Signature K9 Interview with Jerry Bradshaw

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trainer Interview — Jerry Bradshaw

Tell us a little about your background. How did you get started with dogs?

By accident. After an attempted break in at my home while I was in graduate school at UNC – Chapel Hill we had the police come and do a security check of our home, and they suggested getting a dog because of the hours we kept. Because I had never owned a dog in my life (got bitten by 3 dogs as a child – perhaps prophetic) and was frankly kind of scared of dogs, I reluctantly got a dog from a local animal shelter named Penny (who lived until 14). She was a little brown dog with stand up ears and a black face. Terrible watchdog. Sweetest dog on earth and the canine love of my life, though. So I did what any intelligent person would do, got the AKC encyclopedia and looked for a dog with good “guarding” instincts that looked exactly like Penny, and yes, that would be a Malinois. Found a breeder in Canada to sell me a “police reject” puppy. That reject was Arrow. I titled him to SchH 3 5 times and took him to 1996 USA Nationals 22nd place my first time at any kind of biog competition, before he had a career ending stroke that ended his competition career at 5 years old. After that I moved on to other K9 sports including the NAPD and then PSA where I titled 2 dogs to PSA 3. In the meantime as I was competing with Arrow, I started Tarheel Canine Training, Inc. in Sanford NC and began learning about police dogs. Incidentally I dropped out of my Ph.D. program to start my business, and although my family thought I was insane to give up 13 years of higher education, I couldn’t have been happier with my decision.

In your opinion how do sport and police dogs differ?

Primarily in the end result skill set, and the fact that the stakes are a lot higher. A police dog has to be prepped to bite “for real” and no matter how much we brag on our sport dogs being “real” that isn’t their function, ultimately. In training there are more similarities than differences with respect to the bitework. The majority of the foundation training is exactly the same. A lot of the skill (say for a PSA dog and a police dog) are very similar. Lots of environmental deconditioning, lots of nerve, and many skills like call-offs, re-directs, outs, returns to cover, etc are the same.

What do you look for when evaluating a dog for either police or sport work? Do the requirements differ?

I just wrote a blog on this, actually. To me, selection is more art than science. Some of the best dogs I know of probably would have failed a patrol dog test somewhere. In a classically aggressive dog I like strong prey, and solid defense that you can bring out in civil aggression. I like the defense to be committed, like as you stalk the dog and draw out the aggression, and you pass your hands near his mouth, he is all there at the end of the line, and you have a little fear in your heart that if you screw up, you know you are getting bit, hard, and he is pissed off! I like strong environmental nerves, but more important that what he has already seen, is enough socialization so that he has the ability to rebound if something throws him off. In a non-classically aggressive dog (the Prey Monster) I need to see enough clear headedness that he doesn’t get so prey blind that he can be brought back to earth from a high state of drive. Honestly, it is more art than science. For a police dog, I usually like the more lassically aggressive dog, because real defensive aggression causes a visceral effect on people who know nothing about dogs. Real aggression is kind of like the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography…..”I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it.”

Why is compulsion necessary with all the wonderful results you can get from motivational methods? Where do you see compulsion fitting in to your training program and where does motivation fit in?

Dog training isn’t something to “believe in.” it isn’t religion, it is an eclectic set of methods learned from both canine learning theory and experience applied to living creatures that are at their core all very similar, but in their earthly manifestations, are all somewhat different. To believe that one approach, one technology, is the answer is in my opinion self-delusional. But people like to be “right” and “morally superior” and all that, so we have built quasi-religious sects in dog training, You have the e-collar religion, and the purely positive religion, and then you have people who take a more eclectic approach. I love motivational training. On some dogs it is amazing what a skilled positive trainer can achieve. I’d rather train with motivation. In most of what we do, where the competing motivations to the task are relatively low because we have selected dogs that are extreme in their retrieve and hunting drives, we can rely on motivational training to carry us all the way to the end of the training task for the most part – such as in detection training and tracking But I also know, with any organism with a free will – and a dog has free will to make decisions in his interest based on his temperament and the drives he needs to satisfy – limits have to be set and enforced. Wild animals learn from both motivation and compulsion. When the young Bear cub messes with the porcupine, he does it only once. Unpleasant consequences teach important lessons. Having had Malinois all my life, I am so used to dealing with strong willed dogs that often defy the motivational plan because they see some prey or something in their environment that calls up a defensive reaction, I see the utility in thoughtful compulsion to achieve an understanding of boundaries. I see the need for both. Dog training is not the place to get your religion, although so many are true believers. I don’t participate in these doctrinal disputes. I look at results. In economics there was a theorem which says that resources flow to their most highly valued use. So, if we look at why most of the top competitors in almost every canine endeavor, such as field trials or Schutzhund or PSA, they all use highly driven dogs to take advantage of the motivational aspect of learning, but they almost to a person also use e-collars. If purely motivational methods alone could earn top scores over an eclectic approach, any competitor who wants to win would be doing that exclusively, because people who want to win do not get married to one method, they do what wins. So, if pure motivation would produce a better overall performance, all else equal, all top competitors would do it, because all that is important to a competitor is to place 1st. That resource (technology) would be adopted immediately. It hasn’t happened. Eclectic approaches win. I’ll stay open minded, but eclectic.

