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.