How should a police service dog bite?
By Bob Campanile
In the past 15 years, as I’ve traveled around the United States training police service dogs (PSDs) and observing them in competitions, I’ve noticed that the majority of dogs pull back when biting. Many PSDs have a background in sport training — especially in Schutzhund. During a Schutzhund trial, the helper or decoy drives into the dog, forcing him to pull back when engaged. In my opinion, it’s better for a PSD to drive in and press forward into the decoy when biting. That technique has multiple benefits in real-life street applications as well as on the competition field.
As an avid police K-9 competitor, I can tell you that the benefit of your partner driving into the bite is that it ensures a full-mouth grip. Even if his grip is not initially full, he will regrip and bite fully. He will then continue to drive forward, pushing deeper and deeper into the bite. I believe that is not, and should not be looked at as, a bite adjustment. A bite adjustment is when a dog is mouthing and moving around while biting — a behavior known as typewriting — but that is another subject for debate. This article discusses the advantages of a PSD biting forward rather than pulling back, and describes how to train your canine to do so.
Pulling Versus Pushing
Let’s look at the traditional and most common bite-training method as it applies to real-life street apprehensions. If a PSD engages a suspect using a frontal bite for whatever reason, the dog is going to pull back, causing the flesh to rip or tear. Even worse, if the dog engages a suspect wearing a baggy shirt, jacket, or pants, the PSD pulls back and rips the clothing off the suspect.
At this point, one of two things likely will happen. If you have a dog that is extremely civil, he will immediately drop the clothing to reengage the suspect or run off with the torn clothing and bring it back to “dad.” Meanwhile, your shirtless or pantless suspect proceeds to beat feet on the shoe-leather express. The confusion also provides an opportunity for the suspect to shoot you or your partner, should the suspect be armed.
Now let’s look at a different training method. Using this method, we teach the dog to drive into the bite so that he begins to think he can overcome the stress and pressure the decoy is causing him. By continuing to drive deeper into the bite, he believes that he can turn the pressure off. Access to a skilled decoy will help you achieve the best results. It’s a little difficult to explain this training technique in writing, so I’ll just give you the theory here. To see a training video, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHrIa7XGrtU.
To train a forward-driving bite, the decoy must pressure the dog while he is biting, which can be done in several ways. You can use stick hits, shaker cans, yelling, or screaming — or even some-thing as simple as intense, direct eye contact with the dog. Train-ing is accomplished a little at a time by layering each session.
Your decoy begins working your dog. Remember, your decoy is your dog’s helper — he must not be adversarial all of the time; there is a time and place for provocation. As the dog engages the decoy, the decoy begins to walk back-ward, taking the dog with him. The decoy also can gently pull the dog forward by means of a line hooked to the dog’s flat collar. As the decoy does that, he works the dog’s grip, trying to make it as full as possible. When the dog makes any movement forward by driving deeper or fuller, the decoy steps backward, makes a submissive noise, and exhibits a submissive posture. In this stage of training, your dog begins to understand that if he drives forward and bites deeper, the bad guy or prey appears to get hurt and begins to submit. Result: the dog believes he is winning the fight. Some theatrics are involved with this method, so the decoy may need to brush up on his or her acting lessons.
As training progresses, the decoy begins to introduce some of the pressure described earlier. As pressure begins, the dog drives forward, whereupon the decoy stops the pressure and shows exaggerated submission. Before you know it, your dog begins to believe he can defeat anyone, regardless of whether they are screaming, punching, kicking, or hitting him with a weapon. All he has to do is bite deeper and drive forward. Basically you are teaching your dog to turn off the pressure by countering, thus winning the fight. You will find that this training may progress a bit faster if you start with a green dog that has had only a basic foundation in bite work.
There are other advantages to using the training method discussed here. You can teach the dog that he can activate a passive decoy. When he engages a totally static decoy, he bites deep and drives in. Through the decoy’s reaction, the dog learns that he has the ability to turn on or activate the decoy, hence the fight begins and the dog ultimately wins. In addition, most often you will achieve better pain compliance without increasing serious tissue or other physical damage. The result is that a suspect will have fewer grounds for a lawsuit.
I encourage all dog handlers to try the method discussed here. I believe you will be very satisfied with the results.
Bob Campanile is vice president of USPCA Region 15 and a USPCA-certified Level 1 trainer. A 23-year police veteran, he also is the K-9 trainer for the Stafford Township (NJ) Police Department and owner of Sit Means Sit Dog Training. Contact Bob at K9rambo64@aol.com.