Decoy & Patrol Training in Australia 2012

By Jerry Bradshaw, Tarheel Canine Training, Inc.

In June and July of 2012 I had the pleasure to travel to Australia for 12 days to do two decoy and patrol seminars. One seminar was for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the other for Queensland Corrections (QC). Both of these seminars were organized and facilitated by my host Jamie Davies from Elite K9 Australia (www.elitek9.com.au) who is a private K9 trainer, decoy, and K-9 consultant operating out of Queensland, Australia.  When I was first contacted by Jamie months earlier, I was excited at the prospect to share what I know with them, but I also was excited to see how they operated, and thought about training patrol dogs. The experience benefited me more than I can say.

I try to bring a simple, efficient, and technically integrated system of training to the seminars, that is easy to replicate once I leave, and gives the participants a road map that will allow them to address any deficiencies in the dogs’ foundation work, as well as provide a training progression to skills that are essential to all police dogs.

Developing a protection dog, regardless of the discipline, comes in two stages.  First, the foundation must be laid in which we develop the basic drives that impel the dog to bite, and the interaction among these drives. Further, in the foundation work, we must introduce the dog to the various kinds of equipment we will use to maintain his training, including sleeves, bite suits, and muzzles.  The dog must learn how to properly target an attacker with courage, intensity, and decisiveness. Thus, foundation training includes teaching the targeting of the vital grip areas. How we use both civil agitation as well as equipment to teach the dog to be man-oriented is also a significant issue that must be explained.  This is critical for police dogs and personal protection dogs. Further, we need to develop the dog’s reactions to all manner of distractions during bite work that may frighten him off the grip and render him, at best, ineffective in a street situation, or, at worst, a liability to the handler deploying his dog.

Second, the dog’s skills must be developed. These skills begin with the out on command, guarding, hold and bark (if desired), redirects & out and returns, and the call off.  Further skills, such as area searching, tactical building searches, felony vehicle stops, and passive bites, were also discussed and demonstrated. In my experience, many handlers and some trainers, have a good grasp of deployment but struggle with understanding the process of training a dog from start to finish because they don’t have a theoretical construct to follow. In my seminars I provide that theoretical construct, which gives the handlers and trainers a road map to follow. Mid you, there are many routes one could follow, and this is but one. But it works, makes sense, and had been followed many times to develop and create strong, controllable, patrol K9s.

In a 3 day seminar it is hard to treat all these areas, so in these seminars we looked at all the dogs in the class initially to determine strengths and weaknesses, looked at the decoy work to as well evaluate the knowledge base, and then addressed the seminar topics to the dogs we were working during the practical work.  The lecture covers all these key areas. These seminars were both decoy technique related (for the handlers), as well as problem solving related (for the dogs).  Decoys must understand how to solve these problems. Being a good decoy is not just about “catching” dogs safely, it is more about understanding the training progression from foundation development to training skills. A decoy must know how to bring out the behaviors in the dog, because in patrol training, for the most part, and especially in the foundation work, it is the decoy, and not the handler who is the mechanism for conditioning the behaviors. The decoy is the reward system, determining the timing of the bite rewards, or if the rewards should be withheld from the dog. The grip itself is the positive reinforcement.  Many places I go, and Australia is no different, the decoys are not sufficiently educated in training theory from the decoy perspective, and how every movement the decoy makes, how every training drill is set up, teaches the dog either something we want the dog to learn, or teaches a habit that may be counterproductive to effective street deployment.

The Australian Federal Police Seminar

This first seminar was a smaller seminar for only the AFP K9s, and took place in Canberra, Australia. After arriving in Brisbane after that arduous flight from the east coast of the US, about 6 hours to LA from Raleigh and then 14 hours to Brisbane, the next day Jamie and I hopped aboard another plane to Canberra, to meet the handlers and trainers from AFP. Canberra is in the south of Australia, and Australia is in the southern hemisphere, so while America was in the midst of a hot summer, Australia was in winter, and though Brisbane in Queensland has a very mild climate, Canberra was very cold and windy! As we approached the AFP facility, there were kangaroos and wallabies grazing and lazing in the brown grassy fields surrounding the training facility.

The AFP facility is well designed and houses both the federal program for the patrol dogs, with which I was training, as well as the detector dog program. The AFP have a breeding program for Labradors for detection, and I was afforded a nice tour of the facility which is well set up for various scenarios encountered by their detector dogs, from narcotics to explosives to agriculture program detector dogs. Because this was a shortened seminar, only 2 days, we got down to business very quickly. I met the training coordinator for the AFP dogs, Darran Evans-Greenall .  It was nice to see that the trainers and assistant trainers from the detection side of the house came in to sit in on both the lecture and the practical training for the seminar. Darran and his team were very open to what I was sharing, and he saw to excellent hospitality for both Jamie and I.

