Courage test after courage test after courage test…

I love watching a good old fashion Schutzhund III courage test.  I love watching a Ring III faced attack. I really do. When the dog wins the crowd jumps to their feet applauding! The courage test is a necessary part the personal protection dog.  After all you don’t want to be in a bad spot where the shit has hit the fan only to discover that your dog doesn’t have what it takes to protect you!

If the dog fails the courage test everyone sees it. That failure should be a MAJOR point’s deduction if the dog does fail the courage test. To be honest every dog has something it’s afraid of. Some dogs just need more training to get a better idea of what is expected of them, some dogs will never have it.  Either way that is what the courage test portion of a trial or tournament is all about. It is necessary.

That being said, I look around at the protection organizations that offer titles and many of the personal protection tournaments going on and I am sadden and disappointed. Why?  Nearly all the protection exercises have become courage tests.  Carjacking courage test, fleeing attacks that have turned into courage tests, re-directs and re-attacks that turn into courage tests. Courage test after courage test after courage test, it just gets old. It seems that every organization wants to take your money so their decoys can test your dog’s metal by acting like a blacksmith.  Blacksmiths pound on metal to make it into stronger shapes and harden the metal.  That’s great if you are a blacksmith working metal.  Not so much if you are a decoy working a dog! There are other tests that need to be done for a personal protection dog.

People training these “all courage test all the time” scenarios run the risk of making their dogs into bite first ask questions later dogs that can have dire consequences  away from the trial and training fields in real life.  Take the carjacking scenario for example. This has turned into a defensive, barrier frustrated, civil and hard courage test. Ok. Cool.  Where is the control before the bite? If you have it, GREAT! However, most do not!  Look at most carjacking scenarios on YouTube today.  Most decoys are in hidden equipment with an item of opposition in their hand.  They begin walking towards the car with dog and handler inside and the dog is reacting BEFORE it even knows if the decoy is a threat or not.  Why is that bad?  If the training director, decoy and handler repeat this scenario enough and allow your dog to react without consequence in training and trial, you (the handler) may have some difficult times ahead at a drive thru, bank teller or if someone approaches your car like say oh, I don’t know…a POLICE OFFICER pulling you over!  Many people simply explain this away by stating that they will leave their dog in a crate or in the back of the truck.  What good does that do when the shit hits the fan?  Balance is better.  Teach the dog to alert on command not on the decoys approach! Even if you have no need for a personal protection dog a balanced well trained dog is a better, safer dog. It is the organizations desire to “TEST” the dog that is allowing the handler to forgo this needed control. The judges that award passing scores to a dog that reacts are in my opinion only looking to test the dog’s courage and are not testing the owner’s ability to control their dog in a very difficult situation. Training is more than the title or the scenarios.

I have seen more and more poor decoying on the traditional style courage tests where dog and handler are faced at each other and set off to see who will blink first.  This can be seen in Schutzhund and Ring and is usually done with great skill.  I think back to some of the old photos taken by Doug Loving where Schutzhund decoys where completely horizontal and still in perfect position! Yep the dog won but the helpers were safe.  Or watch some video of the old Ring decoy (I hope I’m spelling his name right here!) Giles piot on the face attack. With nothing more than the Jedi Mind Trick administered with his hands and body (and the thinnest suit known to man) put doubt and fear in a dog’s heart to the point that the dog simply quits!  He never touched the dog! Really unbelievable work that is NEVER seen today!

Accidents do occasionally happen, when you are sending a fast dog against a fast human, accidents happen. When accidents do happen, the properly taught and trained decoy only thinks of the dog and not his or her self. However more and more I watch decoys running over dogs without even the slightest thought of absorption indicated in their bodies. This goes against everything I have ever been taught as a decoy. People say that it may happen in real life.  Yep if that does happen in real life and I have no other options (Like keeping the leash and firing up a civil display that Satan would run in fear from), I will gladly send my dog to engage the threat.  However sending my dog on a padded threat that has instructions to run THROUGH my dog at a trial, nope I’m all set, especially when the decoy is presenting an inner arm bite!  First, it needs to be said that the universal signal for “I SURRENDER” is both arms raised in the air! Secondly the inner arm bite takes away most of the advantages that the dogs has and gives them to the suited decoy. Notice I said suited decoy. An unsuited decoy wouldn’t take a bite on the inner arm.  They would present their outer arm 99 times out of 100.  This can be easily demonstrated by sending your dog on an unsuited decoy!  If they disagree, simply run your dog in holding the leash and watch which body part they present.  Just kidding, kinda!  The signal sent by the decoy presenting the inner arm bite can be seen in other places in real life.  An old friend or family member begins running at you to give you a hug, a surprise party for you when you walk through the door of you home, or a clueless child running up to hug your pretty doggie!