Why is it important to teach targeting? Where is the best place to teach a dog to target in police applications and why is that location the best?

Targeting makes sense for a number of reasons. In police work you want the dog reacting on habit, not out there thinking about what he is going to grip. In my opinion, lack of targeting increases the likelihood that a dog will not engage (because engaging for a dog with no targeting requires the dog to think before acting), and increases the likelihood the dog will get fended off the bite, and legally it induces the dog to make multiple grips that have to be explained because he “bites everywhere” but isn’t committed to any one or two places. I could write a book on this, but I have seen it so often in PSA, dogs with no targeting (and I mean general targeting not teaching the dog to bite only one spot – arms inside and outside, and shins front and back for example) get run off the bite almost every single time they encounter opposition they are unfamiliar with from the decoy. Plus it makes people want to decoy for your dog. If your dog will bite a hand as easily as he will bite a bicep, Nobody wants to catch your dog, so he gets less good training.

What advice would you give a beginner with aspirations of learning about working dogs?

Don’t become an expert too soon. I see young trainers all the time who have to show how good they are, and they run their mouths, instead of watching and listening. You learn nothing by talking. If you have been working dogs for say 2 years, you know nothing, compared to most of the top level trainers. You may know more than your neighbor, but so does everyone else. Put your ego in check, even if you are talented. Learning takes place by observing and asking questions, and trying to make theoretical sense of what you are seeing. Also, experiment with your training. Try things, and allow yourself to fail and learn from that. There are so many trainers who always have to be right (in their minds) when they suggest something about how a dog should be trained. My approach is to observe and make use of some trial and error. I always learn something from my mistakes and failures.

In your book Controlled Aggression you mention drive channeling. Briefly, how does this apply to make training a dog under the stress of bite work easier?

Thanks for the “briefly” because I wrote 3 chapters on drive channeling in Controlled Aggression. I think this is one of the concepts I learned very early on in Schutzhund training. Pressure (threat) will stress a dog, and stress accumulates, so you must balance pressure with relief otherwise you risk going ultimately into avoidance. Relief comes for the working dog through his prey drive. Stress comes through activating his defense drive. Many of the problems I see with police dogs or working dogs in general, is an incomplete foundation. Dogs cannot unload their stress unless they are taught they can do so. Many dogs cannot be obedient in bitework until they can clear their heads of stress. Many out problems are never going to be solved through force, because the dog is unable to channel out of the defensive mood where he is fighting for his survival, so more pain simply causes more defensive mood and the cycle gets worse, all the while the dog develops an unbelievable tolerance to pain.

What method(s) do you utilize to train an out, or correct an out problem?

First make sure the foundation is good. The dog can channel his drives well. Then, use good technique. You can trade toys all you want, but the real work of out training comes when the dog has a confrontation with a man. I think a combination of three things makes a difference for the police dog: (1) A properly Trained forced out on command using the back-tie method I describe in Controlled Aggression, (2) Bringing good man-orientation training into the training, where the dog learns to drop dead prey such as a slipped sleeve, to re-engage the man for a continued fight, and (3) good foundation of redirect training, leading to a call-off. A sound methodology fits together to make a logically consistent whole. All of these are explained in detail in Controlled Aggression.

Where does obedience fit into your police dog training program?

