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Kris Kotsopoulos:

Given the appropriate genetics and the right preparation, I believe there is very little difference between the service dog and sporting dog. For me, the training foundation is identical and once this is accomplished, it is purely training them for the required task.

In my opinion, when preparing a working dog, the way in which puppy development and, the interaction with people is managed, is of vital importance.

Socialization and habituation is not merely the casual interaction with friends who come over for dinner now and then, but is the active interaction with as many strangers and changing environment as possible. This is especially important during the critical development period i.e. – (first sixteen weeks of life). If you are observant, you will notice that almost every time a human approaches a puppy, the puppy has an immediate desire to be subordinate eg. by placing its ears back, exaggerated tail wagging and/or lacking bladder control. In my opinion, it is important then that we do not let people fuss and play with our puppies as much we tend to, as this can encourages social suppression.

One can see that there is a complete change in the dog’s behavior and sometimes it’s for the worst reasons. Some show it more than others because it’s directly proportional to the way the puppy perceives the stranger. This is based on its genetic expression of self-confidence, prior exposure and experience.
It is important to allow your puppy to jump on people when it is calm and collected. Although the first few times your puppy meets multiple strangers allow the puppy to jump on people while it is in an excited state to establish that people are fine and that they cause no harm. This behavior should not be acknowledged by strangers or reinforced at all. After some measured interaction you will soon realize that the puppy will try to approach strangers with an eager and excited attitude, however, only allow interaction when the puppy is calm. This takes time to teach and is very important. The puppy must realize that stimulation comes from you and that people are just people – nothing to be concerned or excited about.

You will notice there is an invisible line (referred to as critical distance), which determines how each and every puppy will react to unfamiliar people. You must now keep the pup outside that critical distance in order to prevent subordinate behavior.

It is almost natural for puppies to act in this submissive manner to man as they have an inherited fear of man due to their wolf ancestors. But we don’t want our puppies to act subordinate to humans because of the type of dog we want in the end. I encourage all to always have the end result in mind.

Note: (I allow my dog to approach strangers and never allow strangers to approach my dog).

Your dog should be socially dominant; of course genetics plays a significant part in this. It must appear confident, with its ears up and eagerly looking at people but not trying to make contact in order to be fondled, rubbed up and whatever else people do to puppies, which can consequently suppress them.
How can we possibly get any active aggression in protection work if our dogs consider people as their superior (alpha)?

The only humans who can be superior to my dog are my family and I, period. During this stage of exposure, encourage your pup to play bite on a tug with you. While doing this out of the critical distance of behavior change to other people that are around you. As soon as the puppy shows no real interest in others but seeks to play bite with you and shows determination and bites quite firmly, then throw the pups’ bite article to a helper (stranger).

The helper should then pick up the tug /towel, which the puppy saw you throw. The pup should now be eager to bite it again and the helper allows the puppy to bite deep and full and the puppy is to carry it away. I only encourage this behavior a few times so that I know when given the stimulus, the puppy will respond the way I expect.

It is very important that hard and determined biting is encouraged although this is very much a genetic property and a question of maturity and confidence. If your puppy bites softly then care must be taken not to overwork it, as this can lead to frustration and passive biting. Such an animal is already passive in its nature and so it’s important not to reinforce this by repeating exercises, hoping to get a better response. What I’m saying is: you must be sure that you will get the response you expect.

Once the puppy can work with one stranger and there is a positive behavior established, which, by the way, does not take very long, perhaps 4 sessions, I then get three to four different helpers to work the puppy over the period of two week in multiple locations. This is very important as it is the most crucial period in a puppy’s development as discussed by Scott and Fuller in their publication, “Imprinting and Conditioning”. This period is renowned for having a major impact in establishing a fantastic foundation in drive building if done properly. (Please note that I only allow the most experienced helpers to work my puppy for only very short sessions, eg. 2-3 bites, at this stage). I have experimented for approximately sixteen years with this and I am convinced that this bite/drive development, during the imprinting stage, is necessary but can also be detrimental. It should not be attempted if not properly understood.

