So you want to compete in PD
Over the past few months the PD stake has had its fair share of publicity. Most of us know that PD stands for Patrol Dog but how many of us really know what the stake is all about.
So what is PD?
Some form of protection work has been around since the first Working Trial back in 1924 (ref: ASPADS History of working trials by John Cree) And over the years the exercises and qualifying criteria have been modified to what we now have.
Explaining the Patrol Dog stake to a newcomer is not as easy as one might think. The exercises in all the other stakes are easily explainable, Search square teaches the dog to find lost articles, The Sendaway gives one the ability to put the dog in a position remote to the handler, "Tracking" self-explanatory, and so on. All of these exercises could conceivably be useful to the pet dog owner. Biting a person on the arm, rushing headlong in to a crowd of rowdy people with the intention of biting one or more of them takes a bit of explaining, especially in today’s political climate where your dog is in danger of being destroyed for biting a burglar in your front room. Unless you’re a law enforcement or security professional justifying this kind of behaviour to the Mr & Mrs Joe public takes a bit of doing.
When we could say it’s the civilian alternative of Police Dog trials it lent the sport a bit of credence, but now the rules have effectively barred serving police dogs from competing.
In a nutshell PD is a sport; it has no more relevance in the real world than heel work to music. This might not have always been the case but over the years the forces have changed their requirements and are unable to compete anymore. It was explained to me that a police dog is a valuable commodity and to risk it over a scale jump in the guise of sport is a step too far, also they require a dog to indicate, not retrieve an article in a square so as not to contaminate possible evidence. While we could possibly overcome those two obstacles the health and safety implications of a serving police dog hurting a civilian helper are presently insurmountable. Shame, it would be nice to know if they could compete with the standard the civvies set.
The patrol section consists of five elements; Chase and detain a "criminal". Recall from running "criminal". Quarter (search) for a missing person. Test of courage and the prevention of an attack on handler. With exception of the recall and quarter these exercises require a dog to bite.
One of the more prevelent misconceptions is that the dogs are targeting the person. Everybody I have met training a dog for the Working Trials Patrol Dog Stake uses the dogs prey/play drive to train the exercises. By using this method it teaches the dog to target the sleeve not the person carrying it. This results in dogs that are not biting a person they just want that toy which just happens to around someone’s arm. As long as we don’t cause the dog to go into defence it’s not a lot different from playing tug with your ragger.
Why are the numbers of people competing in PD so low?
To answer this question we must first look at how one can get started in PD.
Like a lot of sports, PD when trained properly looks easy. Well, that’s how it looked to me many years ago. However dogs have a knack of bringing you down to earth and I quickly found out that easy is not a word that can be used to describe PD.
As in all sports before you can start to train for PD you need to learn how it’s done, Unfortunately, learning opportunities are few and far between.
To start training for PD you need an experienced helper, one who knows how to take a bite without hurting your dog or getting hurt themselves. One who knows just how much to wind the dog up and, more importantly when not to. Putting a sleeve on "Fred Bloggs" and asking him to run for an experienced dog will result in you all having a good laugh at "Fred’s" expense, assuming he doesn’t need medical help. Send a young in-experienced dog and it could be the last time it ever runs after a sleeve. Basically your helper is your greatest asset and good ones are hard to find.
Without an experienced helper getting into PD training is in most cases non-starter.
Most of the folk who train for PD get together in small groups whenever they can, as the sport is numerically small these tend to spread out all over the country. Two hundred mile round trips for a training day are not uncommon.
There are a number of commercial PD courses held throughout the year which are good for information gathering and getting your dog acclimatised to different helpers and locations, unfortunately they are no substitute for regular training.
Then you have the equipment costs, at least 2 sleeves, various bite rolls, hides, etc.
Then you have to task of convincing your better half that training your dog for PD won’t turn the family pet into a savage child eater. In my experience if your dog is well adjusted before commencing PD training and you use the dogs prey/play drive it will have no adverse effect. To my mind before you can teach a dog to be reliably quiet you must first teach it to be noisy.
The hours needed to get a dog up to the required level are enormous and unlike the other disciplines they don’t necessarily decrease as the dog gains experience. In many cases they actually increase.
You have to qualify WDex twice before you can even enter PD open.
Oh, and I almost forgot you also have to do the same exercises as the TD stake (the main difference being a 2 hour old track not 3 as in TD) as well as the patrol section.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I feel sure you can see the problems facing the prospective PD competitor.
So why do we do it?
The answer is surprisingly simple "enjoyment" it’s a group activity and you usually have a good laugh and the dogs love it.
