Bite Work Part 1
by Jerry Cudahy
Myth and reality are more often separated by perception, rather than fact, that has been documented through time. Just like many other subjects, the reality of bite work is lost in a tunnelled haze of allegoric tales. The dogs most fundamental mechanism to which it employs each and every day of its life is the same tool that segments of human society wish to habituate in out thoughts and perceptions about dogs. This tool I speak of is the dogs ability to bite.
Dogs bite for many reasons. Before anyone can begin to understand dogs, you must be able to separate a dog's motivation or drive to bite and segment what is good and useful for the individual dog, future plans in training and finally if the trait shown is dominant enough to consider using the dog for breeding. My theory being that bite work when being exploited in a dog of sound body and stable nerves enhances the overall intuitiveness needed to motivate a dog to do tasks beyond heel, sit, down and stay. Clearly, any logical person will agree that dogs that bite are not good for society as a whole. Responsible dogs are a by-product of responsible owners who became owners because of us the breeder. The dogs that are a problem exhibit fear, anger, idiopathic and most unfortunately, learned biting behaviour. I could write a whole book on learned behaviour, for this article though lets focus the two positive drives to seek out and work tested or trained first and foremost must love people and the places people go. Stable and social are prerequisites to being able to work a dog in first its prey and later in its life the dogs' defence drive.
Prey drive is the most misunderstood of the two correct motivations to bite. Too many trainers mistake this phase of training as the time to install the dogs defense drive..... WRONG. For me, prey work is play work. All good dogs want to play games. Some just want to play with a little or in some cases non stop determination. A dog with little or no prey drive would be one that could care less about a ball being thrown about or one that might run after the ball when thrown yet when the dog arrives at the ball shows no interest. A greyhound that will not chase the mechanical rabbit has no prey drive. A police dog that will not run down a fleeing suspect has no prey drive. A show dog that will not even follow bait has no prey drive.
Dogs that are riveted with attention, muscles twitching directional with your every motion are examples of dogs with very high prey drive. The relationship between a dog and handler is developed in prey drive through games such as fetch where the dog will have to perform other tasks first before getting his ball or Kong toy, such as doing a small jump first or searching a small area in order to find the toy and then bringing it back to you. The dog must bring the toy to you every time. If the dog can not understand that bringing the toy back means that the game continues, you have a problem that has to be addressed before going any further. The relationship between dog and handler only grows stronger if the dog is trained non-corrective with the reward of a prey toy, sounds like play toy. The combination of high prey drive when mixed with educational play games equals major attitude. The attitude you get is a dog with extreme confidence, a bold nature that responds in precise, calculated moves that get the dog what it wants, another game. You, the handler get a dog that can be worked within whatever field of dogs you play. Show me a top winning Champion show dog or any dog doing well in its game so to speak and I will show you a dog that has had its prey drive honed to deliver that winning performance over and over again. Prey drive is the mark of a winner.
Prey play bite training is an excellent method to test and evaluate individual dogs' strength of nerves, spectrum of behaviour, pain sensitivity, environmental sensitivity, stress management, focus and attention span. This type of training begins between seven and eight weeks of age and continues in earnest until the pup is thirteen to fourteen weeks old. This time frame is critical to the success of any prey play motivation-based method. This period of time is your first opportunity to imprint a highly spirited compliant working attitude in your dog. Up to this point the pups needs had been met by the mother. We the new surrogate mothers take over the responsibility of molding and teaching. All basic commands including sit, down, stand, stay, come, fetch, give as well responding to the dogs' name can and must be imprinted before the puppy begins losing teeth.
This work is totally non-corrective. Any negative reinforced methods will inhibit during the imprinting phase. The imprinting phase is where the dogs' olfactory, psychological, and physical being draw information to dictate action or perhaps a better word.... Reaction!
Remember, pain whether induced by the dog or pup itself or influenced by the handler will have serious inhibiting training blocks later on down the road. Corrective or punishment training has its place, but not this place. Bite work builds confidence and character. Remember the point of bite work is to build a dog and to know the limits, both pro and con about said dog. One other point while I am on this issue. All play bite training must stop while the pup is losing teeth. If the pup were to experience pain in its mouth and associates the pain to the work you are trying to complete, you risk ruining the dog. This is where most inexperienced trainers start to screw up a good prospect.
Training any young dog or pup in bite work allows a breeder or smart owner the opportunity of exploring the dog's spectrum of reaction to many of life's scenarios. You get a very clear picture of the dog's ability to cope and control itself under both weak and strong stress. Remember, the prey, play method I speak of is not and I am going to repeat this, is not to train a dog to attack people or other animals. Yes, it is the initial stage of training for more advanced work. More important, this phase should be looked at as a testing ground for the dogs you breed. Do they contain the qualities that represent your breed? Can your dogs meet the standard by which they were originally bred for?
One very good reason to train play, prey bite work is it allows the dog and yourself to participate in an activity that the dog can relate to. It is natural for a dog to play these games. These type of games are its world and to not explore how they can help you as a breeder seriously impair your ability to see the whole picture.
In part two, I will speak of the next drive, the defence drive and how that applies to dogs, when to begin and what type of dog to choose for this type of training. I know you will be very surprised at my comments and observations. Until, the check out what prey, play work can do for you. Once you do, you will wonder why you weren't doing it before.
®2001 Jerry Cudahy
originally written for the Bouvier
Club of Canada Newsletter for the then president Robin Carver.
About Jerry Cudahy...
Jerry is published worldwide and is a journalist, he writes a weekly column for
the Toronto Sun's Internet Version FYI, called Ask Jerry About Dogs.
Over 25 years experience as a pro trainer, breeder of best in show conformation
Dobes, Breeder and trainer Malinois for Police Work, including certified
Cadaver, Bomb and Drug Dogs. 1992 North American Ring III Grand Champion and
1994 and 1995 Vice Grand Champion North American Ring III and Three time top
Ring III in Canada.
Current all time record holder of the highest Ring III score on a North
American Bred and trained Ring III ( Axel De Lison Ring III, CGC, TT, 94&95
Nara Vice Grand Champion Ring III.