I became aware of an issue within K-9 training many years ago. After noticing this problem, I began watching for it wherever I trained. As I expected, this is a common problem. We, handlers and trainers, are making a monumental mistake when we try to work multiple problems at the same time. I don’t just mean within the same repetition or the same set. I mean we should not be working multiple problems, or addressing multiple issues, until the dog is solid at the foundational task, no matter how long that takes.

Aggression control work is the most common area in which this mistake is made. As an example, I recently had a conversation with a brand new handler about the initial training of his dog. The handler was describing an issue the dog was having while engaging the decoy in training. As most of these types of problems are, this issue was a lack of confidence in the dog. Without seeing the problem first hand, I gave my best advice over the phone. After that discussion, the handler and I began talking about other training. The handler then mentioned release training with the dog. Of course, this got my curiosity and I began asking questions. What I found out was that in one aggression control session the dog was being told and encouraged to bite. Once the dog bit, it was being encouraged to continuing biting and to fight the decoy. The dog was then being lifted off of the bite, which when done properly, is a bite building exercise. This was being done in hopes of building the dog’s confidence. Then a short time later, the same day, the dog was being told to out. When it didn’t do so it was corrected into an out. The group responsible for the training of this particular dog saw that they had an issue, but they weren’t sure what to do to fix it. They put their egos aside and made a few calls to different people to get some opinions. As it turns out, I had a day off and was able to work the dog. I saw exactly what was described to me over the phone. Within a few short session of aggression control training with confidence building exercises, the dog began showing signs of improvement. If caught early enough, and dealt with properly, a dog with the proper behaviors will overcome issues and move forward. This particular dog has very strong fighting behaviors and will be a solid street dog. At this point, until the dog overcomes his confidence issues, we shouldn’t be concerned with the out. We should be doing nothing but bite and confidence building exercises. Once the dog is confident, start working the out. If attempting to build confidence and the bite, while also trying to develop an out, what message is being sent to the dog? Does that message perpetuate a stronger, better working relationship between the dog and handler or does it cause conflict? In one session, the dog is being told to do something it isn’t confident doing, biting and fighting with a human. In the next session the dog is being told to bite the human, fight the human, let go of the human, and corrected for not doing so. Those are conflicting and confusing messages in the mind of the dog. When the dog is experiencing conflict and confusion there will be conflict between the dog and the decoy and the dog and the handler.

When problem solving, no matter in which discipline, break the problem down to its simplest form, and work on that particular problem until it is no longer a problem. Don’t be afraid of going back to the basics when an issue develops. One can’t go too far back. If the dog is comfortable at the level you went back to, it will progress quickly until the problem shows itself. At that point, you will know what you have to work on. Work on it until it is no longer a problem. Then move on. The last thing we, as handlers, trainers, and decoys want to do is send conflicting message, especially to a young dog, and we never want to create conflict between the dog and the handler or the decoy.

In our next blog, I will discuss recognizing signs of stress in your working dog. Let me know if I can help you with anything.

Travis Walthall

Patriot K-9 Training