Drive Promotion, Part II
by Armin Winkler
As promised, here is
the second part of my article on prey drive promotion. Naturally, I won't
start at the beginning of prey drive training again. I am going to make
the assumption that the reader has read part one of this article in order to
continue my discussion. There are several exercises that I personally feel
should be started during prey drive promotion training, these exercises are
going to be the focus of this article.
Like everybody else
who has been involved with dogs for a while, I am certainly aware that training
does not always follow the steps outlined in books or videos. But if we
are involved in the training of a dog with solid prey drive, and we followed the
steps I outlined in the last article, then we can assume that the dog has a firm
handle on the following techniques:
He bites a rag
firmly and holds onto it.
He keeps the rag
in his mouth and carries it for short stretches.
He can jump up
and bite a rag in one motion.
He barks at the
motionless helper to create action.
He runs towards
the helper then jumps and bites to make prey.
Assuming that the
dog we are training is "with the program," so to speak, the transfer
onto the sleeve is a very good choice as the next training step. Whether
we go to a puppy arm, an intermediate sleeve, or a full size arm really depends
on the age, size, and talent of the dog. The type of sleeve used really
does not matter, the training pretty much looks the same.
The first step in
achieving the transfer to the sleeve is to make the dog accept the sleeve as his
new prey object, in other words he has to view the sleeve the same way he has
viewed the sack or rag up to now. I prefer to start by swinging and
wiggling the sleeve around in front of the dog, just out of his reach, from time
to time I also throw it past him just short of where he can grab it.
I have found better
success when I start with the sleeve not on my arm in the beginning for two
I can move the
sleeve more freely and therefore stimulate the dog stronger.
I have found that
some dogs have no hesitation biting an object in the beginning, but they act
hesitant when biting "a part of the helper."
In the initial phases
of this training we should take great care to remove all hesitation or
inhibition in the dog to allow his drives to come out as strongly as possible.
A word of caution
for this stage in training. As helpers we have to realize that the sleeve
is much more a part of us than the sack ever was. We have to be very aware
of this and remember Dr. Raiser's words: "If one tries to promote prey
drive, then all the dog's focus should be on the prey, meaning that it is the
prey that does all the moving around, not the helper. Furthermore, the
prey never moves towards the dog, but always away from, even after it is
grabbed." Why do I make such a big deal about this you ask? The
answer is simple, it is a big deal.
As we try to move
the sleeve in a wild and sporadic manner we also move around a lot and it is
very easy to move in a way which is viewed as confrontational by the dog.
Which in turn is totally counterproductive to prey work. Another very
common problem in this stage of training is that the sleeve is moved towards the
dog, sometimes quite forcefully. Very few things annoy me more when I work
a dog than seeing a young dog get out of the way of the sleeve to avoid being
hit with it, or to avoid having it rammed down his throat. "Prey
always moves away from the dog." This applies to the sleeve as much
as it did for the rag.
Now that I am done
preaching, let me describe what the work should look like. As already
described above, the dog's prey drive is stimulated by the moving sleeve, he
keeps reaching and snapping at it but so far in vain. Now it is time to
give the dog an opportunity to bite, for this the sleeve can be held by opposite
ends, or it can be worn on the helper's arm. The helper passes by the dog
laterally (not towards him) and presents the sleeve.
Several points to
The dog needs to
be allowed a good opportunity to bite the sleeve.
The dog may be a
bit unsure by the feel of the new prey, so he should win it right away, even
if the bite is a bit weak.
This is a
teaching exercise, so we want to show the dog where on the sleeve we want
him to bite, by only allowing him to bite the correct area on the sleeve.
As soon as the dog has
won the sleeve we work on getting him to hold on to it. The same two
methods work I described for sack work, have rope or leash on the sleeve to tug
on it when the dog wants to let it go, or challenge the dog for his prey right
away. I follow the same training steps as with a sack to get the dog to
hold his initial grip on the sleeve. As with the sack, the sleeve will
then be presented progressively higher until the dog again has to jump and bite
to make prey. Remember, there is no rush to put a dog on a sleeve.
At this point I feel
it is necessary to briefly talk about the strike or attack exercise again.
As I described in my last article, I start this exercise with a sack already if
I can, to teach the dog targeting technique and to lower inhibitions in the dog
when it comes to biting prey on a helper who is facing the dog. Those two
points are very important, and present us with new problems when we are working
with a sleeve. The dog has to target more accurately to get a good bite on
the sleeve. The helper has to be very careful to catch the dog softly, so
the dog does not hurt his mouth on the sleeve. And, the sleeve is much
closer to the helper's body, so the frontal picture is much more ominous for the
that he starts this exercise by moving laterally to the stimulated dog, then the
dog is released when the helper gives the signal. Initially the dog gets a
shot at the helper and sleeve more from the side than frontally. Gradually
the dog gets more and more of a frontal view when he makes prey, until he
attacks straight into the helper with the sleeve horizontally across the
helper's chest. During all these bites it is always important that the
helper compensates for any problems the dog may have, and that he always absorbs
the dog's impact softly.
