crate and shut the door (the crate in the photo is too small and belongs to my mums dog). He was quite aroused (stimulated not horny) due to his energy burst from food and the games we had been playing. He whined a few times and pushed the door with his paw. He then turned and circled before lying down. I immediately went and opened the door and smoothed him. After a minute I returned him to the crate and shut the door again. He immediately lay down.


When he first arrived home he was in the middle of a trauma and my aim was to do whatever I could to ease his pain. His cries were desperate and answering them was the only course of action that would help. Allowing him to cry himself out would eventually see him be quiet but for all the wrong reasons. Nobody could predict accurately exactly what or how much damage would be done but it is best not to find out. He is now much more settled, sees me as a safe attachment figure and has his crate as a safe haven. He is also looking very comfortable around my kids and in the house generally. He has been very slowly exposed to small but increasing amounts of isolation and so his vocalisation in the crate when I shut the door now was very different. It was short, quiet and nothing like as intense. The crate is his safe haven and on occasions he has voluntarily gone in there and lay down. When I shut the door he gets up and whines.  I see this as being more about the loss of options and choice than an isolation issue as clearly I am right next to him. Whilst I also don’t want to rush this phase or create undue distress by simply locking him in, it is something which I have put time and effort into and is a valuable step. He likes the crate, finds it a safe place and appears to be content in there when he is tired and to sleep in there.

Being placed in there when he is slightly more lively is a similar process but different. I clearly can’t be around to supervise him 24/7 and so need to be able to put him somewhere safe when I can’t even if he isn’t due for a sleep. At this stage the process is quite easy because after about half an hour of adventure he is generally tired if not sleepy. This makes the process of placing him in the crate easier and which is why I like to do it now, as soon as we are past the initial separation trauma.

If you leave it later the puppy will be less easily tired, will have developed the habit of sleeping in other places around the house and will be more wilful and may fight against the process more than he will now.

Just as I initially gave attention in the crate just for going in there, I am now going to repeat the process with the door closed. The intention is to place him in the crate when is tired, after exercise and is less active or with something enjoyable to do. I don’t want him to cry and vocalise or attempt to escape. I want him to want to be in the crate and to enjoy it.P1020004

I will start with just a few seconds if required and build up systematically but as rapidly as I can get away with (remember I am under tremendous time pressure) but never cutting corners. That is a mistake that will cost either you or the puppy at some stage.

Place the dog in the crate, shut the door and wait. If he is quiet and relaxed open the door and fuss him. You can give treats or toys or whatever works. If he is eating his food you can lock the door. Open it before he finishes initially but you can wait until after he has finished but before he makes any attempts to get out.

It is like all other things I have done, I am looking to make the desired habit before any bad habits have a chance to develop.  Whilst this sounds time consuming, I have done it a few times on day 2 and 20+ times on day 3 and the pup is as happy in there now when awake with the door open as he is when he is tired. If I become complacent and leave it too long etc then I am asking for trouble but with the foundation work done, progress is straightforward.

Initially I was in sight and sound of the pup but as I see progress I can move out of sight (even for just a second) bearing in mind I am trying not to create bad habits which in this case would be vocalising or scratching the cage. Initially progress may be in very small increments of seconds and minutes but once you have good foundations, as with house building, progress can then be rapid.

It is worth remembering that dogs are good at learning things in context. Therefore being comfortable and sleeping quietly through the night in the crate doesn’t mean the pup will be happy to spend 8 hours in the crate during the day. The context is different. At night the pup is sleepy. In the day not so much. At night it is dark, quieter and there are less interesting things happening. Being in the crate in the day is a very different context and needs treating as a separate exercise.  Likewise with the vehicle. Whilst the process should get quicker in each new situation, you may need to go through this process in numerous situations before the dog generalises that being left in the crate is a safe and tolerable experience.

Our routine of in the crate, out for a wee, in the van, out for a wee, sleep, out for  a wee continued until 1040hrs when it was time to go on a road trip. We were off to see Paul the handler with Vaders brother to see how he was getting on and it was a chance for the brothers to renew their bonds.