The same blacksmith decoying and canine reactiveness and lack of control can be seen in the rear attacks and attacks out of the blind from the front in nearly all of the scenarios offered in the majority of personal protect trials today. Exercises that all turn into courage tests.

Again, the courage test is necessary.  I whole heartedly agree.  However, there are other things that need testing. For instance, control, environmental security, dog and handler working together even when they are apart. These concepts can sound confusing if you aren’t familiar with them. However, they do exist and they need attention in training and trialing. What happened to passive bites?  What happened to injured decoy that didn’t stop moving on the out? What happened to testing the training and control in civil outside of the car? They got run over by the courage test, that’s what happened!

The art of decoying is being lost in venues that promote the courage test mindset above all else.  Many of today’s decoys seem to believe that the courage test IS decoying. It is not.  A good decoy is a great sparring partner for the dog in training. He or she must be able to build a pup and handler to their full potential. A great trial decoy is only valuable on trial day.  A great training decoy is ALWAYS valuable! Look at the trials and tournaments you are entering. If the decoys always look like blacksmiths on every scenario and the judges are giving passing scores to reactive dogs that have picked up that everything is a courage test, perhaps you are better off looking for a new training goal.

Again, I love a good courage test. I would also like to see some scenarios that allow decoys to showcase more than just their one dimensional skill in a courage test. Decoys should have a deep toolbox with many tools inside. Lately, I’ve seen many more blacksmiths with hammers than artists with expertise.  Organizers of trials and tournaments should have the common sense to identify these issues and require the handlers, decoys and judges to raise the bar instead of lowering it in the sports and realities of canine personal protection. There is more to personal protection than the courage test.

Safe training,

Chris Fraize

The emperor’s new trial.

When I was younger I trained dogs to compete in different dog sports because I loved dogs. I began by learning about Schutzhund, French Ringsport then competitive obedience, agility, weight pull and many more very cool dog sports. I loved watching training of any kind. I truly enjoyed learning by watching people that truly understand a particular discipline. I was discovering and learning and it was a very cool new world! I viewed the judges, decoys and helpers along with the top level competitors in these sports with high regard. Frankly, I was in awe of them.

My brain was working on all eight cylinders. I was learning and having fun. The moments of awe and discovery were some of the greatest times in my life. It was fun, connecting the communication dots between human and canine in order to achieve a team goal.
The funny thing is… As I got those moments of discovery more and more, they finally peaked and began to come less and less often. The newness and discovery was beginning to wear off. I knew there was more to learn I just didn’t know how to get to the next level. So I keep working. I trained, doing what I could while trying to find more people to learn from. I attended trials from USPCA Police K9 trials to Earth dog trials and everything in between. These trials were great for the novice aspiring dog trainer to watch even though the understanding wasn’t complete.

Later that year I decided to compete or certify at some entry level events. First was a CGC/TDI certification. No big deal. At the time I was nervous and excited. I passed. I was thrilled. Some didn’t pass. The judge explained why and nicely encouraged them to keep trying. After the event I talked to the judge and found out she was a UKC competitive obedience and agility judge. She had been working in herding, agility, and competitive obedience for over 35 years. As I was talking with her, one of the competitors that didn’t pass came up to the judge and interrupted our conversation. The competitor was angry, he felt that he had done better than the judge thought he did. He was rude. He was closed minded. He was hurt and embarrassed that he didn’t pass. The judge asked him why he was upset. He responded, “Because you failed me!” The angry man spewed a few rude comments about the judge’s choices in wardrobe and questionable ancestry. Then, he walked away.

I was shocked. I stared at the judge for a few long seconds and then finally I said, “What just happened there? Why did he get so mad at you?” She just smiled and said… “He isn’t mad at me. He is just frustrated because he wants something and doesn’t know how to get it the right way.” Then the judge politely excused herself and went on her way. For the record, I thought the guy was an ass. The judge handled the situation better than I would have. I guess that’s just one of the reasons she was a judge in many dog sports. She had class.

As time went by I began to train in dog sports clubs. Some clubs were about the training and some were about being a winner. Others were really just social clubs that gave folks a reason to get together. I learned a bunch about the rules of individual disciplines of dog sports. Cool stuff. But I wanted to learn about all training of all kinds not just one discipline. When I started to compete I won some and I lost some. I didn’t care either way. I just wanted to learn more.

