By Tim Tieken, Master K9 Trainer with Moc Klinkam, Editor/Graphics

This article is an adjunct to tracking. It summarizes proper selection of the right dog, and preparing the young dog for future tracking success.

The Self Right Dog

I have learned that to be truly successful, I must select a self right dog. I define the "self right dog" as a dog with the attitude that any ground he stands on is his turf; and although he is willing to be friendly, he will defend his turf if challenged.

This attitude exudes confidence and lacks fear; it allows the dog to mentally focus on the task at hand. I am going to address the subject of juvenile dogs and specifically the question: "How do we produce a self right dog ready for police dog training?"

My focus will be on temperament preservation and what we can do to enhance it. I will address genetics with one comment: Without good genetics, what I discuss here will not work. All I speak of here is predicated upon the hypothesis that the dogs we choose to work are predisposed to good health and a self right temperament.

Confidence and Fear

For the sake of easy demonstration and at the risk of over-simplification, I am dividing the dog's temperament into two categories: confidence and fear. The foundation of confidence is a stable, healthy, chemically balanced nervous system; the building blocks are correct early life management. Fear is the factor that breaks down the solid structure of confidence.

The table below lists some behaviors that are motivated by either confidence or fear.

Ability to focus on task Distracted by fear and loses ability to focus
Appropriate friendliness toward strangers. Inappropriate fight, flight, or avoidance.
Appropriate defense posturing, controlled aggression or attack in response to a real threat, and quick recovery when threat is removed. Inappropriate response to a real threat (e.g., flight; all-out attack; submissiveness; freezing). Slow recovery when threat is removed.
Curious investigation of a new object that has been interjected into dog's environment. Inhibited response to unfamiliar object (e.g., total avoidance; slow approach and acceptance of object; aggressiveness toward object).
Confident anywhere. Unable to cope with a new environment.

Behavioral Orientation

Another element of temperament that is important to selecting the right dog is the dog's orientation. That is, his orientation toward the human or canine world. The following table depicts where the dog's Social, Sexual, and Micturition behaviors should be oriented.

Chart depicting appropriate balance between human and canine behavioral orientation

If the dog's social preferences are toward the canine world, his trainability and willingness to please will be low. Properly oriented, the dog will want to please you and still be congenial with his species. A dog too humanly oriented will need constant attention and approval from people.

Sexual orientation shouldn't need comment. Micturition behavior that is strongly oriented toward the canine world will be so distracting to a working dog that he may be unworkable. Micturition behavior is both genetic and learned. Learned behavior can either be avoided or modified. Genetically controlled behavior is less likely to be corrected. A dog who is strongly attracted to a micturition station by the pheremones involved and then "licks and savors" is not a good candidate for a tracking dog. The dog's only motive for urination should be elimination on an as-needed basis. Marking and reading behavior should be less pronounced in a dog you intend to use for tracking. Avoid allowing a young dog opportunity to develop negative habits. As soon as he eliminates, put him up. If he insists on marking prior to eliminating, crate him until he has to go. Use the same area for elimination each day, so the dog develops a habit of going in the area.

Early Life Experiences
The real question here is, "How do we preserve and enhance the temperament of a young dog that is genetically disposed to being a self right dog?" The direct and concise answer is: (1) avoid fear-producing incidents; (2) provide broad-based socialization; and (3) give early life experience designed to enhance those traits useful to your purpose. Such as developing prey chase with ball play and hide-and-seek games with toys. Keep it fun, while developing drive and olfactory experience.

  1. Avoid fear producing incidents.

    Age is critical in determining the type and amount of stress that a dog can safely carry. Too much stress can cause a clinical neurosis.

    Neurosis and psychosis can be caused more readily in a dog with a weak central nervous system.

    Psychological trauma to a young dog who is still developing may cause irreversible damage.

    0-5 weeks Dog needs nurturing from the dam and to be protected from environmental extremes.
    3-5 weeks Some human contact is advisable
    5-8 weeks Continue nurturing, but allow some mild stress such as cold or short-term social isolation. Also increase human contact with some interaction. Studies have revealed that pups who experience mild stress grow up to handle stress better than littermates who were protected from all stress.
    8-10 weeks This is a fear imprinting period. Avoid negative forceful reinforcements; minimize all stress; be careful to avoid threatening situations (e.g., close proximity to large strange dogs, manwork, or courage testing). Continue to socialize the dog.
    10-24 weeks Avoid negative forceful reinforcements Avoid close proximity to manwork, but allow the pup to observe at a safe distance. Graduate his exposure as his confidence grows. Avoid anything that cowers him until the dog is ready. Demonstrate to the dog that you are confident and allow him the freedom to investigate on his own.
    24+ weeks Avoid anything that cowers him until he is ready. Show him your confidence. Remember you are working with a child.