Ok. I will be fair, over the past 20 odd years I have met a few handlers that were - shall we say "testosterone led" but after finding out that getting a dog to bite was the easy bit they either got their hormones under control of fell off the face of the planet.
Training a dog for PD expands your understanding of dog training; you are constantly revising your methods just because your dog has interpreted the previous method in an unexpected way, as will the next dog. It promotes healthy debate amongst your training group. I doubt that a training session came and went without a few opinionated discussions on the best way forward for a given problem.
One of the most important lessons I have learnt is that there is no one right way to train a dog, but there is definitely a wrong way.
If the above hurdles aren’t enough to put you off......
Anyone still interested in training a dog for PD, next month I will have a look at the elements that make up the Patrol section and examine some of the more frequent problems.
Last month we had a look at some of the problems found if one wishes to start training a dog for the PD stake. This month I will have a look at the exercises that make up the Patrol section of this stake.
The purpose of this article is not to try and teach you how to train these exercises, I will leave that to much better qualified trainers, but to point out some of the many pitfalls that stop a dogs PD career before it starts.
Before we can think about training these exercises we need to teach the dog to bite a sleeve. Dogs are not all created equal, some dogs will take to this very quickly and some need to coaxed along. Whilst I do not intend to go into training methods in this article I will state that this is probably the most important stage in your dog’s PD training. The more attitude you can develop in the dog whilst maintaining control the better. I personally prefer to teach this stage without the use of a helper, by doing so I can better judge the dog’s progress. Whether your dog is a "natural" or needs a bit of coaxing, if you run before you can walk somewhere along the line your dog will have a bad experience which will introduce conflict. The golden rules of dog training apply, make it easy to achieve and supply sufficient reward. And always end a training session with the dog wanting more.
The dog is required to chase down a criminal and prevent him from fleeing by biting the sleeve and holding on until instructed to release.
I will start with the easiest exercise; after teaching the dog to bite a sleeve this is usually the first exercise taught. In this exercise we are utilising the dogs prey drive to the full. All dogs have an instinctual drive that compels them to chase down prey. When they get the prey they usually kill it by shaking their head and hanging on until it stops moving. The main pitfalls of this exercise are twofold,
1. If conditioned correctly the dogs enjoy it, and I mean really enjoy it. This usually leads to a "sleeve happy" dog resulting in a loss of control and "selective deafness". Preventing this problem from occurring is a slow process and requires a knowledgeable helper. The use of compulsion as a quick fix is not an option as it will cause confliction.
2. The next area for potential conflict comes when we require the dog to release the sleeve; use an inappropriate method and you risk introducing conflict and the dog going into defence, or with a very strong dog a display of aggression towards the handler.
As in all dog training, one wishes to avoid introducing conflict as much as possible. In PD training once conflict has been introduced it is very difficult to eradicate. If you feel that compulsive training methods need to be used please bear in mind the end result will be confliction and whilst it may fix, or appear to fix, the immediate problem it will damage your relationship with the dog.
As I stated last month the importance of having a good helper cannot be overstated, especially in the dog’s early training. Putting an inexperienced helper and an inexperienced dog together is a recipe for disaster. The potential for mistakes is enormous. These range from falling on an enthusiastic young dog, or not catching the dog correctly resulting in the dog hurting its mouth or neck, or just winding the dog up inappropriately.
As in the chase we require the dog to chase an escaping criminal, only this time we are going to recall the dog before it reaches its target.
This is the hard one; I have heard many say that this purely an obedience exercise. While I am not arguing with that statement, to my mind obedience is a short term for conditioned response and before a response can be conditioned it first has to be obtained, repeatedly. Conditioning takes time - lots of time. If you try to short cut this it will destroy your chase.
In this exercise we require the dog to search an area for missing people in a direction determined by the judge with certain "hides" being covered.
This is one exercise where an experienced helper is not necessary, as long as you trust the helper to do as instructed.
This is the one I enjoy the most, probably because so do my dogs. Again we are invoking the dog’s prey drive, only this time we are supplying a static target which the dog has to bark at not bite. The dog’s job is simply to find a missing person and if left to its own devices there would be very little potential for confusion in this exercise. The trouble comes when we insist in sending the dog in a direction where it knows that nobody is there. This is when the exercise sometimes results in a display of redirects with the dog losing the plot. Training this part of the exercise thoroughly is very difficult due to the heightened senses dogs possess, i.e. you can’t set up a training scenario to sufficiently reward a dog for going upwind without a helper actually being upwind.
There are two opposing opinions on this exercise: Some feel that it is a compulsive exercise and teach a dog to go to an empty hide on command as in Schutzhund, while others feel that repeatedly sending a dog to "search for a person" without a person being there is only going to cause confusion and demotivation.
