Importance of Alert Training for Police Dogs

The alert on command, which places the dog’s aggression on the command of the handler, is an exercise that is often ignored, but it may be your most important exercise in police patrol training. In much of the training I watch, the dog is brought to the training field, the decoy starts the action by agitating the dog, and the dog is sent to bite. The problem with this sequence of events is that the dog learns that his cue to get aggressive is the agitation rather than the command word of the handler to alert. The problem stays hidden, until the dog is deployed and the suspect has no bite equipment on, and is passive (sitting down or laying on the ground). In many cases the dog shows confusion and begins to look around at back up officers who may be standing up and moving around (his familiar context for bite work). The dog fails to engage, and rather than blaming the training as incomplete, the dog is blamed.  

The proper sequence, which should be trained during each and every bite session from the very start of the dog’s training, is that the decoy always starts out passive, and the handler alerts the dog on the passive subject. Once the dog shows aggression, the decoy reacts to the aggression either by pressing the dog in defense, or by fleeing in prey, depending on the exercise. The aggression is placed on a variable reward system, where sometimes the passive decoy will flee after one bark, then the next time we would make the dog bark at the decoy for 15 or 20 seconds before motion or advance on the dog, and back to 5 or 10 seconds of barking, varying the amount of aggression required to bring the decoy alive. In the dog’s mind, he is bringing the passive person “alive” by his aggression. The decoy must reward this behavior at all times. Once it is done well, you can point your dog at anyone, give an alert command, and expect aggression and focus.

This teaches the dog aggression on command, rather than on the context (movement or threat) the dog perceives from the decoy. In fact, as the handler, you may perceive an apprehension situation well before your dog, and so if you can put the dog in an aggressive mood on command he will be ready to react immediately, and not be caught off guard. Work your bite sessions with the decoy in a hidden sleeve, sitting in a chair, or laying on the ground. You can work on a slick floor to slow the entry down, and set up furniture to protect the exposed areas of the decoy, and always send the dog on a long line to maintain positive control. The dog learns to alert on passive subjects in all positions, and becomes aggressive on your command. 

A further extension of this exercise is to roll up to a strange place where you have already stashed a decoy behind the corner of a building or a dumpster, and take up a tactical position and give your alert command. Your dog may at first be confused, but be patient, and when he gives one bark, the decoy should jump out and flee, and in response send your dog for a reward grip. Do this in a bunch of different contexts with that one bark bringing out the decoy. Then ask for a few more barks, and then finally place this reward on a variable schedule so that the dog learns he has to sometimes bark for a while to get this result. The dog learns he can both turn a passive person alive by getting aggressive on command, and as well he can make people appear from behind objects and around corners when he becomes aggressive on command. I think you can see how this will help develop the start to your building search.