Patrol test for Police K9s

This is an excerpt from Controlled Aggression by Jerry Bradshaw….available by clicking on the link on this blog’s home page….

The Patrol Test

 The patrol test begins with evaluating the dog’s demeanor as he comes into the testing area. It is preferable to choose a neutral testing area that is unfamiliar to the dog. Try to avoid doing all the testing on the dog’s home field. Remember you are testing his nerves in addition to testing his drives. We are looking for his pack sociability (how he relates to his handler including the bond in evidence, or possibly any negative attributes like hand shyness) and his public sociability (how he relates to you and anyone else unknown to the dog in the testing area). Is the dog is social or neutral, or worse, decidedly unsocial.  If the dog is very civil, and that is something you value highly, he should be alert to the people around him but confident. There is a difference between a sharp dog and a fear biter – the difference being confidence. Once you are happy with the dog’s public sociability the dog is ready to be tested.

 Defense Evaluation

 The testing begins on the back tie.  If it is a young dog in early adolescence, the dog can be held by the handler on leash. However, I prefer to see the dog work independently and as such I want the dog’s handler completely out of the picture.

We begin by testing the dog’s defensive instincts. From a hiding place, the decoy (dressed in street clothes, he may have a hidden sleeve on) comes out slowly and makes defensive contact with the dog by staring in his eyes and moving very slowly toward the dog, from a distance of about 30-50 feet. This is not training. We are evaluating how he deals with the stress of a confrontation with a stranger, without any hint that this will be fun or familiar. There should be no protection equipment in the testing area, and no warm up bites for the dog. No prey items at all should be in evidence.

The slow approach allows the dog time to think about what is happening, the posture of the decoy is to be threatening, forward, always engaged with his eyes on the dog, and the decoy must, in his mind, pretend he is going to hurt the dog when he gets close enough. You must watch the dog for his response. If he growls a low growl, and puffs air, that is a good start. But, you are looking for how the dog handles the stress of the approach, when his aggression doesn’t immediately scare off the threat.

There should be an aggressive and confident response. Look at the body language of the dog. You will likely see a mix of signals. Maybe some hackles up, snarling (short mouth), ears up or flat, tail up, out or slightly tucked. A dog in defense is posturing to look scary. Once he looks scary you then continue to apply the pressure. It is critical that you do not reward this with prey (quick movements, side to side or in and out) in any way, but keep pressing.


As you come further in, look for changes in behavior: does the tail tuck further, up ears flatten back, does the dog quit and look around as if looking for an escape? Does he back up or stay hard into the collar, his entire body coming forward? As you come forward match his reactions. Make your shoulders rise, bend forward more, lower your head and stare hard. Harden your facial expression into a human snarl. Look for how he deals with your aggression.

A dog in a defensive mood can do three things: He can fight, flee, or displace. In reality he can show a mixture of behaviors, as the pressure builds, maybe first trying to be aggressive to bluff you into retreating, and then choose displacement.[1] He might choose to flee, and run away hard into the back tie line. What we are looking for is a dog that meets threat with threat, and comes forward into the collar with confident aggression.

When you are close enough to step into the circle described by the back tie line, you can swing the hidden sleeve in for a bite or make a movement as if you are delivering a grip, and see if he bites the hidden sleeve or he clacks his jaws at your arm passing just out of his reach. You want him to turn that frustration and defensive energy into biting. Aggression must be met with more aggression, for this dog to be capable to fight in a street situation. Granted, there will be much more training to come to develop his drives, but we want a solid aggressive response to work with. We don’t want the dog to think about a way out of the confrontation.[2] If you use the hidden sleeve, work him hard and see how he deals with the fight after the confrontation. Look for weakness in the grip, and other signs that show he is not fully committed. Use lots of vocalizing, and sound real. After a short fight, weaken your fighting, and see if he wants to thrash you and punish you. Look for his confidence to rise.[3]


Prey Evaluation


If you are satisfied with his defensive reactions, now change gears and do a prey drive test. Go to a visible sleeve, or bite suit depending on the dog’s level of development. Use a lot of movement, use a whip and stick to stimulate the dog with familiar noises. Do a couple of pass-by moves, and then deliver the grip. Now you are evaluating his behavior in the prey mood. Evaluate the quality of the grip. Look for any stress that remains from the earlier defensive encounter.  The dog can become “stuck in defense,” and therefore unwilling to chase you around. If you didn’t give him a hidden sleeve bite after the defense test, he may not want to even bite the sleeve if the stress has caused him to be too concerned with the possibility of more threat to come, regardless of the decoy’s posture.


The ideal response is a change in attitude from a defensive posture, to a more relaxed prey posture. The ideal posture should be forward, with maybe a change in the pitch of the bark to a higher pitch, or perhaps silent, but straining to get the prey. The classical prey postures include the dog pulling forward into the line, front feet off the ground. The dog’s ears will be forward, and if he barks, the dog will do so with a big wide open mouth. The pitch of the bark may be a little higher than when he is in a defensive mood. He may still carry a bit of the seriousness from the initial defensive confrontation, and that is fine, as long as you are getting the response you desire. We seek a confident picture, one of a dog that wants to follow your movement, and lunge to catch the sleeve on the pass-by misses.

