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Self Out - Clean Bitework Everytime!

R.S. Eden

Probably the one most common problem officers contact me with is that of control work. How to get a dog off the bite on a sleeve. This can be very frustrating, time consuming, and can can lead to liability concerns. Frequently we look for the quick and dirty fixes, and many are quick to turn to the use of electronic collars to solve their problems.

It is my belief that we can solve many of our problems if we simply use the dogs own inherent instincts and drives. We all know that a dog does things for himself, that he will do things to please himself. For that reason we can take advantage of this by using simple hands off motiviational techniques which I have implemented recently for my own training programs, and come up with consistenly clean control work. The following is from a message I recently wrote to an officer in need of assistance. I hope it is of some assistance to others, and in turn reduces the amount of frustration and use of some of those other “quick and dirty” methods. A word of caution…this requires a good decoy who has good stamina, and a lot of patience. My personal guarantee: If you follow the procedures and give it time to work, I’ll guarantee you a clean dog every time, no strings attached….literally…regardless of how bad a problem you started out with. Good Luck!

Most bitework problems are as a result of poor training. Some breeds and some individual dogs often have more inherent intensity than other breeds, however this is often compounded because of poor judgement by a trainer. Many of the problems can be reduced if equipment fixation is reduced. In other words, do more training in muzzle as opposed to using a sleeve all the time. If you don’t have to wrestle with the equipment, then you can correct the dog using easy standard methods without having to fight with him while he is on a full bite. That is one of the biggest benefits of muzzle work.

Lets say you have gone past that point. You have a dog who has been given the sleeve a few times, and he is equipment fixated, simply will not come off without a wrestling match. First, if you pull back on the collar by cranking away at the lead, you reinforce the bite. We have taught that to the dog in basic bite work. To build the fight or the bite, we often put the dog on the sleeve and pull back on the lead, dead ring usually, to cause the dog to have a clean full mouth bite, and no “typewriter” routines. Therefore, later on down the road when we are getting the dog to come off, by human nature we often jerk the dog back trying to pull him off the bite using a choke collar or pinch collar. The dog gets a confusing message. You are telling him to Auss! and at the same time are pulling back like you have done in training to enhance the bite, except you are pulling harder and sharper, which causes him to bite down with more intensity. The harder you jerk him around, the harder he fights you.

This is where the basic method, (which can work quite effectively) of putting the dog on a pinch collar and doing a third party correction that is in a forward and down direction can be very effective.

Increasing in popularity is the use of electronic collars to correct the dog off the bite. If the dog has a high tolerance for pain, then eventually you are going to run out of levels to notch up that collar. Sometimes it will work, as a matter of fact it will work frequently, but you will NEVER have a guarantee of a clean call out unless that collar is on, and if the dog has that high a pain threshold and you have the juice up full bore, then where can you go from there? You have no further options left.

The routine I am using has the dog doing it himself. First of all, I try not to get into the equipment fixation problem this deep, but if I have a dog that comes to me that does, here is the routine. A self out is a process where the dog comes out on his own, of his own volition, and is immediately rewarded by the handler for doing so. All we do is give him a set of circumstances where he is coming off on his own.

Step 1: Find an agitator with a lot of saavy, know how, strength, stamina and who is a glutton for punishment.

Step 2: Set him up in a bite sleeve and scratch pants. Put him in a position where he can use the cruck of a small tree to lean into, or support himself by leaning up against a post/pole, anything where he can maintain support for a long period of time. Preferrably in a position where it will be hard for the dog to use his feet to lean on the agitator.

Step 3: (Theory lesson here) When a dog does anything, he does it to satisfy himself. In the wild an dog will chase something until he catches and once he catches it will usually grab it by the throat and kill it, frequently by shaking his head back and forth with the quarry in his jaws. Once the prey is dead, he walks off with it to his lair and consumes it. Cats will play with dead prey after they have killed it. Dogs will in most cases leave it. Teach this to your agitator. He needs to learn that as soon as that dog bites, he in effect goes dead. No fight, no movement if at all possible (this is that most difficult part of the task and the reason for finding a way to support himself during this exercise) and no eye contact with the dog once the dog is on the bite.