  2. Give a wide-based socialization. Rather than dwell on socialization, because it is a subject in itself, I encourage you to be well-read on the subject. (I recommend the writing of Drs Michael W. Fox; William E. Campbell; Leon F. Whitney; and Mr. Clarence Pfaffenberger.)

    One fact to keep in mind is that well-experienced pups develop larger brains with more elaborate nerve cells that process more information.

  3. Give early life experience designed to enhance those traits useful to your purposes. Have a purpose for what you do; be a skillful trainer.

    A. Start tracking in the tenth week to imprint desired behavior. This work should be fun and exciting for the dog, and totally void of stress.

    I believe in the old adage, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." I also believe you can lead a dog to the track, but you can't make him track. The dog must want to track -- work at building desire.

    Fun and exciting rewards are those that give positive reinforcement to a desired behavior. This same excitement causes development in the desired brain area.

    Take advantage of one or more instincts (ie, prey-chasing, social, curiosity, or game playing) to induce the dog to track and then reward him for it.

    B. Detection work may also start in the tenth week, and be developed in the same manner (hide-and-seek with a favorite toy).

    C. Manwork is an area where great caution should be used to protect the pup from being overly stressed. Manwork itself should not be practiced. Rather, the pup should be enticed into playful tug-o-war games. Once this behavior is established, the game can be used to teach the series of commands: "watch him", "take him" and "out." These commands become the basis of control for future manwork. As the pup matures and gains confidence, manwork can be pursued slowly, step-by-step, with increasing intensity over time as the pup matures.

    Tracking and manwork can be coordinated. The reward for tracking -- once the basic behavior is established -- can be the tug-o-war game. The reward is first administered by a friendly acquaintance at the end of a track. This is slowly modified by graduating from a friendly acquaintance, to a friendly stranger, then on to an increasingly aggressive stranger. The tug-o-war game must remain a game to be a true reward -- and should never be stressful with a young dog.

Fear and the Active Response

A word of caution should be given over any hyperactive response to manwork. This response will lead to a lack of discrimination. To demonstrate this, I will discuss several young dogs with which I have had experience.

The first two dogs are Adam and Eve. They are, respectively, good examples of a confidence-motivated dog and a fear-motivated dog.

Adam as a very young pup was laid back and generally calm. Eve on the other hand was very active, vocal, and aggressive. Once, when threatened by a large dog, Adam retreated to safety under a picnic table. Eve, with raised hackles, bared teeth, and much barking, ran out to meet the threat and then ran to cover. Later in life, Eve proved to tend toward fear biting, and Adam was a marginal but confident dog. Adam, however, was started in tracking at ten weeks, put into service at nine months, and made K9 Team of the Year in his first year of service.

Eve was a fear-motivated dog with an active defense response. Adam was a confidence-motivated dog with a passive defense response. He was a dog that needed confidence building and had to be taught to bite. By the time he was 18 months old, he had no shortcomings and was a productive dog. Adam could have been easily ruined.

Adam and Eve demonstrate the difference between active and passive defense responses. Eve, although capable of biting, did so out of fear. I chose not to continue her training.

Premature Manwork

The following are examples of why I didn't continue with Eve. Justice was heavily man-worked as a three and four month old dog. He was a fearful dog, and bit from an active defense response. As a product of training, he tracked well and was very productive. However, he was an indiscriminate biter. He was a cocked gun waiting to go off. His attitude was "make my day." Anybody could make his day just fine. Justice, to a degree, was psychotic, and needed to be handled with a short lead.

Kai is a similar dog to Justice -- basically fearful, with an active defense response. A lot of early life, high-hype manwork placed too much stress on the dog. He was psychotic, he was an unpredictable, indiscriminate biter. Both dogs were successful at catching crooks. However, both tended to do too much damage to suspects, and both were high risk dogs at demos.

Jaffo is similar in that he had too much early manwork, but he was a more confident dog. However, the effect of the manwork lessened his ability to discriminate and he had to be handled with a firmer and closer hand. A slower, less hyper approach to manwork would have produced a more stable dog. The "too much, too soon" approach also effects tracking if the dog associates the hyperactivity -- which he learns to crave -- with the end of the track. He becomes overly excited while tracking and will tend to air scent, run headlong, or sight hunt. All of which detract from developing a good foundation of deep nose tracking. The hyper dog will also be difficult to train to properly indicate on articles.

You might also be interested in reading:

Dr. Cannie Stark, PhD
The must-read for every K9 handler and Unit administrator. A psychologist's perspective on K9 policing gained through participant-observation research. Addresses the difficulties and challenges when administrators fail to understand that dogs are not just another piece of equipment. Read more. . . .

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