The reason I am starting this on-line training club is to share with you what thirty plus years of wearing the sleeve and working dogs has taught me about what it takes to make a protection dog. Some people would say, “what does a Schutzhund trainer know about real protection dogs?”
In this case, a lot.
I’m old school. I come from a time when it was all about a protection dog first and the sport second. I liked that time.
When I first started working dogs, nobody wanted a dog that was labeled “sleeve happy”. A term that is now long gone. We trained dogs back then without giving them the sleeve as a reward. On the rare occasion that a dog got the sleeve, he was expected to instantly drop it and go back after the man.
Training sure has changed since then and like everyone else from that time, I’ve changed with it. But the things that I’ve learned from that time still serve me well today. Although I consider myself a Schutzhund helper, I often train personal protection dogs for wealthy clients who depend on the dogs for security. Over the years, I have trained several working police dogs, some which have achieved Nation Champion titles. I also have a vast experience with different breeds. I’ve trained everything from Jack Russels to Cane Corsos and everything in between.
Over the years, I have come up with a very simple way of developing all the fundamental skills that a dog needs to become a well balanced protection dog. This is the foundation for every dog that I train. A dog with this balanced foundation is suitable for any kind of K-9 work. Be it Schutzhund, Police or any of the suit sports, a dog trained this way will have the skills needed to do well. So no matter what kind of dog you are training or what you’re training it for, this method will work! I’m going to teach you how you can make a strong, confident, well balanced dog by following ten easy steps. These steps are not new, I’ve been using them in one way or another for over thirty years. Lately, the young helpers that I’ve had the chance to train with seem to lack the basic fundamental value of these ten steps.
When I first learned to do helper work and started training my own club dogs, we didn’t have the high powered dogs of today. It was rare to find a German Shepherd Dog that had natural ball drive, most of the dogs of that time had little in the way of prey drive. They were old school dogs that responded more to threat. They were aloof and not as friendly as the dogs of today. A good dog of that time probably got to be good in a totally different way than a good dog of today. The training of that time was hard. It was crude, harsh and tough on the dog. You had to be a true working dog fan. Today we judge dogs by confidence and drive, in those days it was courage and hardness. The dogs had to have courage to stand up to the training and stimulation that was put in front of them, most of which was threatening. They had to have hardness to forget the bad part of the training that made them bite and enjoy the win that the bite gave them. The training of that time was meant to find the toughest, hardest biting dogs and make them better. It was meant for the best and unconcerned about the rest. It was meant to show the difference between the really good dog and the average dog. Because of this, as a young helper I learned that some dogs were not afraid and could not be made afraid no matter what. These are truly the great dogs. Maybe they were not afraid because they were fearless, or their nerves were so good, or maybe they were just stupid. But either way they had to be admired. Every helper has a story about a dog like this. These are the dogs everyone talks about. These are the kind of dogs we would all like our training to make. A strong confident dog that flies into any situation without fear or hesitation. But how do these dogs get this way? Are they born like this? Is it genetics? Or is it training? It is both, I think.
A well bred dog with super genetics is a great place to start. It usually makes training easier if the dog is predispositioned to do what we want. He has a much greater chance of understanding the training. But, if the training is made easy enough to understand, even a dog with little natural ability can learn to do it and do it at a high level. That being said, I pride myself as a knowledgeable training helper. I also can’t help but admire a dog who has fear yet comes fast and hard anyway because of the training that he has learned. This type of dog is made through super understanding of old school training. The more unsure he gets, the more sure he is that he wants to bite you. Would I want a puppy out of a dog like this? Probably not, but I would like to train my dog on the helper who trained him. It takes a helper with a high skill level to train a dog like the one I have just described. You must have a clear understanding of how the dog thinks and how he uses that thinking to solve problems in order to be able to train an unsure dog to go forward with sureness. Everyone who trains dogs has heard the saying “perfect training makes perfect,” but with a naturally unsure or problem dog, perfect isn’t available, better is. What I mean is that in my opinion what makes a helper great is his ability to train the average or problem dog. Every good helper I know got to be that way by working a lot of dogs, most of which were very average or had problems.
So, if being a good helper is your goal, it is important to be able to work the average or problem dogs and make them better. When you have the ability to make the average dog better, it is no problem to get the training repetitions you need to develop the skills you want. Everyone is looking for a helper who can make their dog better.
My reason for writing this is to give you the information you need to be able to make any dog better. This method goes far beyond the basic prey-defense thinking. Both prey and defense are instincts that can be developed into drives. When these developed drives are properly balanced within a dog, they create fighting drive – a dog who likes to fight. Sounds simple? It’s not! Making a dog who likes to fight is one thing, teaching him to fight the way we want is another. For example, in the sport of Schutzhund we want our dogs to start the fight by barking with power at the helper while staying clean. When the helper moves we want the dog to bite full, fast and hard then steadily maintain that bite until we tell them to let go.