Vader needed no invitation to enter the house and investigate and showed no concerns about meeting Paul’s pet dog. Marshy (his brother) appeared and as you can imagine the reunion was energetic and involved plenty of chasing and biting. So much so that we intervened and took them into the garden. Here he met guinea pigs (already met them) chickens which provided not much more than mild interest and Paul’s work dogs. Vader was pretty much unphased and play soon recommenced with Marshy. Both pups are confident and tenacious and again we called time on their play as they were becoming over aroused and playing in a manner that you will probably only get away with towards your own brother. Whilst this is good experience and they learned a lot about pain (how it feels and how to dish it out) and other communication skills, I am always cautious not to allow it to escalate too far or too often as I don’t want that level of enthusiastic play transferring onto all dogs but more importantly, I don’t want the pup thinking that the most fun in the world can be had with other dogs. His life is now a balancing act between socialising in order for him to be a stable, confident individual around other dogs and being able to work despite the presence of other dogs. Get the balance wrong and he may well prefer to play with dogs if you over socialise or be fearful if you under do it. Get the balance right and the he will be what we call dog neutral which is our goal. Social and able to interact appropriately with other dogs but neither overly excited nor worried by their presence and preferring to work.


Being Mothers day the trip to Paul’s was not our only destination. The car journey from Paul’s to my mums was unsurprisingly a quiet one as the tired pup caught up on some well-earned sleep. Having been fed and toileted in my mums garden it was time to meet yet another new dog. My mums Cavalier is about the same size as the pup and the initial caution on both sides was soon replaced with chase albeit a much more subdued version than with Marshy. No ear biting here which was good.  Some time in the crate with us in the front room was chance for the cat to investigate. Being a Maine coon he was considerably bigger than the pup and a good cat to meet first to instil that ‘don’t chase cats’ attitude. Whilst he didn’t look like he would try, I didn’t give Vader the chance to chase the cat and they respectfully sniffed each other as I held him. I don’t want bad habits developing or eyes being sliced by claws so our initial meeting with the age old rivals was calm and mutually respectful.

maine coon

Having stayed longer than expected Vader came home tired and whilst I made sure he still had some evening activity, by 2330hrs he was more than ready for sleep. So much so that I didn’t hear a peep until 0400hrs when he needed a pooh. Once again he went back in the crate until I got up at 0545hrs ready for work.

It has been a very labour intensive weekend. From the long trip up and back to collect him last Thursday my life has been puppy 24/7. Whilst not everyone will have the time, patience or desire to put this much effort into the first few days, hopefully it shows two things. Firstly that if you do you can achieve results very quickly and secondly it has hopefully highlighted that even if you can’t dedicate your entire life to doing it the way I have, many of the things I have done are required in order to produce a well rounded individual. Whilst it may take more time, there are no corners to be cut. Cutting corners is taking risks and may have consequences for the pups future development and if this pup is to be your future working dog then you are setting yourself up for potential problems for the next 8 years.

One weekend of hard work has seen the pup recover from a major trauma, bond with me and my family, settle in to our home and develop the safe haven of the crate where he can sleep happily and be left for short periods alone. He is toilet trained and is well on his way to being a good traveller. He has met numerous species and encountered an endless list of novel stimuli all of which have been encountered in positive, confidence building way. I have the beginnings of a recall and have started to encourage his interest in ragging various items and chasing and retrieving. We have developed toileting, feeding and bedtime routines.

I have also so far prevented the unwanted habits of toileting in the house, crate and van. I have prevented the separation anxiety from his removal from the litter transferring into his new home. I have prevented him developing the habit of biting me and the kids and diverted his attention onto toys. I have prevented mat chewing, vocalisation and destructive behaviours when left and have prevented the neural pathways to anxiety and stress from forming.

I am now set up for training in earnest with a dog that is confident, secure, is mobile and able to be left for short periods. My priorities are now in shaping the dogs attitudes and behaviour toward becoming people neutral, dog neutral and environmentally neutral.





Puppy. First full day

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2016 by guy2932

Having awoken in the early hours and settled to sleep with me rather than in the crate, I felt the bond was developing well. The pup who has now been named Vader by his handler to be, was clearly drawing comfort from my presence in stark contrast to the journey home. If you want to read about the journey home and first night click HERE.

