Beyond the K-9 bite suit
By Ron Gunton
Talk to anyone who has worked in K-9 for any significant amount of time and you will learn that the image of a dog that goes into a frenzy at the mere sight of a bite suit is a common one. In other words, the moment the dog sees someone in a bite suit, his eyes roll back and he becomes a shark on four paws. Control is significantly diminished, and the handler spends the next part of the training session trying to get the dog dialed back down to a level at which he can be controlled.
As handlers, we often justify that type of behavior with comments such as, “Well, he knows what the suit is for,” or “He just loves bite work,” or other weak reasons for the move away from full control. It is unlikely that any handler or trainer truly finds that loss of control acceptable, but our profession often makes an exception for the dog’s reaction to the presence of equipment. This article describes a useful solution to the problem of equipment fixation.
Proofing or Avoidance?
One idea that has been used with some measure of success is to not even introduce the bite suit at all — to a point. Now hold off on turning the page and stay with me a second or two. Let’s first look at why we use a suit to begin with. It could be argued (probably successfully) that the purpose of the suit is twofold. First, the suit is implemented for the protection of the decoy. Second, it is used to train the dog to go for something other than an exposed sleeve on an arm. Both of those are valid points. However, we must ask ourselves whether the same results could be achieved by other means.
The Training Progression
1) Get the dog to a level where he is solidly engaging an exposed sleeve.
That sequence has been implemented with several new dogs in our training group with outstanding results. Of course, it is imperative to build the dog properly through the various stages. For example, we need to ensure that the dog is work-ing well (he has a solid, full-mouthed
We’ve all seen video clips of dogs failing to engage an actual suspect who doesn’t present his arm like so many poorly trained decoys do in training. By integrating hidden equipment and a muzzle, we can avoid much of that and in essence transform the dog into a “body dog,” as opposed to the much-less-desirable “arm dog.” There’s no question that will make the dog more street-worthy.
Toward the conclusion of the training class, the dog can be tested on the suit. The experience we’ve had in our training group is that although the dog is often a little confused by the new “feel” of a bite suit, he quickly gets the idea and ups his game and engagement (usually by the second or third bite). Once the dog solidly engages and holds the suit, he rarely sees it again except when absolutely necessary and is, instead, worked on hidden equipment and in muzzle — both of which are much more like what the dog will see on the street. We used that approach most recently with a new, 12-month-old Dutch Shepherd at the conclu-sion of a 12-week class. The youngster had no problem quickly realizing what he was supposed to do and exhibited a nice, clear-headed confidence as he rode the decoy’s back while firmly engaged on the shoulder — all four feet off the ground.
It’s Just Clothing
Ron Gunton has been a K-9 handler/trainer for the Mentor (OH) Police Department for more than 12 years and in law enforcement for 22 years. He works a patrol/narcotics K-9 also trained for SWAT applications. Ron is an accredited master trainer of Utility/Patrol & Narcotics Detection with the North American Police Work Dog Association and a canine evaluator for the State of Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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