As we conducted the evaluations of the dogs on the first day, after the introductory lecture, a few training concepts were going to be highlighted this first day: Alerts, drive channeling, and targeting.

The Alert

The alert for a police service dog is one of the most important foundation exercises, and often is one of the most neglected exercises. Typically in training sessions, the dog is brought out to the training area, with the decoy in full view, and the decoy initiates action to which the dog responds with aggression. This process, however, is the exact opposite of what we actually want to do. Many K9s have trouble with threat identification, especially on passive decoys, in deployments, rather paying attention to the K9 officer’s back-up because they are moving in the dog’s field of view. This is because in the alert phase and beyond, what get the reward in training is looking for the moving bad guy. Agitation creates a response from the dog of aggression and an expectation of a grip. Some of the AFP dogs had excellent alerts on passive decoys, and some needed to re-orient to passive decoys, and learn that they create the grip opportunity by aggressing on command on the passive decoy (who can be standing, sitting, prone, with or without equipment).

When the dog initiates the aggression on the passive decoy the decoy reacts to reward this aggression. This reaction can be subtle or pronounced, depending on the stage of training. As long as the dog learns to initiate the aggression on the target subject, and back-up officers at some point are  included in the training scenarios, the dog will learn to ignore the most obvious (moving back-up) in favor of the passive potential threat or even easier the active potential threat. Just like in detection training the dog must learn to ignore obvious distractors to which he would normally be attracted like kongs or balls or food in the search area, we must teach the dog to ignore back-up moving with the K9 in favor of the target we want him to seek. Aggression initiated by the dog is what brings the bite reward. This can be taught with young green dogs in the first stages of training.

Drive Channeling: Avoiding Drive Conflict

Many police dogs have not been sufficiently introduced to drive channeling. This is a big topic in my decoy seminars because it is critical for successful foundation training as well as important for the skills that follow. The ability to avoid drive conflict is based on teaching the dog to switch drives (prey to defense or defense to prey) clearly and comfortably as dictated by the changing dynamics of the fight with the helper. This process of changing drives is called channeling.  The drives of defense and prey are the building block drives of protection. Defense drive here is used in a broad context to include: defense of social position (dominance aggression), self-defense, defense of prey (object or resource guarding), pack related defense, and other classical defensive behaviors.  Channeling between defense and prey, multiple times, is what we require for a stable and confident dog that can be taught the proper intensity and control. By its very nature, channeling requires we do defense training, and thus we have to worry about the possibility of pushing the dog into avoidance. Prey drive is the drive in which the dog feel s clear, confident and in control. Prey drive itself is the innate desire to chase catch and kill things. In the dynamics of a confrontation with a man, the dog must be able to react and respond confidently to threat, which triggers defense, and movement, which triggers the prey response.  Stress rises in defense and stress clears out when the dog is in prey. We use prey to reward the dog for enduring the fight during defensive confrontations. We also use prey drive to set the dog in a confident mood, before challenging the dog with threat.

The decoy is in control of initiating either threat to trigger defense or movement in prey, to bring the dog back from the stress of a defensive confrontation. In humans this is referred to stress inoculation, allowing a human to process the stress of combat so as to operate under large amounts of stress. Dogs must learn to operate in situational disadvantage as well, and training drive channeling is the way to accomplish this. In my book, Controlled Aggression, I take about 4 chapters of the foundation section of the book to clearly articulate prey work, defense work, and drive channeling. In the AFP seminar I showed the decoys how to work the dog with drive channeling in mind, with the basic drill I will explain more below. There is a video link in this article to the Basic decoy drill.

Many police K9 decoys simply get the dog on the bite (whether a sleeve, suit or hidden sleeve) and simply move the sleeve around, standing still, without regard to what drive the dog is in, much less moving the dog from one drive to another. By teaching the decoys about how to pressure the dogs, and then how and when to relieve that pressure by going into prey, they were able to understand what to do with the dog once on the grip, and how important that part of the training actually is. This is a critical part of police K9 decoy work that is often not taught. The ability of the dog to deal with stress will affect the training of the release and recall later, both skills with which many police dogs struggle.

Targeting

Last issue in this magazine I wrote an article entitled Targeting the Bite Suit for Police Service Dogs, K9 Cop Magazine,  Targeting for a number of reasons is a critical foundation for the police dog to learn, and for an in depth treatment of it, I direct you there. As many of the dogs had not done a lot of front bicep targeting, we concentrated on showing the AFP decoys how to do properly teach the dogs front side targeting, starting with the Belgian arm turned inside out, and progressing to the bite suit.  We choose the back tie, so as to limit the dog’s options in where to allow the grip. They were shown that, although it is a bit uncomfortable to have the dog on the inside in the front, it was a critical part of making the dog as confident as possible. By using the back tie, and showing the decoys that this process was a matter only of allowing the dog to bite within a 12” zone on the bicep, moving slowly in, and being very precise, the decoys learned to get the dogs comfortable in this particular target area.