As is the case whenever he wakes our first stop was the garden for a wee.  Not after breakfast, or after I have sorted myself out. Immediately. My crocs are by the back door and my jacket on top of his crate. Shoes on, jacket on and out. Reassuringly he went straight to the area of the garden we have been using and started to wee. I took the opportunity to continue to make the association and repeated the phrase “be quick” AS he was weeing. Once finished I praised him and allowed him time to investigate.

05.03.16 exploring garden

To date we have had only one accident in the house and the moral of the story is when he is squeaking constantly, don’t ignore him and carry on reading Facebook, get up and let him out!! Having learned my lesson we have continued our success with toilet training. I give him the opportunity every time he wakes, after eating, after playing and around every 15 minutes from the time we arrived home. This has two benefits. Firstly it prevents unwanted habits like weeing in the house which in turn makes less cleaning and secondly it develops the correct habit and helps to familiarise him with the new environment and routines. The sooner he habituates to the new environment the sooner he will feel more relaxed.

As he gets older and I become more familiar with his habits, I can predict more accurately when he is likely to need to go and will have the advantage of being able to influence to some degree the process, by use of my classically conditioned “be quick”.

I generally like to take a week or two off work so that I can concentrate on getting things right from the start but I am back to work on Monday so have just three days to bond, habituate to the home, toilet train, habituate to my van and travel and teach isolation for around an hour. The ability to get a good nights sleep would be a welcome bonus.

To this end the crate training continues. In the crate, fuss, out the crate and repeat. If he falls asleep somewhere else I scoop him up and place him in the crate. I frequently return to smooth and provide reassurance. This is working well and he is frequently returning to the crate either to sleep or sometimes just to check in (safe haven from which exploration takes place much like the den in a wild animal).

05.03.16 sleeping in crate

He is given an opportunity to investigate the house and garden. At this stage EVERYTHING is new and cautious behaviour is inevitable. Don’t panic. This doesn’t mean your dog is weak or scared. It is perfectly normal, age and situation appropriate behaviour. I let him investigate at his own pace and he merely returns to me if he is unsure (safe attachment figure from where exploration takes place like the mother figure in a wild animal). Each time he ventures slightly further afield.

Now is also a good opportunity to work on recall. He generally follows me everywhere but when he does venture is aware of where I am. When he looks to check in I crouch down, clap and call “Vader come”. I am already adding the cue because I have done this enough to know that his response is pretty predictable. When he arrives I fuss him and then he ventures off. At the moment I don’t really worry about food or toys as a reward. He is responding to being called which at this age is a natural response. I’m not his mother and neither one of us thinks I am but I am his primary care giver and as such can take advantage of this inherent response to my advantage.

As his confidence increases and it is increasing by the hour, he will be less willing to return merely because I call. I will soon need to start thinking about food or when I have got his interest in one a ball or favourite tugger.

He is eating although not huge amounts and I am feeding either in the crate or in the van to make a good association. Remember the van is associated with the trauma of the journey home and so extra work is required to undo this bad association. We are making a trip to the van around every 2 hours and literally spending a few seconds in there or minutes if he is eating.

His first full day at home is about setting up routines, getting to know each other and habituating to the new environment. I have no guests over to see the new arrival. No parties, no day trips, no taking him down town to socialise, no DIY. Everything is about the puppy.  Every minute spent getting it right now will save months of training to rectify faults, ensures the dog recovers from the separation trauma as quickly as possible and prevents further damage when the time comes to leave for work on Monday. Future you will be thankful to the effort you put in now (that’s a Bill and Ted reference for you film spotters).

The first full day was busy but successful. He is actively going in the crate and out to the toilet area. He is bonding well and generally looks much more relaxed. During the morning he was actively investigating but occasionally whining. Even when sat with me he would whine. The afternoon was very different. He was noticeably less vocal, more playful and ventured further afield. Only one toilet training accident and lots of good experiences in both the crate and the van.

By the evening I was tired and got a little slack. Sat down watching a film with my wife I was aware that the pup was sleeping ALL evening. I just couldn’t motivate myself to play with him any more or to take him out other than for his regular wee trips. Whilst he clearly needed the sleep interrupting him occasionally would have set me up better for the night shift.