I often get some flack for this. For the last 30 years of police dog training, a compulsive method has been used – negative reinforcement learning with positive punishment to maintain the response. This is the oldest technology we have. If you are doing this training, you probably have a set of encyclopedias taking up space in your house that you use to look stuff up in, while the rest of us type a word into Google on our blackberries. That technology worked when the police dogs we used donated nasty nervy aggressive middle-pack patrol dogs that needed to have a handle put on them quick, or you were getting a KNPV dog that thought he was king of the world. Not that I agree with this approach for the latter necessarily, because a lot of Americans got eaten up at the airport when they tried to show Marco the PH 1 who was the “alpha” right out of the box. Of course the Malinois got blamed for being unstable. Fast forward to now, and we have a lot of 11 and 12 month old dogs coming into training, because world wide demand is so high, dogs don’t get to get to 18 months or 24 months before they are bought by police dog trainers and classes. This method breaks these precocious young dogs down. They are not mentally ready for compulsive obedience. They had tremendous drive that can be shaped though. So we usually teach obedience last. In our detection dogs we teach very little obedience at all. I see guys hammer their single purpose detection dogs with obedience and what does it accomplish? I’ll tell you what, it accomplishes nothing! Yes you need obedience, and especially for a patrol dog, but if you teach motivationally before you compulse, the dog has a chance to avoid a lot of the stress that can cross over into independent skills, like detection, searching, etc. “Stop or I will tell my dog to sit!” Just doesn’t catch criminals. If I could see one thing happen in to police dog world it would be to get every K9 cop to go to a protection sport trial and see how many civilians who train dogs for a hobby have more control using an eclectic, stress-relieving approach to obedience, maximizing the opportunity to reward rather than force.

What advice can you give to those handlers looking to select a puppy to train? What do you look for in a puppy and do you look at different things based on the handlers long term plan? Do you look at the parents or pedigree and how important are they in your decision?

Pedigrees don’t bite. In a puppy I look for a bold, happy, social, prey driven dog that will play tug on a flirt pole (Signature K9 should make and sell good flirt poles – no charge for that idea – you don’t want people making homemade sleeves do you? – btw if this makes it in the newsletter I will be very excited). All the rest is bullshit. The pain tolerance toe squeezing nonsense of the puppy tests…..I have never seen it make a difference. Get a puppy from someone who has bred the parents or similar lines before. Just know that about 80% of pups don’t work out. But the most important thing you can do for your pup is to get him to 3 new places every week from the day you get him home, and play with him in those places.

What do you do to keep up a finished dog or are they ever finished?

Break all your skills training down into self-contained segments. Keep training the segments, and keep training your fundamentals. Training is never finished. Don’t be afraid to go back to basics no matter where your dog is in his career. Simple and clean skills are the best. Challenge your dog, but don’t push him to his limits in every session. Let him win easy sometimes, just don’t tell him you did.

What is the silliest thing you ever did in Pet Smart?

I went in to buy a Kong, and in the check-out line, I found a little book on how to housetrain a dog in 7 days, written no doubt by someone who once housetrained a dog. I asked the 17 year old clerk if they had these on a CD that I could play for my dog to listen to, because he couldn’t sit still long enough to finish a book, and she said, “I’m sorry sir, I think we only have the books.” God bless her. If you are gong to be around dogs, make sure you have a sense of humor.

What is your most embarrassing dog training moment?

I trained a pet boxer for obedience, all on leash only. The dog was getting out of the house because the kids would forget to close the door, and so the dog got out into the neighborhood to romp, and the poor guy would chase this boxer for an hour. The guy was a Major in the Army at Ft. Bragg. Super nice family. So he calls me up and says, well, I guess I should have gotten the full off leash program, because if I have to chase this dog around the neighborhood again I am going to strangle him. So I take the dog back to do an e-collar program with him. Here is the scene for the first day of training. I am in my front yard of my kennel. Nobody else around, just me and “Langley” the boxer. I have a leash on him and I want to test the level on the collar. To free my hands I take the leash and tie it to my belt loop (not wearing a belt that day). Old A1 70 Tri-tronics collar with the plugs that go into the collar. Green is level 5, the hottest, all the way down to I think level 1 which was red maybe. I put in a level 2. I tap the collar (all continuous stimulation collars then), and the boxer jumps straight in the air, lands, and takes off, the leash pulls my belt loop, popping the button on my shorts, my shorts go to my ankles, feet go out from under me, and I go on the ground on my back. So there I am, Professional Dog Trainer, pants at my ankles, staring up at the North Carolina blue sky, the boxer is at the end of the leash, looking at me like he was just attacked by a Bear, and I started laughing at myself, thankful that I was all alone. The boxer came over and licked my face, and started wagging his ass like they do. It took him a minute but he got the joke….and we went down to a level one after that.