We also briefly discussed how dogs can also be targeted to the legs, and that teaching a police dog to bite in the legs, so that he has multiple target areas, not just the forearm, makes the dog more decisive on his entries to the grip, and allows him to feel comfortable gripping somewhere other than just in the arm. Many younger dogs can be put in the legs on a leg sleeve, and by having all four feet on the ground; they immediately feel in better control rather than being up on the arm with their forelegs hanging.

Day two of the seminar, we continued to perfect the decoy’s starting the training sessions passively, and reacting to the dog’s aggression, how to channel the dogs once on the grip, and how to do targeting both in the bicep and in the legs.  We took our practical training to a building with slick floors to work on the redirect and the recall, demonstrating a motivational technique for introducing the dog to what is normally a very compulsive exercise. I will expand on these exercises as I describe the second seminar with Queensland Corrections.

As my time in Canberra came to a close I believed I was able to give a consistent perspective on how to progress the dogs, and enhance their training program. I really believed that the decoys now better understood their role in developing these dogs, and how much the dogs depended on them studying and really understanding drives, drive interaction, the training goals and training progressions for the patrol work, and how enhancing their skills would produce better results on the street.

Queensland Corrections

Flying back to the mild temperatures of Queensland was welcome relief from the cold and windy conditions in the south of Australia. A well-earned day to rest in between and we immediately went to the QLD Corrections Dog Squad training facility. Correction officers from all around Australia came to be a part of the seminar, and we had a lot of dogs, a lot of decoys to train, and a different deployment environment.  A meeting with the director of the program Alan Swann, State Coordinator of Queensland Corrective Services Dog Squad and Mark Muhaarem the Assistant State Dog Squad Coordinator started off the morning, and we proceeded to the classroom to start the 3 day seminar. As with the AFP dogs, after an intro lecture, we did an evaluation on the dogs, to see how the handlers and dogs were communicating, and see how the dogs were working. It immediately became apparent that these dogs and decoys also needed to work on some of the elements of foundation training of alerting on passive subjects,  drive channeling, pushing, and targeting. Many of the dogs were being trained to engage very quickly and out very quickly.

The Out

They explained to me that because in Australia biting dogs were, unlike in the US, considered by their courts to be deadly force, they needed to get the dogs on the grip quickly but have them out quickly. I explained to them that just because they needed a quick out in a deployment doesn’t mean that the dogs should be “outed” quickly in training. The police dog is an animal with inherent hard wiring to react aggressively to threat and to make prey. The dog must be fulfilled in his desire to express these drives. If the dog is not allowed to fulfill these imperatives, conflict is created.

As an example with a human twist, suppose you were very hungry after a long busy day, and came home to a meal your significant other had cooked for you, and they presented you with your favorite foods, in plentiful portions. Just as you dove in to eat it, the food was pulled away from you! “Dinner time is over!” How do you think that would make you react the next time you were really hungry and offered a plate of food? You would probably fight against losing it, would you not, expecting it to be taken away from you just after it was offered.

When a high drive K9 is allowed to stop a threat or engage his prey on a sleeve, hidden sleeve, or bite suit, and it is taken away almost immediately after it is offered, the dog will fight the release. The dog wants to neutralize the threat and come down off the stress of the confrontation by unloading the aggression through biting, as the dog biting in prey wants to grip and possess the prey. Removing the bite too quickly will turn a dog with no out issues into a dog that fights against the release. The path to a quick out, is to allow the dog in training to engage the grip, go through the process of channeling, and then be asked to out, allowing the dog to re-grip as a reward for the release. Forcing a release and taking the grip away from the dog completely, builds the desire for the dog to try to fight the release process, and makes the dog more possessive. By trying to accomplish the goal of quick outs, some dogs can be inadvertently trained to out even slower. Understanding this concept of drive channeling and how it relates to the release, allowed the dogs to fulfill their desire to engage the grip, but further to become comfortable with giving up the grip, knowing they were going to get it back after simply waiting a period of time.

Basic Decoy Drill

Over the years I developed a basic decoy drill that works on a number of foundation elements and the out skill together. It can be introduced without the out, but when the dog knows the out, it can be incorporated.  First we teach the decoys how to properly pressure a dog on the grip, by instructing them in a technique called a “drive” where the decoy turns his hips into the dog, points his elbow high where he wants to go, and either skips quickly without crossing the feet, or runs in the direction of his elbow point. The stick is taken over the head, and this drive can be applied with two variables in mind: Intensity and duration. Intensity involves the speed of the drive, stick pressure or stick hits being applied, verbal pressure in the drive, and the duration is simply how long this goes on for. Each dog is unique in their training progression.  For a complete discussion see my book Controlled Aggression.

