Thursday, January 7, 2010

'Does your dog bite?' 'No.' /growl. snap/ 'I thought you said your dog didn't bite.' 'Madam, that is not my dog.'

I was wearing a US Mondio Ringsport hat today and someone asked what the logo meant. The easiest shorthand is to say, 'I work with civilian K9 teams, doing police-style sport competitions.'


Most of the so-called protection sports derive from one of the European military or police K9 suitability tests: Schutzhund for those zany Germans; French ringsport for the aesthetic French; Belgian ringsport for the Belgians. KNPV for the Dutch. Mondio Ringsport was devised as a way to cross boundaries between sports. These all require a dog & handler team to perform a range of obedience exercises, scent discrimination tests, retrieves, agility/jumping exercises, and then bitework, or apprehension.

As with many sports, the 'real world' applications and origins have faded or been eclipsed as training and performance have improved. What used to pass for top-notch heeling, say, would barely be considered sufficient now. Which isn't to say that it wasn't functional heeling before: we've just put so much time, thought, and training into all facets that these tests are now highly nuanced: goals in themselves, rather than approximations of actual police work.

I maintain, though, that the training skills we develop would more than benefit 99% of the police K9 teams in the US.

Check out for a vast website loaded with information about training and the various dog sports.

HOW did I get into this? I blame the clicker mania of the mid-2000s... Poor training ran me out of the local pet obedience classes, and I stumbled into a breeder & trainer who specialized in home guardians. I was captivated at the amount of skill/talent the trainers had, putting the various dogs through their paces (for most of us who have had untrained, beloved dogs forever, seeing dogs with snappy, intense focus is daunting). We agreed that my dog didn't have much for even basic obedience, but I wanted to learn more about serious training. Then they asked if I was afraid of dogs. I said no. They put me in a bite suit and told me to charge at their dogs, simulating a hopped-up marauder. The dog defended his handler, attacking me, and I simulated fighting and screaming.

I am a clown, I like to learn and to teach, I enjoy the physical challenge of working dogs. So there I was and here I am. Many of the truly advanced sport dogs would likely not attack someone who broke into their house: the context is wrong. These are sport dogs: it is a game to them, and without the context, the clues, the game, there's no reason for them to bite. This is oxymoronic, given that the entry level dogs are usually defensive and prone to seeing everyone unfamiliar as a potential threat.
When we train, there are people all over the field, and it's clear to the dogs who the 'bad guy' is (he in the puffy suit). I prefer it that way.

The internet is filled with endless arguments about 'real' dogs vs. sport dogs. Blah, blah, blah. Return of the Jedi vs. Phantom Menace. Whatever. Very few of us has any actual need for a hair-trigger attack dog at the ready.

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