Once on the sleeve, look at the grip. We want a nice full grip. On one of your pass-by bites, intentionally deliver a half grip to the dog, and see if he will counter in when you offer him the opportunity. We want to be sure he is confident to press forward into the grip when the opportunity presents itself. Test him with the stick over his head, petting him with it, and give a few hits to the line on the back tie, finishing with a hit on the side while on the grip. Look for any changes in the grip with the pressure.

Further we are looking to see if the dog targets the sleeve well, coming in the middle and not to the hands or elbow. Coming low to the hand can signal a lack of commitment to the grip, by coming to an area on the sleeve that is farthest away from the body of the helper. Further, basic sleeve targeting is not something you want to have to teach a good green dog. Finally, check him with the bite suit as well. Make sure he will engage the suit. If he has never been on the suit, start by offering him a prey bite on the back of the arm, and then offer him the inside front shoulder. For some dogs, this will cause them to avoid the grip altogether. Look to see how his grip changes, if at all, when biting in the front.[4] The bite suit itself adds a lot of defensive stress to a prey encounter by virtue of the fact that the dog must come into the helper’s body much more than an outside forearm bite on a sleeve. This will tell you a lot about the dog’s nerves in general, and if he will look later to avoid more stressful encounters. Remember that we are not asking to see perfect targeting in the front inside shoulder, just a willingness to take the grip there, and be in the grip confidently. We will add more pressure to these inside bites later in training, but the dog should at a minimum be willing to take the grip there with at least a ¾ grip.


Courage Test


Once the evaluation is concluded in prey and defense, and you have tested his desire to bite the sleeve, the hidden sleeve, and the bite suit, you can do some tests of his desire to come in for a grip under environmental distractions. You can go back to sleeve bites here if you wish, or if the dog is strong take him in a prey position on the bite suit. This would be the outside of the forearm or the triceps area in the back of the suit. Good environmental distractions can include: a clatter stick barrage, a jug with rocks in it, or a hula-hoop with caution tape streamers. These are all good choices due to their unfamiliarity. Further, be sure to test the dog on slick surfaces, preferably in a large building. Large buildings that are open, like warehouses, are a much different test than seeing if the dog will work on a slick floor in a small house or clubhouse. The openness of the warehouse can be disorienting, and the echoes can unnerve weaker dogs. Test him also in a tight space or a dark room if you can. Test the dog going up open stairs. Remember you are buying the dog. It is better to test thoroughly, than to have to come back and plead your case after you tested and bought the dog. The key question is this: will the dog’s drive carry him through any unfamiliarity.

Test the dog to his limits of his age and training, without throwing the dog into any kind of avoidance. If you see him avoid something, immediately help him. This goes for any portion of the test. But remember, if you push him into avoidance, you are not going to buy him, and you should help the vendor give the dog a positive training session at a minimum. Otherwise you may not be welcome back for another buying opportunity.

Once all these phases of the test are complete, you can make your determination as to whether the dog is suitable for your training program. In every dog there will be strengths and weaknesses. What you want to determine is that the weaknesses are minor and the strengths abundant. Accept only weaknesses you know that you can work through. Keep in mind most nerve issues are genetic in nature, unless the dog is simply young and inexperienced. For example, suppose the dog is biting nicely, did a nice defensive test, and you raise the jug of rocks over his head, and he pops off then comes right back on. You try again, applying a de-conditioning technique and the dog shows only moderate concern over the jug the second time, stressing a little but not coming off the grip. The third time, he pretty much works through it. That is a dog you can work with. He bounced back.


[1] Displacement occurs when a dog chooses an incongruous behavior in the context of the threat against him, such as suddenly sniffing the ground, or jumping up on the handler. Some behaviorists call these behaviors calming signals. The dog is looking for a way to halt your aggressive behavior. If he chooses to meet your threat with displacement, he is looking for a way out.

[2] Younger dogs, who may not have developed their defense drive, or who are genetically very high threshold in defense drive, may need to be tested in an unfamiliar place, on slick floors, in a quiet area in the dark. Put the needed pressure into the situation if your threat is met with confident indifference.

[3] This is a peek into how he will channel from defense into prey. We want him to go into some prey behaviors when he thinks he is beating you up. Thrashing, countering, feet on you, and other signs of prey-like confidence are ideal.

[4] You can also use a sleeve for this. Some of the Belgian made sleeves can be turned around so that the triceps protection is in front of the biceps and you can offer a grip and work the dog in the front. If the grip stays strong and committed, the dog is a good prospect. Many dogs will drop back into a defensive mood when offered a bite in the front. This can be worked through, but I prefer a dog that can take a prey bite in the front and not be shaken by the frontal position.