The drill is organized as follows. A dog is brought to the training area, you can start on a short 10’ leash on a flat collar. Start behind cover, like an engine block, with the decoy at a distance away, facing the dog, either sitting, standing or prone, depending on how well the alert training has been going. The handler commands the dog to alert, as the dog barks at the decoy, the decoy responds, by slowly advancing on the dog defensively, and after a good series of barks, the decoy turns and jogs away from the dog (prey). The dog is sent to apprehend. The decoy provides a target for the dog to grip the sleeve (hidden or otherwise), or a target in the triceps of the bite suit, and catches the dog as the dog powers through. Taking the sleeve side leg forward as the dog hits and pushes  through the sleeve presentation to keep balance, and the dog is set down to be allowed to adjust into the grip (countering). When the dog adjusts in, the dog is carried on the hip in prey for a bit, with the helper walking in the direction away from the dog,  and then the decoy turns his hips into the dog, and applies the appropriate pressure with the “drive,” reverting back to prey at the conclusion of the drive. The dog is allowed to be carried on the hip or the decoy puts the sleeve across his chest and walks backwards, encouraging the dog to push into the grip and bring the fight forward. We want the dog to bring the fight to the decoy rather than sit down and pull in the grip. Many dogs need to be taught to fight forward.

If the dog sits down and pulls, many dogs will, when faced with environmental pressure, like slick floors or door thresholds, their momentum is going to bring them off the sleeve. They are already pulling away from the confrontation. The dog that pushes to win the grip, will push through these difficulties to win. You can see a literal sea change in confidence when a dog is taught to push into the decoy to fight. The decoy is to be dominated and possessed. The dogs are allowed to wrap the decoys up with their feet and confidently climb up them.

If the out is going to be worked, the decoy will then set the dog down on all 4 feet, sleeve across his front. The dog should already be wearing a training collar and short leash, maybe 2’ long for either a 3rd party (trainer) or the decoy himself to apply the correction into the grip. Once the dog outs and sits in a guard, the decoy can reward the release with another grip, and start the drive channeling process over again leading to another out.

There are a million ways to make this drill more realistic. Decoy can be prone, prone under a vehicle and partially concealed, the decoy can go to the ground during the fight after the drive, and allow the dog to dominate him. The out can be done with the decoy prone, sleeve arm out to the side while he is on his belly, handler holds the dog short on the line, and the trainer does the correction if needed.  This drill, from the decoy perspective, allows us to work on the following: Alert, pursuit and strike, countering into the grip, pushing the fight to the decoy, taking pressure from the decoy, calming down in prey after the pressure (drive channeling), ground fighting (if the decoy goes to ground), outs and rewards for those outs.

The QLD corrections dogs really responded to the drive channeling, pushing, and the out training resulting from allowing longer fights in training. The drive channeling work can only be accomplished while the dog is engaged in the grip, and so if the fights are too short the dog never properly learns to channel his drives, making it easier for the dog to become over-possessive or the dog being stuck in a defensive mood, both of which lead to difficult outing. Grips improved, calmness returned to previously frantic biting, and outs quickly improved in speed.

As with the AFP dogs we did targeting, let bites, and also we concentrated on doing some redirects and call-offs.  See the associated video link for an example of the redirect drill. The redirected bites further impress in the dog’s mind that giving up a grip leads to getting another grip on another decoy (further if we add in human orientation drills – see the attached video link – where the dog is taught to drop dead equipment and reengage the man) this further completes the process of the dog learning to release to get something else, strengthening the release command. In fact when we added in the human orientation drills, many dogs started to release too quickly, so we had to back off the out-related drills and go back to grips on leash with back tension and pushing to set the grip. That is the power of the synergistic effect of these skill drills (release for another grip, redirects, call-offs, and human orientation). Dogs at the beginning of the 3 day seminar that refused to release were willingly releasing without conflict. Some dogs will require more time to impress the idea on them, depending on how long they have been fighting the out, and some younger dogs, may need a more gradual application of these drills.

This trip to Australia included meeting some of the most dedicated K9 handlers in the business. It is always appreciated to have good questions, attentive handlers, and open minds at a seminar and both dog squads for both the AFP and QLD Corrections were professional and exemplary. I want to thank above all Jamie Davies, of Elite K9 Australia www.elitek9.com.au. First I want to thank him for first rate hospitality from the moment he picked us up at the airport to seeing us off to return to the states. Our accommodations on the gold coast of Australia were stunning. Also for setting up these seminar opportunities  and his professional approach to bringing me in to supplement the already great instruction going on in both dog squads, both internally and through Jamie’s consulting. I want to also thank Darran Evans-Greenall of AFP, Alan Swann,  the State Coordinator  for Qld Corrective Services Dog Squad and Mark Muhaarem  the Assistant Qld State Dog Squad Coordinator.

Jerry Bradshaw

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