Step 4: Send the dog on the bite. You as the handler must step back out of the dogs peripheral vision and leave him alone. Let him bite…as long as he wants. Don’t say anything. (I once did a dog who stayed on the first bite for 47 minutes… We had one tired agitator, but it was effective.) This is what happens. The dog eventually gets tired. The jaws get sore and he starts to wind down. I don’t care how tough your dog his, he will eventually wear himself out. As he becomes more and more tired, he will eventually want to come off the sleeve, but won’t for a while yet as he is so intent on the bite routines. When he starts to get tired he will also start to wonder where the heck Dad disappeared to, and eventually he will figure out that his quarry has been dead and no fun at all since he latched onto him. Leave him alone…(BTW, if you are worried that he might drop into a leg bite, ensure you put a pair of bite pants on your agitator. Self Out – Clean Bitework Everytime!

Eventually the dog will tire to the point where he has to let go. He will very likely turn to see where you are. As soon as he lets go, give him an “Auss” and recall him to you. Praise him up! You have just ingrained the first of many, postive reinforcements for your dog to come off the sleeve, no electricity, no pinch collars and no fight. As soon as he is back by your side, have the agitator fire him up again and send him again immediately. There should only be a few seconds between, BUT, you need to reinforce it with some/any obedience commmand that he must complete before he is resent. Even if it is a sit in front of the agitator. Once he is secure in the sit, down etc, then re-send him.

Now, he is already tired from the first bite, but was rewarded with praise as soon as he came off. This time your waiting time will be reduced. The second time we did it on my dog from hell here that took 47 minutes the first time, took 18 minutes the second and 7 minutes the third. Repeat the process three times, then put the dog away for 30 minutes and give your agitator a break.

Rotate agitators if possible, but ensure each knows the routine.

Step 5: Bring the dog out of the kennel or car again, run three more. As his time becomes shorter and shorter…(keep in mind that initially it might go up after the rest periods, but unlikely that it will take as long as the first one…) you can start diversifying what you do on the call off. After about the third set you can bring him into heel, and once he is secure, throw a ball for him, (or his favorite retrieving article.)

You can do this as soon as he is secure in that intermediate obedience command. Keep things short, very quick and snappy, so that the obedience routine and subsequent ball snap are just as exciting, if not more exciting than his bite session. You can then add a second agitator to the sequence, instead of a ball snap as a reward, after he is in a secure obedience position, a second agitator appears and the routine is repeated. It is continued with various conflict training routines….(ie, ball reward, second agitator, third agitator, first agitator etc.)

Step 6: Start distancing yourself from the agitator and put your second agitator and equal distance away in the opposite direction from the first. Each time he comes off the sleeve he runs back in anticipation of getting to go after a new agitator. By this time he has been rewarded with copious amounts of praise and other physical and very satisfactory rewards for coming off the sleeve each time Dad says Auss, but in fact it is simply a timing thing you have instilled at the same time he as voluntarily dropped off. Soon he learns to anticipate the call off and to go searching for the next intriguing game that dad has set up.

Step 7: Placing yourself between each agitator, start adding a routine where you call the dog off before he gets past you and diverting him to chase the ball. This is the beginning of the calloff before the bite. Slowly increase the distance that the agitators are from each other and from you when doing call offs from the sleeve and call offs before the bite.

If you are patient and implement it step by step, the dog will become very, very secure in his call offs, to the point where he will by dynamic to watch, and you have never laid a hand on him to teach him the routine. You have done absolutely no fighting with him and the entire process the dog has actually done it himself with you providing him with further motivation by giving him diversions that are fun rewards for the succesful behavior.

It does take longer to complete the job, the worst I have ever had it take is 2×5 day work weeks to ensure the dog was secure. We have never had a problem with that dog since, simply by keeping it up with the weekly training sessions, and he is really pretty to watch. No fuss, no muss, none of the dog figuring out when he does and does not have a juice collar on, no fight against pain thresholds that can frequently beat you. A totally motivational program that I have yet to see fail if it is implemented properly.

Again, there is no substitute for not getting to this point in the first place, but if you do get to this point, this will work. No, it is not a short cut, it is not a table routine, nor is it an electical routine, but once you have it, the dog will not revert backwards and you will need no electrical collars to back you up. You will have a dog that loves to come off the bite as much as he goes on the bite because he has learned that it is painless, and fun because dad makes it just as exciting with the diversity of routines.

Good Luck, and let me know how you make out!

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