K9 Talk by a K9 Trainer – Part 3

This time I’ll discuss the pros and cons of dogs out of the dog sports. First of all: the whole reason WHY we have the dog sports (with bitework included in them). To begin with, I see them as an absolute plus. With this I mean the origin of the sports, which was to test dogs on their workability on all fronts for breeding purposes , like IPO and Schutzhund (the origin of IPO) and the ringsports. Or as preselection for police dogs in the Netherlands: the KNPV. This provided us with all the nice, high driven dogs. The sports also provided us with out-of the-old-fashioned-box thinking regarding training (a positive vibe).

So that’s all Pro.

Now the Cons.

The sports have point systems. And we humans want to compete, we want to be better than the other one. Some examples:

So a dog that retrieves happy and full of power is not good enough. The dog needs to be fast hold the dumbbell firm without movement in his bite. He needs to hold it this way when he sits in front of us and let go of it when we say so. All very much like a machine. In ring sports and KNPV we ask the same thing but with all objects that need retrieving. To make this happen we totally disregard the natural retrieving skills of the dog. Think of forced retrieve. Think of 4 months of back-chaining to get to a ‘perfect’ retrieving exercise (pure art that is). But it has nothing to do with the dog’s will to retrieve: we made it an obedience exercise.

As for bitework, in every sport this is based on pure prey drive of the dog. We want full, deep bites without movement (KNPV is an exception, although this is changing too). None of them have any form of aggression in there. In Schutzhund ,IPO and some ringsports it even costs points if the bite is not full.

So what do you think we do? We TRAIN for that.

Nowadays it even goes as far as training a forced retrieve. Feeling bad when the dog is not deep or steady in the bite (pressure on the dog). So there goes the natural deep prey bite caused by proper genetics. Not saying that there are no dogs with this natural deep bite, just saying you need to look really well to see if it’s real or man-made. And yes, the judges want to see a form of aggression these days during the bark and hold. But not too much in de bite (no, then it has to be in prey). So the dog has to be aggressive, yet sitting still not touching the decoy. So we create a ‘looks aggressive’ dog that is not dangerous at all for the decoy. You can see it clearly on the training field were the decoys have no problem with slipping the sleeve and walking away from the dog even when the dog is loose. Not something you want to do with a dog that wants to bite the man and not a dead prey item.

Now about tracking. As I already mentioned in part 1, the difference between sport tracking and the tracking done to find a person or lost article (evidence) is so big that it’s not even comparable.

The training is totally different and the outcome even more so. Sport tracking is about obedience in nose work and far less about the nose work itself. You may disagree but in my way of thinking, if you want success in difficult situations you need a dog to be eager to find instead of an obedient dog. In reality the result is what counts, not the tracking picture.

So is sports bad? No it’s full of nice training mythologies, that show that we can train a dog such a way that we can score the highest points. It’s an art that tells a lot about the trainers. They can make the average dog a winner.

And that’s a problem sometimes as well.

Now the outcome of sport-certification says more about the trainer than the dog. The winner of a competition is not always the dog to choose for your breeding. The winner might as well be an average dog and not the best pool of genetics. Who do you think a lot of breeders choose for their breeding? The winner, or the unknown dog that is too strong to be trained in sports?

So look really carefully at the parents when you choose your pup. Choose for genetics and not for the points if a strong working dog is needed.

Now for the cons of a half trained or fully trained sport dog. A sport dog is not pre-trained to become a good working dog in real life. First of all they all( well most of them) are trained in very controlled manner and always in the same environments (training field or ring). So this says nothing about how the dog will be in the middle of the city or a building, to name just two scenarios.

Yes, you can test that, no problem. The real con is that the dogs are imprinted with the sport training. For example, a good and high in points certified KNPV dog never learned that it’s fun to search for small articles (it was never about the search but about the obedience). So, at the age 2,5 years, we want him to track (which he has never done before) or search with a clear mind. But the dog is imprinted with a bad feeling if ‘search’ is the command.

That hardly ever goes away. The dog is in conflict as soon he knows that he has to search. You see the conflict in the dog by his constant running in circles to nowhere land.

So can these dogs ever track? Yes, it can, but the dog needs time and a good trainer that knows how to deal with this. Does the conflict completely go away? No, it’s imprinted in the dog, you see it rising to the surface when the dog gets in trouble on the track and switches back to his basic behaviour (imprinted behaviour). The handler needs to recognise it and act accordingly.

And there are many more examples like this, were it shows that dogs with an sports history need handlers and trainers that know how to deal with this. Or one has to simply accept that it’s never going to be 100% in times that you need it. But do ALL sportdogs have a problem? No ofcourse not because not all trainers put so much pressure on the dog. If you know the trainer and the dog then the surprises are minimum.

You at least know your starting point.

With all this being said about dogs from sports or from unknown origin, it’s going to be even harder if you don’t know where the dog came from or you don’t know his or her history (sports or big kennel). You are building a house on an unknown foundation. Trial and error, if the foundation is strong enough on the spots that matter.

I guess it’s a matter of taking the risk or not…

Next article will be about Puppy training and high driven dogs and the out problem. One of the most asked questions…

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