By Jerry Bradshaw, Tarheel Canine Training, Inc.
Police K9 Magazine Questions: November 15, 2010
I started working my second dog about 4 months ago. Our trainer happened to find a 10 month old Dutch Shepherd that has very high drives. In the past we have always purchased older dogs that were imported from Holland. I took him to work with me for the first few months (my SUV has two kennels) just doing socialization and environmental things. He did so well we started his narc training. Now at 14 months he is narc certified and doing great. The little bit of bite work we have done with him has been impressive. My trainer is a little set in his ways and believes a dog is not mature enough for patrol until he is at least 18 months, but he prefers the dog to be 2 years. We have talked about it several times and he thinks we will hurt his drives if we start patrol training now. I really would like to know if your trainers feel the same way as I am ready to get going on his patrol training. I have not seen any signs of immaturity in him.
While 18 months – 24 months may be a guideline for this trainer, age is not really the issue. The issue is the presence of drives (prey, defense) and the nerves the dog possesses. If the dog has good nerves, and you have been socializing him to people, places and things, then you can absolutely do productive work with him at this age.
There are two stages to preparing a patrol dog: Foundation and skills. Foundation work includes the following: prey drive development, defense drive development, drive channeling (moving the dog from prey to defense and vice versa), targeting, human orientation, and the like, all of which are typically done early. If you normally get dogs from Holland, what do you think is being done with them over there before they are 18 months old? I suppose some people think the dogs just live in a home or a kennel for 2 years before they start working them, but this is in fact not true. From the time the dog is a puppy, they go to the KNPV clubs, or IPO clubs, and are staked out to watch the older dogs work, and be worked by the club’s experienced decoys. The decoys form the dog’s biting behavior and how he responds to threats, starting with work on the burlap sack, progressing up to tugs, sleeves, and eventually biting on the bite suit in some cases. They are taught pursuit bites, simple searching, and the like. But the fact is that the young dogs are doing “patrol work” – not with a lot of obedience and control, but the foundational work that makes the dog be able to go through the skills training with little adverse effects.
Skills training is bringing control to bear on the biting behavior developed in the foundational stages of work. When the dog’s prey training, initial defense training, and drive channeling has been worked sufficiently, and the dog is meeting all the goals we want for this foundation work, we can begin putting on the control. This is where trainers want the dog to have some maturity, as “control” for most trainers often means applying “force.” Skills training involves establishing the following trained behaviors: out, recall, building searches, escorts, false starts, handler protection, and the like, which often require obedience to temper the dog’s aggression. These skills are what separate a “green dog” from a trained patrol dog. The dog does need some measure of maturity to handle this training, but if done well, a minimum of force can be used to achieve great results. Maturity also matters when a street confrontation is imminent. The dog’s nerves and training (drive channeling) determine how the dog will handle the stress of a street situation, and certainly maturity does matter. However, letting the dog sit will only regress his biting behavior. I find it hard to believe that a 14 month old could not benefit from structured foundational training at a minimum, developing his prey work, his defense work, and most crucially his drive channeling, so that there is a great foundation for his skills work a couple months down the road. It’s great that he is already narc certified, but like anything, letting the dog sit, and not working him to prepare him for patrol class is a waste of a very valuable time in his life.
My 5 year old patrol dog, a GSD, just broke another K-9. He broke the first one about a year ago and we had a silver crown placed on it. It was expensive but seems to be holding at this point. Since then I have heard handlers with many opinions, some like the crown, some like an implant (which takes the dog out of service for months) and some say just to have the K-9 reshaped and a root canal done. The veterinarians I have talked to all seem to go with the most expensive procedure. My question is: have your trainers dealt with this issue and what were the results? My agency is not too thrilled with another four thousand dollar dentist bill.
I have a fair bit of experience with this as a vendor. First, I would like to say, that what you noticed as far as the veterinarians seeming to recommend the most expensive procedure is also my experience. It drives me mad knowing how much stress can be put on the teeth by controlled aggression training, and often the veterinatrians recommending the procedure have never even been around working dogs doing this kind of work, to have an idea of what exactly to recommend. However, until agencies and handlers stop taking the word of veterinarians as gospel on all matters, and realize they are just as self-interested as the next person, there will be no incentive for this to change.
I do not like putting posts and stainless steel crowns on broken teeth. crowns will break off and rip out the post under the stress of aggression training. Then you will probably be told to repeat the procedure. The vast majority of dogs can bite with broken -off canines that are root canaled and shaped. That is the best, least expensive way to deal with the problem. If just the tip of the tooth breaks off, often you need to do nothing. Do not be fooled into expensive procedures, posts and caps, as they are unreliable. I currently own and have owned competition dogs and worked with police dogs with broken teeth and I have never had a problem with a root canal and a shaping of the tooth. The other procedures are more expensive and less reliable. In Europe, I have never seen posts and caps put on teeth, and in fact most of the vets I have spoken with over there do not recommend it for working dogs preferring to go with root canals and shaping.