I teach this
exercise very similar in principle, but somewhat different technically.
Let me describe it briefly. The dog, who is held by the collar, is
stimulated by the helper in prey, the sleeve moves a lot, and I usually let the
dog snap and miss a couple of times. Then I move away from the dog, always
making sure that his eyes are fixated on the sleeve (remember, we are working
the dog in prey at this stage), by wiggling it. In the beginning I don't
move more than about 5-10 meters away from handler and dog. When I have reached
my catching spot, I bend over wiggling the sleeve around just above the ground.
When the dog is nicely pumped up, I give the handler the signal (something
pre-arranged) to let him go. The dog charges at the frantically wiggling
sleeve, when the dog comes to within a distance where he is setting up to target
and then leap, I stand up and pull the sleeve up with me to a height I think the
dog can easily reach. This last minute "escape" manoeuver by the
prey (sleeve) prompts the dog to follow the movement of the sleeve. The
dog will leap upwards and forwards to catch the sleeve which moves upwards and
backwards (prey moves away from dog). Contact should be timed so it occurs when
the sleeve is in the position it normally is in when a helper performs any
frontal trial exercise. The impact from the dog has to be absorbed by the
helper, who then goes on to set the dog onto the ground. In the beginning
the dog will win the sleeve at that moment. I feel that this method brings great
success with dogs who do not naturally strike hard. The dog strikes the
helper frontally right from the start without realizing it because he should be
completely mesmerized by the last second movement of the sleeve. As I said
in the beginning the principle, making the exercise about the prey, is the same
it is just executed a bit differently. A word of caution regarding this method,
it takes good timing on the part of the helper. I would recommend that
helpers practise this manoeuver with experienced dogs who already strike well,
before they experiment around with dogs who are just learning.
The next skill the
dog should learn during prey drive promotion is the active counter. In his book
Dr. Raiser titles this chapter "Teaching the Dog to Fight." Let
me take a moment to remind the readers that none of the described exercises have
to occur exactly in the sequence I am outlining them. I sometimes teach
the countering much earlier in training if the dog allows it. However, I
do believe that biting a sleeve, striking, and countering are techniques a dog
must master before trial exercises are put together. Now back to
countering. What is countering? Let me give you my definition.
Countering is any type of assertive behavior on the part of the dog when he
feels adversity (stress) during a bite-exercise. The most common forms are
forceful tugging, growling, re-gripping, and shaking. Dr. Raiser
concentrates pretty much on the "Shaking Prey to Death" behavior in
his book. My preferred reaction is the re-gripping behavior, because I
feel it has the most benefits for the dog, especially in his sport career.
For the purpose of this discussion, I will use the term countering.
depends very much on the dog, we have to tailor our training to the individual
dog. To quote Dr. Raiser: "In dogs with very strong drives and in
some insecure dogs it is relatively easy to provoke the
"shaking-to-death" behavior. In other dogs that might not be
possible until the are 15 months or older or until the have undergone heavy
defensive drive promotion." For that reason I believe very strongly
that we should keep the teaching of this technique in mind at every stage of
training so that we do not miss an opportunity. We have to recognize
countering behavior for what it is and reward it whenever it occurs, even if we
are working on another exercise.
describe how I teach countering. The dog gets a bite on leash. While the dog is
holding on the handler should hold the leash tight, the helper should keep the
bite object (sleeve or rag) calm and steady. The helper should also not be
confrontational with the dog, meaning he should keep the dog behind him a bit.
Now remember, it is adversity which provokes the dog to counter. So, we have to
create adversity in very small doses. We flex our sleeve arm, as if the prey
animal has found new strength. We can cover the dog's eyes with our hand. We can
face the dog more frontally. We can tickle his throat. We can lift the dog up a
bit. We can rub the dog with a stick. We can drag him towards a foreign object.
We can blow in his face. The possibilities are really endless, as long as we
always keep in mind that it is always better to create too little adversity than
too much. The adversity is designed to cause the dog a bit of stress and make
him feel slightly insecure. Immediately following the stress, should be a moment
when the stress causing factor lets up a bit. The dog will perceive this as if
the adversary is experiencing a moment of weakness. Dogs with normal drives and
instincts will take this moment of weakness to assert themselves, and this
assertion is our counter.
What we have to
realize is that it is stress which triggers the counter. We may cause the dog
stress unintentionally any time during training, so if the dog counters at any
point in early training, we have to let him win. We can do this by stripping the
sleeve, or by relaxing and giving up momentarily before we continue with what we
were doing. We have to really feel out a dog to see what method of triggering
the counter is best so that we do not create grip problems. In the beginning I
reward any countering behavior so I will not create insecurities in the dog (
Raiser: "unaffected tolerance of aggression causes insecurity").
However, as the dogs confidence and skill repertoire grows, I become more choosy
as to which counters I reward, and which ones I do not. For example, a dog with
a very shallow grip who shakes violently will not reach his goal from me for
very long, I will wait for a re-grip before I will reinforce his counter.