The more time spent practising this exercise in different locations will pay dividends in the long run, as will hiding your helpers in unexpected locations.
Test of Courage
The title of this exercise speaks for itself; it is amazing how many ways judges can come up with to test a dog’s metal. It usually consists of a group of rowdy "criminals" making a lot of noise and throwing (un-harmful) objects at the dog, empty cardboard boxes and water pistols have been known to be used, the dog is required to go in and detain one of the criminals without showing fear.
This exercise always gets the most ringside judges’ comments, usually along the lines of weak bite or it bottled it. In most cases where a dog’s performance is poor during a TOC is down to lack of experience of a given scenario, if they had the option of a second attempt for half marks in most cases the result would be very different. It is impossible to prepare a dog for every eventuality that it may face at a trial. It is important that we do not lose sight that one of the most powerful instincts that any mammal has which is its survival instinct. If we progress too quickly in training this exercise we risk inadvertently putting the dog into defence which will cause the dog to choose between fight or flight. Either of these responses are undesirable as they cause conflict but bringing a dog back from a flight response can prove impossible.
Search, Escort and attack on handler,
In this exercise we require the dog to watch one or more criminals whilst the handler searches them and the area around where they were found. Then we wish the dog to help us escort them to a predefined area, on the way one of the criminals will attack the handler and we require to dog to intervene.
By this time we have conditioned the dog to "REALLY" want the sleeve! Now were asking the dog to watch a group of "criminals" while we search them and a hide, and to detain a criminal (bite) if one tries to leave (not necessarily with a handler command), I don’t mean run off, just a slow walk off needs to trigger the dog.
This is followed by the escort and attack on handler. The dog is required follow a "live" sleeve without biting and on a certain stimulus bite it with or without our command. Admittedly the attack is usually a big draw for the dog but if you consider the requirements for the search it’s easy to see where confusion can set in. One of the mistakes commonly made is using the heel command to keep the dog with you whilst escorting, at best this will result in the dog paying attention to the handler and ignoring its charges or worst case the dog learns to ignore the heel command.
I have tried to highlight a few of the more obvious problems facing the handler when training a dog for PD - there are many, many more. PD is a balancing act between the dogs’ drives and keeping control. As in humans not all of us are suited to all things and the same is true for dogs, not all dogs are suited for PD. That old saying comes to mind "it’s not the size of dog in the fight it’s the size of fight in the dog". The caveat here is the stronger the dog the more difficult the balancing act. The more skill/knowledge the trainer needs.
With that last statement in mind, it could be interpreted that a less motivated dog would be better material for PD, for consistency and point scoring the less motivated dog will always outperform the more highly motivated dog given the same input, having said that from a dog training point of view the satisfaction gleamed in overcoming the challenge of keeping control of a dog that wants to do the exercise more than you want them to is immense.
For most people getting into PD for the first time it’s a case of using the dog you have, that is where you as a handler have to take off your rose tinted glasses and ask yourself is my dog PD material, deep down we all know our dogs temperament and trying to train a shy insecure dog up is unfair to the dog. However if your dog is boisterous, friendly and really wants the ball you’re on to a winner.
How do we attract new people.
Firstly, I can state what doesn’t help. Over the past few years we have lost a few PD trials with SATS being the latest to pull out of holding the stake. As I said last month, some form of manwork has been a part of this sport since its inception, I for one cannot understand the reasoning behind societies electing to stop holding PD trials, on one hand folk do not want to change trials but it seems that they are prepared to witter away this sports heritage.
So how do we attract newcomers, Suggestions on this one are always welcome.
Most folk that I have spoken to feel that if we wish to attract newcomers then we need to make PD training more accessible by providing more helpers and regular training days. North West Working Trials Society have been running low cost PD helper training days to try to attract newcomers, it would be nice to see other societies doing something similar. If your society is running similar low cost events please let me know and I will advertise it.
To my mind the Patrol Dog stake is the pinnacle of dog sport in this country. What is expected from the dogs goes beyond mere training we also expect them to think for themselves and to adapt to a test which is never the same from one trial to the next.
I occasionally hear comments about PD being a cheap ticket due to the low numbers, to be fair this comment is usually made by people who are totally ignorant of the stake and have no desire to be educated. Yes, there are less people in the stake but those who are there have done their apprenticeship and they still have to qualify in all sections. When was the last time you heard of a championship TD stake with no qualifiers?
We are all ringside judges and like to see certain things and the more we think we know about a subject the more opinionated we get. But we mustn’t lose sight that the team we are criticising has spent hundreds of hours getting ready for this sport and for that they deserve all the applause they get.