Now I wanted to compete in trials and I began to see things I hadn’t noticed before. I saw helpers at Schutzhund trials giving a great presentation to their friend’s dogs and a crappy presentation to other competitor’s dogs. The difference in presentation was very subtle, impossible to see if you don’t have experience of being around for a while. I saw pretty much the same kinds of thing at a few ring trials decoys helping competitors that were friends. Then I saw something I thought was impossible, Judges cheating. I was a ring steward at a ring trial and watched judges changing score sheets after they were scored to give titles away. I was heartbroken! The judges that I had thought were above reproach were cheating! Nothing really bad, just little cheats here and there.
The deeper and deeper I got into competitive dog sports the more and more cheating I saw on many different levels. After a few years I guess I just began to accept people cheating as ordinary. I wanted a fair shake but didn’t always get one. After all what can be done? Sadly, it was true. Nothing could be done and nearly everyone was doing it!

As I began to compete more and more I began to train dogs and compete for very different reasons. At the time I had no idea that my reasons for training had changed. In fact, it would be many years until I even realized the change had happened at all. If someone did happen to tell me that my reasons had changed (and if I recall correctly, a few did try to tell me.) I wouldn’t have believed them. I most likely would have become insulted and gotten upset with them for even suggesting such a thing. It’s funny how the people that try to tell us truthful things and try to help us seem to be the ones we avoid or get upset with when they tell us something we need to hear but don’t want to hear. Anyway, I really wasn’t aware that my reasons for training and competing had changed. But they had. Looking back I can tell you that seeing all the cheating was a part of the reason for my change. I was getting bitter.

I started to take advantage of “grey areas” that rules didn’t cover. I tried to befriend judges and decoys in hopes that my dog would get a “fair” shake. I guess as time went by I wanted different things. Instead of wanting knowledge I wanted titles. I wanted certifications. I wanted recognition. I wanted respect. I started being disrespectful and irreverent to judges, decoys and competitors. I was under the impression that this was just “how it was” in the world of dog sports. If everyone else was cheating so why shouldn’t I? That kind of thinking can lead to falling down a very slippery slope.
Some very cool people in the dog world slowly but surely pointed these things out to me and I began to remember why I had started training in the first place. I did it because it because I loved dogs!

As I have gotten older I have enjoyed dog sports more and more because I cared less and less about winning and more about the learning the people and the fun! Sounds corny? Maybe it is. But it’s the truth. Just like when I started years ago, I win some and I lose some. I guess I’ve come full circle.
Lately I have seen a new kind of cheating in the dog sports world. At least it’s new to me. It’s the unannounced, private trial. What has gone wrong with a person’s honesty and integrity that they hold secret trials to get titles, decoy certifications and judge certifications behind closed doors? I have seen this now in bite work sports, obedience and weight pull competitions.

What do these titles and certifications mean? What value do they have? Why not just go out and buy the trophies and tell everyone you did it. Where are the honor, history and legacy? Where is the sportsmanship? Where is the test? Where is the competition? Oh yeah…. The competition wasn’t invited! At least a public trial lets people see the cheating if there is any.

Acquiring titles this private or secret way ruins every aspect of the sport in question. This attracts the wrong kind of trainer and rewards a lower standard across the board. Point standings become questionable and unreliable. Championships become a charade and National Championships become a farce. Titles attached to pedigrees become meaningless. These secret trials are hosted by trainers that have no integrity. These trials are hosted for all the wrong reasons. Dishonorable reasons like arrogance, cowardice and false pride. Remember the story of the emperor’s new clothes? Well welcome to the age of The Emperor’s new title. Everyone around you tells you how great you are and marvel at your accomplishments. It feels great while the compliments are cast upon you. But you have to look at yourself in the mirror and see that nothing is there!
We live in an imperfect world. Human nature is just that, human nature. There will always be cheating and stretching the rules. Secret or unannounced trials… It’s just disgraceful.

We all make mistakes. We are all human. So doing what’s right comes down to personal choice. Just because you can hold a secret trial or certify a judge over the phone doesn’t mean it’s morally right. There is a bigger picture to think about. The damaged caused to events, organizations and dog sports across the board. On one level this is why we Americans lag behind other countries in dog sports. We take the easy way to the title.
I think back to the first judge I met when I earned my CGC and what she said when the angry man yelled at her. “He is just frustrated because he wants something and doesn’t know how to get it the right way.”

I guess she would say the same thing about the people that hold secret trials…
““They are just frustrated because they want something and don’t know how to get it the right way.”
Unlike the folks that host the secret trials, that old judge had class…

Safe training,
Chris Fraize

Why street steady obedience?

Most folks come to Canine Solutions Training Services with an idea imprinted in their minds about what they believe dog training is or should be.  Some believe that the five basic commands (sit, down, stay, heel and come) are obedience or dog training.  Others have the idea that they will be coming to a building and learning something in a class and falsely believe that the dog should remember the lesson after they leave the training center.  Almost everyone that starts their canine training journey has an ingrained opinion about what dog training is and nearly all of them believe that the lessons start and end in the classroom.