Sure enough bedtime came with whole new vigour for life and I ended up spending an extended period in the garden letting him explore (working at night is on the to do list so another tick in the box). I settled him into his crate and then listened to his vocalisation that seemed to say “I told you so”. A case of past me not looking after future me’s interests!

He did settle after a few minutes but woke at 0100 hrs wanting a wee. I again let him sleep on the sofa with me and we drifted into a peaceful sleep dreaming of catching baddies!


Impact time again

Posted in News, Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2016 by guy2932

It’s that time gain, so smash open your piggy banks and book your spaces now.

The bridge to bitework

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2015 by guy2932

For anyone training a dog to bite there are many considerations. From assessing the dogs’ suitability for the chosen role to the route you will take. What equipment you will need, what your rules of engagement will be, who you have available to help you, your time scale. They are all considerations that could warrant an article or even a book on their own but they are not what I am talking about today.

Jump forward to the dog being almost at the end of its training. The dog understands the bite command. You have worked on and have the perfect out (please share how you achieved that) and the dog will bite all the sleeves you have or need it to bite. The dog can also perform this in any location in any circumstances. For some sport applications your job may now be done. You can enjoy the fruits of your labour or torture yourself by entering competitions. ernie PSU edit

For those of you training for law enforcement, military applications or personal protection then there is one last hurdle. It is the hurdle that is sometimes so insurmountable that the dog doesn’t actually do it and that is a live bite (real bite – no sleeve). Whilst there can be other reasons such as environmental issues, confusion due to the novel situation or other differences from training to real life, there is also the very obvious lack of a sleeve. The thing the dog has been taught to bite!!

Whilst there are some dogs that are just so fast that they are likely to bite before they have even considered what they are biting or dogs so confident they never really cared about the sleeve anyway, the majority of dogs don’t appear to be in either of those groups.

My route to biting, starting with puppies usually goes along the lines of towels, small tuggers, bite pillows, soft sleeve, hard sleeve, bite jacket. Yes I am working on the dogs attitude and yes I make sure they are interested in the man not just the equipment but I also know that dogs are incredibly smart and they are under no illusion that the sleeve is part of the equation and so I try as best I can to help them over the gap between sleeves and their first real bite. This is what I call the bridge to bitework.

Others may have a different method, and if it works better than this then I will steal, no, borrow it. But this is how I attempt to bridge that gap. I don’t do this with weak biting dogs or use this as a method to improve motivation or to cause frustration. I am merely trying to overcome the equipment issue and let the dog know that it is ok to bite for real and to convince myself that the dog will and is street ready.

When the dog is motivated and capable of biting as I like and has a reliable, motivated out I am ready for these steps. I introduce the dog to what will be my covert sleeve. Not covered at this stage. An overt covert! The dog has to bite this sleeve as well as everything else because this is going to be his first step with no visual sleeve. If he doesn’t like or can’t bite this sleeve then that is going to transfer into the covert bite and work against our goal not make it more likely.

Once I am happy that he will bite this sleeve as well as the other sleeves we are ready for the first covert bite. I prefer to do this on a line so that I can control the angle of the dogs approach to stop him getting a visual on the sleeved arm. I find it is very difficult to fool dogs.  Whether it be a front attack or run off just have the dog approach from the unsleeved arm and leave it as late as you dare to change direction or turn so that the dog gets the sleeve (get it wrong and you could have your first real bite and skip the next step). Praise the dog and let him enjoy the bite. Make it a good experience (don’t get your helper to go super crazy or introduce weird events during this exercise). Assuming all goes well then I would try a few other scenarios just to make sure but that is it. Do it too much and the dog is sure to work out you are wearing a sleeve and the surprise is lost. It is also worth noting that I don’t use covert sleeves on helpers in search exercises for the same reason. You can proof the dog in the search in other ways.

