Tactical K-9 patrol with the e-collar

What if the suspect produces a baseball bat or a knife and you want your dog back at your side quickly? Using only one command for the out and recall eliminates confusion


By Doug Roller

What exactly is offleash control? It is important here to ponder that concept; because “offleash control” means many things in the tactical world, I will explain what it means from my perspective. Simply stated, it means that you should be able to take your partner off-leash, search a contained area in a systematic fashion, and work the scent cone of a secreted or accessible suspect to his location. If there is a contact (bite), you should have the option of recalling the PSD from a tactically safe position or approaching the suspect, leashing your dog, and recalling him back to your side. You should never have to give up a position of tactical advantage to physically remove your dog. If this is your only method of outing, you should revisit your protocols.

There are two topics that must be covered when teaching the “out” and the recall for the PSD. One is outing your dog off the decoy in any situation and recalling him back to your side. The other is how to handle the find-and-bark if that is your agency’s policy.

Outing and recall of a PSD off the decoy (or suspect) has become more problematic in recent years as a growing number of Mals and Dutchies have come into the North American police K-9 community. Many of these dogs are very hard, pain-tolerant, and not properly conditioned for outing and recalls. Countless handlers and trainers have simply given up on this and have reverted back to the choke-off.

However, if you have completed (and, more importantly, have continued) the steps described in my previous article involving outing the ball, retrieving it and recalling off the ball with the e-collar, then you can be sure your canine understands the behavior of outing. A solid foundation in outing the ball will make the next stage of training easier.

Outing the Canine off the Decoy
If you had some trouble with your PSD not wanting to out the ball, you will probably have some issues with outing off the decoy. One caveat worth mentioning is that many dogs that out from the ball easily still have issues with outing off the decoy. I am sure many of you already realize this fact.

Assuming that your PSD has a thorough understanding of the ecollar, you can employ its use during decoy and man work. You can use the e-collar as a communication device (as it was originally intended), not as a punishment device.

First, let’s clear up something about punishment and negative reinforcement. We can dance around the definitions, but sometimes negative reinforcement is punishment, whether it is delivered through the e-collar, pinch collar, cattle prod, or what have you. It is important to remember that punishment or negative reinforcement should never precede learning. If you have a dog that already is coming off the bite pretty consistently, then you will be able to advance quickly with the e-collar.

We will first talk about recalling off the bite (as it applies to non-find-and-bark dogs). This is a pretty straightforward behavior and we should not complicate it. You should only need to use one command to recall your dog to your side. I do not agree with the use of long preparatory commands to invoke a behavior, especially coming off the bite. When I want my dog off the bite I want him off now, not after a long series of commands directed toward the suspect. There are so many issues here — where do I start?

You should not have to tell your suspect, “Stand still. Don’t move. Show your hands!” and then out your dog, followed by the recall command. Let’s think about this. Preparatory commands are usually used to de-escalate your dog by getting him ready for the out or recall.

In training this works fine, but in real-world scenarios it doesn’t, and it can set you up for situations you don’t want to be faced with. What if your canine has found a nonsuspect who inadvertently crossed into your containment? What if there is an accidental bite on an officer? Those precious seconds of calling your dog off the bite are crucial to avoid unnecessary injury.

What if the suspect produces a baseball bat or a knife and you want your dog back at your side quickly? Using only one command for the out and recall eliminates confusion.

Another reason to use a single command is that some dogs, upon hearing the preparatory command, will actually bite harder and with more commitment in anticipation of coming off. They eventually release, but it becomes a negotiation instead of a command to be reckoned with. With proper conditioning and reinforcement, the single command should mean one thing only to the PSD — come back to my partner’s side. Believe me, if you have one of those special “hard dogs,” it is a beautiful thing to see him respond to a one-command out after proper e-collar training.

With the e-collar, you can have that kind of control. The e-collar also allows for real-world training. What do I mean by this? The PSD should not live in two worlds; the world of training and the real world should be one and the same. Without consistency, a disconnect occurs. The reason most PSDs do not get corrected in the real world is because a handler cannot turn a situation where the PSD is being disobedient into a training session.

Training = The Real World
With an e-collar-trained PSD, the training environment and the real world become one and the same. If your PSD has a distraction problem, you can work on it; if he fails to recall or “down” during a real search, you can instantly recall him or place him in a down; and if he refuses to come off the bite, you can correct the behavior instantly. The PSD realizes mmediately that the handler has control and the ability to correct everywhere and anywhere.

This level of control actually makes your life — and more importantly, your dog’s life — easier and less confusing. Canines are gamblers and will always gamble if the chance to satisfy a drive overpowers negative reinforcement. With the e-collar and consistency in your training, your PSD will gamble less and less as time goes on. A rule that I ask every new handler to restate throughout training is “When is your dog in training? Always.” Never give a command that you do not have the ability to reinforce. The e-collar eliminates that potential problem.

Let’s discuss some methods for outing from the decoy. If you have a new canine, it is highly likely that his prior training involved KNPV, Ring Sport or Schutzhund work. Even if the dog is young and not titled, he was probably exposed to some of these sport dog training methods.

So when you begin your bite work, always start with a long line. Another good habit to develop is to begin all of your sessions with obedience around the decoy. Your PSD should
be obedient and manageable at this time. If he needs work because his drive is over the top, keep working on it and do not expect to fix it in one or two sessions.

Sometimes this has to be a work-inprogress as your training progresses. With a long line, pinch collar, and e-collar attached to your PSD, you can begin. The first thing you will need to do is to mentally run through the e-collar checklist.