Well, that’s kind of half right.  Most often lessons start in the classroom.  Just like flying a plane starts with classroom time. We explain and talk about both canine and human concepts of communication.  We discuss interspecies communication and we apply training in many different ways.  Most training does in fact start in the classroom.  However at some point, the students have to apply what they have learned in the classroom in the real world.

Even the most imaginative trainer cannot accurately replicate the unpredictably of the real world in the classroom.  We can set up scenarios and choreograph to the best of our ability.  When choreographing in the classroom we can direct people, traffic, animals, and many other environmental stimuli.

The real world poses unpredictable environmental challenges in every way imaginable. The people alone are some of the biggest challenges posed to the handler in real life.  People are unpredictable in good ways and not so good ways.  I think most of you would be SHOCKED at the amount of aggressively opinionated “experts” that approach my students on the streets every time we go out. By aggressively I don’t mean yelling and screaming (though we have had a few of those lovely folks) most people are very assertive or forward in their pursuit of petting or touching or baby talking our dogs in training. Even when they are TOLD in NO UNCERTIAN TERMS by the handler” PLEASE, DO NOT PET MY DOG!” It’s an issue that is and always will be tough to handle on the streets and in public in general.

Cars, noises, smells, other dogs, birds, food, children the list of environmental distractions in actual reality is never ending!  Having your trainer/behaviorist by your side is invaluable during these times and softens reality until the student can get their stride and begin to solo… PRICELESS!

We are now working on Street Steady classes at MINI GOLF courses (try doing obedience while attempting to play and win at MINI GOLF!) water parks, bowling alleys and more!  Come join the fun and be a better handler!

Safe training,

Chris Fraize

Building Prey Drive for Better Performance

Dogs have many drives.  Pack, food, defensive & hunt drives just to name a few.  Drive is simply a desire or a want for something.  Humans possess drives too!  Like humans; dog’s drives can be built or diminished according to how they are taught and nurtured or corrected by the trainer or handler.  The drive I want to focus on today is prey drive.

Prey drive is the desire for dogs to chase and grab an item.  If you can imagine a small terrier is chasing a chipmunk or a Border collie blazing after a bouncing tennis ball thrown by his owner! That is prey drive. The drive to chase is strong in some dogs and nearly nonexistent in others.  Just like anything in life prey drive has its pros and cons.  Some of the benefits of strong prey drive are mental focus, physical stimulation and a clear reward system that when used correctly by the trainer/owner can create a deeper bond with their dog.  Some of the drawbacks are focus on the wrong prey item, overdrive and when used incorrectly by the trainer/owner complete disobedience.  The choice between the two is up to the trainer or owner.

This weekend I began teaching some of my students about building prey drive for focus in obedience and better overall communication between dog and handler.  I started by explaining how the dog sees the prey item they will use to build drive.  Then how the prey item should move and react.  I then had them construct the toys they would use to build prey drive in their dog.  I believe that having the handler build the toy keeps them more invested in the process and gives them more pride when the drive building all comes together. Creating desire for a toy or building prey drive is just the first step in the long process of benefits in obedience, bond, dog sports and canine behavior.

It’s important to understand that the toy is simply an item to chase and the reward is the catch.  The dog should NEVER be given the toy and should always work very hard to earn it!  Remember Chipmunks do not run at dogs and jump into their mouths.  The little buggers do EVERYTHING they can to avoid the dog.  That’s why they are so much fun to chase. If the dog does finally get the little fella he will shake it and walk around with great pride holding his catch in the air for all to behold!  He should be proud.  He worked his ass off to get it!

Then we worked on giving the handlers a chance to play human keep away from each other.  We haven’t incorporated any dogs at this point in order to give the handlers a chance to see things from their new perspective as well as grasping the dog’s perspective of what we will be doing in the first steps of prey drive building.

All of the handlers did well at the human game of “Monkey in the middle”.  Both human handler and human dog saw things from a different perspective.  This step is important because instruction and comprehension can be slowed down or stopped completely and explained better and in real time when teaching human to human.  The process of building prey drive becomes more intense when the dog is present.  Understanding, timing and technique are critical to gain optimal results. Rehearsing with humans makes everything easier when the dog is brought into the lesson.  Besides, it’s a TON of fun!

The students all did well.  However, they all had problems to balance.  Some students were too forward and some way too goofy! Some had to work on speed and quickness while others had to slow down and get more control.  Some dogs got the toy.  Some handlers got nipped.  But in the end they all got a little better and went home with something to work on for our next session in building prey drive for better performance.

Safe training,

Chris Fraize