belgian-malinoise-leather-dog-muzzle-basket-leather-muzzle (1)The next step towards the real bite is a muzzle bite. The dog will have been conditioned to wearing a muzzle a long time ago so prior planning is required. It is worth taking your time with this process because if the dog is uncomfortable wearing the muzzle it will detract from the job in hand. Make a good association by giving food for touching the muzzle and then for allowing it to be placed on the dogs muzzle. Let the dog eat a few bits of food from inside the muzzle before attempting to do the muzzle up. Put it on and immediately take it off and build up slowly. If the dog is scratching to get it off you have gone too fast. Take days rather than minutes. Next the dog must get used to wearing the muzzle for longer periods and then to do other exercises in muzzle. Go for a walk, do heel work, property search etc. DO NOT ONLY WEAR A MUZZLE FOR BITEWORK.

When the dog is happy wearing a muzzle to do other jobs AND has successfully made several covert bites you are ready for your first muzzle bite. YOU must make a choice here. The first bite should be set up in a way that is well within your dogs comfort zone not some new crazy scenario set up to test the dogs mettle (that can come later). This is about making sure the dog isn’t relying on there being a sleeve to make a bite. You can either have the dog make his first muzzle bite on a helper wearing a bite suit or on naked arms. You can make a good argument for doing it either way and I have done both with no noticeable difference. At this stage I am drawn to going naked as this is ultimately what I am working on and I feel that you have a very small window before the dog works out that he can’t actually bite in muzzle. Equally if the first bite is on a bite jacket which the dog is familiar with then if something goes wrong you haven’t tarnished your first sleeveless bite with some technical issue caused by the muzzle. It’s your call.

With all things being equal, if your dog is in the right frame of mind prior to being sent on his first muzzle bite, the scenario looks the same as it does in other training, the helper acts the same then when the dog is sent he should be intending to bite. When he hits the helper, the helper  can even act as if he has been bitten and you should be able to conclude between yourself and the helper whether that would have been a real bite. Again, this is an exercise that I prefer to do on a line so that after the dog hits the target I can restrain him rather than the dog have a chance to experiment and discover his inability to bite lies in the muzzle.leather-basket-dog-muzzle-basket-malinoies-training

I again would only do a few at most in differing scenarios just to make sure but not enough that you start to lose the surprise factor.

I then prefer to save the muzzle for scenarios that can be performed safely without equipment than go down the road to repeated muzzle bites, muzzle fighting  etc. With a mature dog that I know bites, the muzzle can be a great way of doing safe scenario training without having to rely on bite jackets and other clues that this is training not real life.

There are other ways of using the muzzle and it is about finding a way that works for you and your goals. Of course that leads on to a whole new article about which muzzle is best for the job!

Trip to Finland

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2015 by guy2932

If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.

I love sayings that are passed on from generation to generation because they contain wisdom that you can just acquire and use for your own benefit. The experiences, hard work and trial and error that went into gaining that wisdom is yours for the taking if only you are open to it.


This saying suggests trying new things may bring better results. Or you could be satisfied with the results you are getting in whatever it is you are doing. In that respect the saying should give you some sort of comfort. For me it is the former as I know that things rarely stay the same. What worked in the past may not work now due to changing culture, attitudes and even the climate of our planet. Nothing stays the same and so doing the same thing will eventually leave you outdated and lacking.

Self analysis and, if your ego can take it, external analysis can provide some useful insights into what is currently working and what is not. The latter provides information to which we are often blind and can be difficult to accept. But when the pursuit of excellence is your goal, analysis is vital. Just as important is what you then do about it.

I like to think of myself as a bit of an innovator. I was always creative as a child and I love to imagine different versions of everyday things and am constantly looking for better ways to do things. It is that desire that leads me to look to others for inspiration because I am not too stupid to realise or too proud to accept that in a population of 7.3 billion on our planet, minds far superior to mine have probably already found and implemented a solution to the problem I am looking to solve.

finland policeFinally to the point of the article. To that end I have just returned from a trip to the National Police dog training school in Finland. They kindly hosted me for 4 days during which I realised what I already knew. If you are professional, organised and have a plan then attaining a high standard is achievable.  Being a National school it is easier for them to achieve the pinnacle of any training department and that is singing from the same hymn sheet. Yes, everyone has a different voice and some people know the words better than others but that is human nature.  The point is I was left with an impression of a professional school that provided the training necessary for their dog handlers to perform their role in a way that would make most dog schools envious. In addition to that, dog handlers are held in the utmost regard throughout the Police force and are the go to unit when there is a serious situation.

