For many of us who work with dogs on a daily basis, we realize the importance of maintaining a good relationship with our dog. The chemistry that exists between the working dog and handler is vital to the success of the team. This is painfully evident when I see K-9 teams perform bite work or scent work, and they do not appear to be on the same page. Quite often, the dog is doing their own thing for their own satisfaction, but the obedience is lacking significantly. For instance, a handler reluctant to work their dog off-lead for fear of running away, or a dog that refuses to listen and causes a very embarrassing situation when commands are given with no compliance. We see handlers getting angry and frustrated and their dogs just as out of control as they are. In detection, we see handlers hesitant to work off-lead because they have no faith in their obedience. We also see some dogs out of control in patrol or detection work due to a lack of leadership on the part of the handler. The same can be said for tracking or just about any other facet of police dog work. The flip side to a lack of control is too much control gained through too much compulsion. We’ve all seen the dog that is afraid to alert on odor or appears to be apprehensive when working obedience. I learned from working watching dogs in Schutzhund, that more motivation with a ball or treats paid huge dividends. Something I rarely did before. I’m still a believer in compulsion, but motivational training must be done to create a confident, well rounded team. I also learned from Donn Yarnall that we must always lead the dog to believe there is another task directly ahead. For instance, when we recall our dogs from a bite, we may redirect them on a building search or another bite. This keeps the dog motivated to come back to the handler and work more reliably. The same is done with detection dogs.
Quite often, the lack of chemistry is a direct result of poor training or poor leadership. The one thing we must always remember is that balance as we relate to our dog is essential for success. One of the golden rules to obedience is to always maintain a mutual respect. I hope we all became interested in working dogs because we share a love for dogs in general. Too often I hear of dogs being trained with inhumane methods. I feel strongly that striking a dog with anything is inhumane unless needed for self defense. Throwing objects, kicking, slapping, and inappropriately using whatever type of collar, are methods used only by those individuals who have been trained improperly and do not really care about dogs. I’d venture to say they probably treat their wife and kids the same way. They probably took the job for a take home car and some of the perks that come with working a police dog. Unfortunately, some of these people go on to become police dog trainers and continue teaching others their methods.
There are basically three types of trainers:
1.) The first type of trainer does everything out of motivation and relies heavily on treats and toys. The problem with this type of training is that it is not reliable.
2.) The second type of trainer relies too much on compulsion and is quite often overly heavy handed and misuses training tools. It is this type of trainer that uses more firmness than is necessary and gives very legitimate training tools a bad name. You quite often see anything less than a very high drive dog, cringing and looking very battered and scared.
3.) The third type of trainer has an open mind and weighs each training problem accordingly. This type of trainer will balance out a proper mix of motivation and compulsion. They will adapt to the problem or behavior issue and formulate a plan that will produce results. The dog’s spirit is always of paramount importance and only the minimal amount of firmness is needed to achieve the goal. Choke chains, pinch collars, and electronic collars may be needed, but used only to the degree to produce positive results. There are times that a dog’s energy level and drives are severe enough to warrant the use of various collars. A correction should never be perceived by the dog as punishment, but more as a guiding maneuver to help the dog in their compliance and become better listeners. I’d hope most trainers fall into this category.
Balance is important to remember when working obedience or just about anything else we do with our dogs. When we give a command the dog must be compliant and perform the exercise to perfection. Knowing how much praise or how firm to be can be difficult at times. With good, consistent training, and always maintaining a mutual respect, any good handler and good dog will become a great team.