Make sure the collar is charged, turned on, and fitted correctly on your dog’s neck. You will pay dearly if you discover that your ecollar was not turned on after a session of disobedience. You will scratch your head wondering what happened and feel foolish when you realize you forgot to turn the e-collar on. I say this because I have seen it happen many times.

With your partner at your side, send the dog on a straight hit. As he is on the bite, give him the command — a verbal command you have chosen that means “release and come back to my side.” For me, this command is simply the “heel” command, as it cuts through confusion and means only one thing — release and come back to the handler’s side. Some handlers want to add other options at this time, like the “down” command and then a “heel” command. We will keep it simple and use a simple “heel” command.

Remember to match the verbal command with the e-collar correction and the long-line pinch correction. If you have only a decoy to assist you, you can have him activate the e-collar to coincide with the verbal “heel” as you complete the long-line correction with the pinch collar. It is important for you to have discussed this prior to the training session with your decoy and anyone else who may be assisting.

All parties should have a complete understanding of what you are trying to accomplish during a session. You should also go over options and have a plan B in case plan A does not work. If you have the luxury of having a third person to assist, then have him use the long line for the pinch-collar correction.

The important thing to remember is that the corrections are all automatic and used together. This will condition the canine for a quick release. Of course, if you have a strong-willed canine you may have to elevate your level of correction, with both the e-collar and the pinch correction. The concept here is to use only as much compulsion as needed for a quick release off the bite. You will have to gauge the level of these corrections carefully.

When I start off, I do not want to use to highlevel e-collar correction. I will use more of the conventional pinch-collar correction because the dog is more familiar with that form of correction. As time goes on, we will reverse that approach, using less pinch collar and more e-collar. The important thing here is that the canine cannot win and he must release without being choked off.

Although this article is focused on e-collar work, I would like to briefly discuss decoy work. When teaching your PSD a new behavior in bite work, you must use a good decoy. The decoy should be able to read the dog and manipulate drives to enhance learning. For example, if the dog weakens on the bite during e-collar and control work, the decoy must balance out the dog by working him in prey drive. Conversely, if your canine is strong-willed, the decoy will work the dog in fight drive by standing straight up and elevating the canine off his front legs to assist in a quick release off the bite. Eventually this will not matter, but as the dog is learning we must enhance the environment in order for the desired conditioning to take place. My point is that a good decoy will dramatically increase your dog’s progress.

When to Stimulate, When to Let Off
I touched on this subject in the previous article but will expand on it here. Decisions about when to stimulate and when to let off will depend on your dog, his level of drive, and his understanding of the desired behavior. The old method of burning the ecollar into the dog is not what should be used (and never should have been used). This is not fair and can actually harden some dogs to the e-collar. Be fair.

If you have found the level of stimulation that triggers a release and your dog is making a positive return to your side, then let off the e-collar, and use motivation to reinforce and reward the behavior.

Remember that often a dog learns through self-discovery. If he is quickly learning to recall with little stimulation, then let him win and learn in a positive fashion. On the other hand, if your dog is hard and high-drive, you may have to stimulate at a higher level and for a longer time. You will know he has got it when he decides to test you and return to the
decoy. You will then re-stimulate; if he quickly turns his head and speeds back to you, then you have achieved learning.

Your sessions will vary depending on your canine, his level of drive, what condition he is in and any prior training he may have had that makes your job easier. Keep your sessions short with learning in mind, and try to finish each session on a positive note. Allow your
dog ample time to rest and repeat the session. If everything goes well, then you can move on to advanced work.

As your PSD progresses, you should see his release off the bite become quicker each time. At the same time, you should be dropping the long-line pinch-collar correction, while primarily using the e-collar for correction. If your dog is progressing well, at some point you can drop the long line and use the e-collar when needed to achieve the desired behavior.
Remember to use variable and intermittent corrections to start locking in the release and recall behavior, and allow him to win once in a while with no correction at all. As noted previously, if your policy does not require the find-and-bark or bark-and-hold, then this release and return behavior should not be a problem. Once again, with a watchful eye you will make the call as to when you feel comfortable about dropping the long line.

One caveat here is to keep the long line on until you are sure your dog has the behavior locked in. As he drags the long line, you will have it there in case old habits manifest themselves or he simply decides to test you.

As to the question of when and how much to stimulate your dog, that will depend on him. For the strong-willed canine who continues to test you, do not allow him to gamble or, more precisely, make him pay for his gambling.

The important thing here is to recognize confusion versus disobedience. If he knows the recall and decides to start testing you, then negative reinforcement is justified and necessary. Increase the level of e-collar stimulation and automatically stimulate. If you know he has been “pushing it,” then start your session with the attitude that you will use
a higher level of automatic stimulation to correct unwanted behavior. Do not give in. If a session creates a slight imbalance in your dog, not to worry. If he is worth his muster, you can bring him back in line.

If you see that your dog has a good understanding of the e-collar, simply stimulate him again to return to your side. If the problem is more serious and you get stuck, go back to the long line and incorporate pinch-collar and e-collar corrections again. Remember that often you will finish the day with what appeared to be a locked-in behavior, only to return the next day and find you’re back to square one. That’s common; most handlers have had that experience. You need to allow time for solid conditioning to take hold in your dog’s mind.

About the author

Police K-9 Magazine is the only national publication dedicated to police officers who work with service dogs. The magazine provides timely features, columns, and departments written by experienced K-9 trainers, lawyers, veterinarians and law-enforcement officers.

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