Perhaps aspiring to that level of professionalism may see UK dog sections numbers stabilise rather than fall in these times of austerity where you really do need to earn your keep.

A massive thank you to the Chief of the school for allowing my visit and to Illka, Harri, Antti and Tortsi for their time, effort and friendship. My mind is buzzing so stand by for a flood of articles. If you would like to find out more about Police dogs in Finland then click HERE.


Positive Police Dogs now on twitter

Posted in News, Uncategorized with tags , , on July 15, 2015 by guy2932

At last I’ve joined the modern age. Follow us on twitter @Pospolicedogs

#Dont ditch the dogs

Posted in News with tags , , , , on December 20, 2013 by guy2932

In this age of budget cuts, Uk Police dog sections are feeling the pressure as many have their numbers cut as Police budgets take effect. Despite all the talk from Government that front line Police numbers wont be reduced that is exactly what is happening.

Dog sections are front line, first response, operational officers. They go to all the crimes in progress in an attempt to track or search for the suspects. They attend warrants to seek out illegal substances and weapons that help to keep society safe. They assist in securing areas of risk to prevent acts of terrorism with their explosive detection dogs.

So why are they being cut?……MONEY.

It’s the bottom line. Dogs cost money to buy, train and feed. Vets bills can be expensive so for a manager (or more worryingly an accountant), cutting dog numbers can look like a quick financial fix. Those in the nose, know better.

The very reason dogs are used is because they provide an efficiency to policing which the accountants have missed. At burglary incidents the building needs to be searched for suspects. Studies have shown the dog can search quicker and more efficiently than officers. Therefore there is a saving because the dog team will do what it would have taken several officers longer to do to a lesser degree of success. You can read more about one of the many studies here.

At public disorder dogs can quell, disperse and otherwise deal with situations that would have taken considerably more officers. Not only an efficiency in staff hours but a safety issue by exposing fewer officers to the disorder. In Bristol (Uk) in the 2011 riots, just 4 dogs were able to halt a mob of 100+ who were intent on destroying Cabot Circus, a new shopping centre which may have suffered the same fate as those in other cities had it not been for the dogs. This has not saved them from a 33% cut to handler numbers.

Finding vulnerable missing persons is a task that you cannot attempt to put a price tag on and this task is a mainstay for dog teams. I could not begin to count the number of such people who have been located by dog teams in my career. If finding just one of them saved a life then that makes the dog teams too valuable to lose in my book.

The Police are often accused of being out of touch with the community and the dogs are a fascination to many that allow them to become a good ‘in’ at talks, shows, demonstrations, school visits and whilst out on patrol. There are so many benefits it is hard to mention them all but to any police managers or accountants reading this, please note that the primary use of a dog team is the saving in officer numbers that they provide in many situations. Cutting them to save money is a contradiction in terms.

You can lend your support on facebook or twitter.


What is dominance in dogs?

Posted in Training Theory with tags , , , , , , on August 14, 2013 by guy2932

The debate has never been more lively. How do you deal with a dominant dog? How do you prevent dominance? Should I use physical punishment to deal with and prevent dominance?


People are entitled to their own view I agree. But, when their view causes other beings unnecessary suffering as a result of actioning their beliefs then I believe other members of society have a moral obligation to take action. Part of the action I have chosen to take is to try and help people make sense of all the scientific data available. They are then in a better position to make an informed choice. Some will still choose a given course of action despite evidence to the contrary but most people appear to be trying to do the right thing by their dogs.

There are many fields of science and all are relevant but for this article I will concentrate on the ethological viewpoint in an attempt to explain what dominance is and how best to deal with it. This looks at all aspects of an animal from its biological make up, to its environment and the way these elements impact on the individuals behaviour. The tendency is to look at things within the bigger picture rather than in isolation.IMG_1279

Here is my take on it all in a nutshell.

All life is part of one big family tree.

The single goal for any life form is survival in order to reproduce.