In general I would
say that I only reward the shake, growl, or tug as a counter in the very
beginning of training and later only with dogs whose grips are very full and
almost perfect. But once again I have to judge each situation as it happens,
nothing is chiseled in stone. If the above method, which by the way is very
similar to what Dr. Raiser describes in his book, does not lead to the desired
countering behavior, then we probably have to wait until the dog is more mature,
and defensive drive promotion has begun.
Before I wrap up
prey drive promotion, I want to discuss one more exercise, which I consider
imperative for prey drive work. That exercise is exploding into drive from
the control phase. For this I need a dog advanced enough in training that
he bites a sleeve (or at least a puppy-sleeve) and preferably already counters
(preferable, but not absolutely necessary). One very common but also huge
problem I encounter all the time is that very competent dogs suffer tremendously
from handler influence (however mild it may be). A dog's drives are
inhibited by obedience, after all, obedience teaches the dog that the handler
decides when he can and when he cannot follow his instincts. It is only
natural then that after obedience during bitework the dog's biting performance
may suffer. Let me anticipate some criticism here. Has this guy
never heard of drive capping? Of course I have, and for the readers who
have not, drive capping refers to harnessing or collecting drive through
obedience. Unfortunately, it takes a master to make that technique work
well, and not all of us, myself included, are masters at it. The exercise
I am about to describe in a way serves the same purpose, only that the dog
learns to do it himself, rather than the handler doing it for him.
The way I start this
exercise is to set a dog up like in the SchH II and III escape. In other words,
I get the handler to make his dog lie down, holding him by the collar. I stand
sideways to the dog the sleeve facing the dog. The agreement is the handler
releases the dog as soon as I take a step. I then perform a run away. The dog
should follow and bite the sleeve. As soon as he has a firm grip I will strip
the sleeve, the dog gets to make prey. Initially I find that the dog's grip may
not be as convincing as it is during the exercises with heavy stimulation. The
dog may even act a bit half hearted, after all, first he has to be obedient by
lying down, then he has to be dis-obedient by breaking the down. And still he
has to muster enough drive to catch the helper and bite the sleeve. This
exercise is harder on dogs than people realize, and I am sure every helper will
agree with me that a lot of dogs show diminished bite performance in the
beginning stages of this exercise. The exercise evolves to where the dog has to
down off leash and stay put until the helper moves. This takes quite a bit of
control. The next step is to make the dog heel around a bit, then down, then the
escape. Next we have the dog heeling around with some sits for pauses, then when
the dog shows nice collected heeling and sitting, the helper jerks the sleeve
while the dog is in a sit, to allow him to come for a frontal strike. The
attentive reader will recognize this as a very close approximation of the attack
on handler exercise in SchH I. Finally, I have the handler heel around me and do
one of the sitting pauses while behind me, then I will spin around and jerk the
sleeve, to let the dog bite. The down before the SchH II and III escape, the
heeling to the blind for the attack on handler in SchH I, and the rear transport
in SchH II and III before the surprise attack, are huge handler pressure
exercises in trials. Dogs who have learned how to explode into drive from an
obedience phase will have fewer problems with these exercises. I deliberately
teach this exercise during prey drive promotion, because I feel that dogs learn
this exploding into drive easier while they still work purely in prey drive and
not carry any extra baggage from the stresses of defensive drive work.
Naturally, the amount of obedience has to be tempered to the dogs level of
proficiency in obedience.
The goal of prey
drive promotion has been reached when the dog has learned that the presence of a
helper on the field means that the prized prey cannot be too far away, that he
can incite the helper into action by barking and when he has mastered good
gripping technique, fast, hard striking, countering, and exploding into drive
from obedience. At that point, the field, the helper, and the sleeve have all
become trigger stimuli for the dog's prey drive. If we were able to lay such a
solid and strong foundation in protection work in prey drive we are well on the
road to success on the sport field.
Of course, as
wonderful as prey drive is, it is not without downsides. One of the biggest
problems is that prey drive can be exhausted or fatigued. This means a point may
come when the dog just does not feel like chasing or catching prey any more,
Raiser calls this "Stimulus-and Action-Specific Exhaustion". When the
dog's prey drive is exhausted training is over for that session. If exhaustion
sets in very quickly, it becomes very difficult to make gains. Another problem
with prey drive may be that the prey drive in a particular dog is not strong
enough to even bite a sack competently. With dogs like that training is
frustrating and no progress can be made working only in prey. I am not making
these comments to cast a negative light on prey drive work, on the contrary,
foundation work should always be based on prey drive. But I want to make it
clear that training is not over by any means yet at the end of prey drive
promotion. We still have to work with the dog's defensive drive, and then we
have to work on channelling defense drive into prey drive, and how we can work
on balancing the two drives. I hope to get the opportunity to discuss those
exciting topics in future issues, as well as explaining some specific
cynological (dog related sciences) terminology.
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