In the young dogs that I train, I teach all of the above things in the beginning by controlling the dogs behavior as the helper. I don’t mean that I control him like his handler would. As a helper, I never give the dog commands. I don’t want him to listen to or obey things that I say. I don’t want to be his friend or playmate. I don’t want him to trust me in any way. I want him to respect me as an opponent like one fighter would respect another. I want to have a fight with him and teach him how to beat me. I don’t want to let him win. I want to teach him how to win. I teach him by controlling the choices that he makes. I do that by the outcome that I create for each choice that he makes. In other words, if I make a positive outcome for a certain action that he chooses to do, he will see it as a success or a win and he will do it again and again as long as the outcome stays positive. On the other hand, if he makes a choice that results in a negative outcome he will see it as a failure or a loss and he will most likely make a different choice next time. Again, I have the ability as the helper to make his new choice right or wrong – positive or negative. I continue this until all of the choices that he makes are in a positive outcome cycle being repeated over and over. This is how I like to control a dog as the helper. When I control the dogs actions I control the training. It’s important that I am in a position as the helper to make things happen the way I want them to. When a helper asks me “why does he do that”, my answer is always the same. Because you are letting him! Once you start thinking “what is he thinking that I’m thinking that he’s thinking” you are on the path to insanity. This path will lead you from trainer to trainer, method to method looking for the newest way to solve your dog’s problems. The end result will be a dog with less understanding and more problems than you started with. Any time you can’t make happen what you would like to make happen as a helper and you change methods because of this, I believe that you don’t truly understand how a dog thinks.
In order for a dog to become totally active and make all the right choices that we want him to make, he must understand that the end result of those choices will be positive, thus good for him! Because a dog will not freely choose to do what we would want if the end result is negative or bad for him. Here’s a tip: the phrase “he needs more prey” is code for “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with him”. The phrase “he has weak nerves” is code for “I don’t have the skills”. All dogs learn the same by comparing one thing to another, this to that and choosing the one that best fits their needs at the time. If we apply this thinking to a dog who indeed has weak nerves we would want to create a situation of pressure and release where we would push on him for say choosing to avoid by looking away and retreat when he looked at us with both eyes. By repeating this a few times we would teach him that merely focusing his full attention on someone causing him stress is enough to make them go away. For him a positive outcome, a win. A win for us too in that we have made him better. We have his attention and if we are lucky, made him a little bit curious about what is going on here. Then, use that curiosity and attention to draw him into choosing the actions that we want by making the right and wrong choices available and always making a positive outcome for a right choice and a negative outcome for a wrong choice. Once you understand that your actions as a helper affect the choices that the dog makes then all you have to do is understand what your goal for any given training session is. Then set out to make it happen by stimulating a behavior and making it a success if you like it and a failure if you don’t.
Most helpers I watch training dogs today have no trouble giving the dog a win whether he deserves it or not. But they do seem to have trouble handing them a loss. Most helpers who have this problem believe that a loss or failure would hurt the dogs confidence and self esteem. They think that confidence is something you can give a dog through meaningless wins. Like the parents who have their kids jump rope without a rope because they can’t jump it without getting tangled and that makes them feel bad. Remove the rope they don’t know that they can’t jump it and they feel fine. I don’t get it, they still can’t jump the rope. In reality, these failures or losses are helpful to the dog’s confidence by giving him the comparisons he needs to develop the skills we want him to have. Because true confidence comes from having the skill and ability to handle any situation he is put into. Even though he’s going to be having both positive and negative engagements inside any given training session. The overall outcome or end result of that session should be positive. Positive being a better performance due to him choosing to make stronger actions. Don’t get me wrong, losing or failing just for the sake of losing or failing will help nothing. These failures must be caused by a choice that he makes that does not produce the action we want. Any choice he makes that produces an action we want must result in a win or a success. By understanding this thinking about how a dog learns and never expecting him to do something that he hasn’t yet learned how to do, but always expecting him to do what he knows how to, you can take the method I‘m going to teach you and make any dog better.
I talked earlier about the training of the old days and how it was rough and crude. We didn’t think it was at the time. We were doing the best we could with the knowledge that we had. Most of what we learned came from German judges, most of whom were older and not themselves helpers. But they were able to tell us how their club helpers did things. The rest we learned by the hit and miss method or trial and error. Most dogs of that time did not make it to a title. But every now and then even a blind squirrel finds a nut and in that way we found dogs that could handle our training and earn the titles that we were training them for. That was a long time ago, over thirty years. Things sure have changed since then, mostly due to the internet. World wide information is shared like never before so now instead of not having knowledge we are overwhelmed with it. The problem these days for a new person is sorting through all of the conflicting opinions that are out there and finding what they need to know to make the dogs they train better. My hope is that by joining our on-line club, you will find what you need to know to move forward with a clear understanding of how the dog learns the things you want to teach him.
Dogs today are much better natural working dogs than the dogs of the past. This too is due in great part to the internet improving our access to good dogs from all over the world for breeding and performance training. Dog handlers have improved as well turning in awesome bite work performances all over the country. Training too is at an all time high level. Our national level trainers, training helpers and dogs have never been better, and our national trials have never been more competitive. Because of this, most top level trainers spend most of their time making already good dogs even better. That is what they do at the top – MAKE DOGS BETTER. So whether you’re on your way to the top or just have the goal of being a club training helper, you must learn the skill of making a dog better. I’m going to teach you this skill by combining an old school mindset with cutting edge thinking about what it takes to make any dog reach his potential. whether you want to train sport dogs, street dogs, or police dogs. Whether you want a sleeve or suit monster or a dog totally on the man, this method will produce the desired result.