Through evolutionary change, life forms have found many strategies for life.

Evolution has seen life forms increase in complexity from single cell replicators to the most complex life form of all:- man.

Aggression is a drive aimed at eliminating competition.

Competition is anything that poses a threat to the individuals ability to stay alive and reproduce.

Some life forms have found sociability to be a useful strategy.

In order to become social, species need to develop mechanisms for overcoming aggression.

These strategies include ritualised behaviours.

Sociability ranges from herding and flocking to highly complex co-operative structures.

Social animals are born with a genetic potential for sociability.

To become social they must be socialized during a critical period at the beginning of their life.

Missing this socialization period serious reduces the individuals capacity for sociability.

Many complex social structures rely on dominance hierarchies for social stability.

Wolves live in such a structure.

Dominance is social aggression. The aim is to win an encounter rather than eliminate the competitor by use of ‘actual’ aggression..

Submission is social fear. The aim is to signal acceptance of defeat in the encounter rather than motivate flight or fight as with ‘actual’ fear.

Dominance and submission are behavioural traits not character traits.

In a group structure the individual who wins more encounters may be described as the ‘dominant’ male. Individuals who lose more encounters may be described as submissive.

It is important to recognize that dominance/submission are behaviours not character traits. As such any given individual placed in a different setting may display different behaviour.

Wolves live primarily in family groups. The dominant animals are often the breeding pair. They are normally the parents of the other wolves and as such have adopted this role through necessity. Leadership is an important component of the ‘dominant’ role. Young dogs submit to their parents and conflict is avoided through ritualisation etc.

Forming territories is one way of avoiding conflict with other wolves (competition).

Fighting is dangerous as it poses a threat to the individuals and therefore avoiding fighting is an effective evolutionary strategy.

As young wolves grow up, conflicts may become more common as they push to get their own needs met. This conflict may lead to the potential for actual aggression which in turn leads to the individual leaving the pack. This submissive young wolf will then  potentially form a pack of his own where he will become the dominant male.

Wolves outside the family unit are met with ‘actual’ aggression not dominance. They pose a threat to the pack through direct competition for food, mates etc. The motivation for aggression is to eliminate the competition.

Dominance in wolves is not gained through conflict. It’s purpose is to avoid conflict and provide a stable strategy for life.

Most studies show domestic dogs do not form packs as wolves do.

Dominance in dogs is the same as it is in wolves. It is a way of dealing with conflict within a social context.

Dealing with dominant behaviour with punitive methods is as likely to escalate the situation as solve it.

If a dog could be described as dominant within its household then there is a serious issue with leadership which is a fundamental component of the dominant role.

The implementation of household rules will go a long way to resolving many of the issues.

Individual learned behaviours such as food guarding can be best dealt with by counter conditioning.

Through selective breeding by man, dog behaviour has been drastically altered from the blue print of the wolf. Dogs have the genetic potential to be social with people and dogs well beyond the family unit. As a result, dominant and submissive behaviours may be seen between dogs that are strangers. Actual aggression may also be seen in dogs that are not sufficiently socialised and between individuals when neither yields.IMG_2999

The main problem facing dog owners is that they have been fed misinformation for decades. Studies of unrelated captive wolves showed a strict linear dominace hierarchy whereby the biggest, strongest wolves won encounters by aggression and asserting themselves with aggressive displays. It was wrongly interpreted that this is how wolves maintain the top position. Therefore this is how owners must treat their dogs. The assumption is that dogs are always pushing to become dominant and showing them who’s boss with your own aggressive displays is how you keep them in check.

It couldn’t be further from the truth. Dogs. like wolves are programmed to to avoid conflict. They are highly social and if you lead they will follow. Many of the techniques often recomended to reduce and deal with dominant dogs such as alpha rolling, scruffing etc are confrontational and potentially damaging to your relationship with your dog. For those of us working with dogs that are trained to bite and defend themselves, these techniques are especially dangerous and I know of numerous handlers and dogs who have been casualties of this misguided approach to dog training.

If you would like to read more on this subject then I would recomend “on Aggression” by Konrad Lorenz and “The evolution of canine social behaviour” by Roger Abrantes.