By six months of age a puppy should exhibit an extreme desire to want to be in high drive, at every possible moment, and will become very difficult to handle. This is the required attitude if we want a serious working animal that displays an enormous amount of power. It is during this stage that we teach our puppies how to act and react with people, and create an attitude of Social Dominance.

I must also say that the puppy quickly learns that it is to be in a “drive state” every time it is in your presence. You must be careful to reinforce “inactive states” (calmness) as well as “active states” (drive) in order to keep your dog balanced.
It’s also far easier to create a dog with attitude, and then concentrate on shaping him into an animal that you can manage, rather than placing enormous restrictions on your dog in his developmental period and then praying that you can bring him up to a powerful level. (It is also important that this is not misinterpreted, as I also want my dog to be socially confident, calm and relaxed with people and not a liability).

Once he works to the best of his abilities, considering his age, and is self-confident with people, all social interaction with man is slowed down. However, it is important that habituation with mans environment and children is kept up for life. The reason for this is simple: over socialization could make your dog a little too friendly or subordinate. Hence it is difficult to get confident aggression, as he must perceive a helper / man as a rival and not merely a playing partner. A lack of ample socialization will create the reverse: the dog will exhibit fear-based aggression and will never be confident enough to deal with a helper / man, in protection work, with conviction.
The other reason for reducing socialization is that from about seven months old the defense mechanism in your dog begins to blossom. Less socializing allows the dog becomes a little suspicious and this promotes defensive/agreeing to see your dog demonstrate this behavior while in his territory, in your car, whilst you are walking him in the dark and so on.

This is one of the most important stages that most people neglect or abuse. Here too, you need to encourage and promote this defensive / aggressive behavior in as many aspects of his life as possible.
Be very careful that you are promoting the (confident) component of aggressive behavior and not the reactive component (fear). For example, if he is barking at someone and his hackles are up then your dog is unsure or afraid and so you must never praise him but ignore him, as this will merely reinforce insecurity. On the other hand you should reinforce barking with confidence, conviction and the desire to go forward with the helper fleeing.
Note: This can encourage unruly aggressive behavior with some dogs and so the stimulation your pup receives must be measured. If you over stimulate him, then simply reintroduce strangers into your dog’s life until his behavior becomes balanced again. Initially, allow the barking behavior to establish a little before you reinforce it with praise. Care must be taken during this stage that reinforcement is very calm and does not distract the dog whilst he is working. This applies in all phases of his work.

You should not allow anyone to approach your puppy while he is in your vehicle, in his crate, wherever he is vulnerable or where subordinate behavior may prevail.

There are times, in controlled situations, that I may ask one of the helpers to impulse the dog with defense attractions so the dog realizes that he can create avoidance in the threat. However, one must be careful, as defensive impulses are the same impulses for avoidance. If avoidance occurs then you are placed in a position where by your defense impulses must continue until the dog comes back into forward aggression. This is not the desired way, as one must question what mood and mind set the dog is in; surely not dominance. Note: I hardly ever reinforce this phase of aggression development with biting, as I want to firmly establish and strengthen his aggression and confidence not the reverse.

“Proper Foundation in Protection Training Is the Answer”

There are a lot of people in the dog training profession who believe that training should not commence until the dog has reached 12 months of age. However, this approach has some limitations as learning begins prior to 12 months of age. In actual fact, learning begins on the 21 st day of a puppy’s life and so waiting simply means having to train around all the improper behavior that the dog has learnt in the mean time. One of the problems of leaving protection work until the dog matures is that he does not have an established behavior to reinforce. When these instincts are triggered by a helper, your dog will have no option but to deal with it as best he can based on his prior experience, which is limited to say the least, and the strength of his genetics. In my experience very few dogs will engage the helper with confidence and display uncomplicated biting.

For people who are not aware of the inverted U function it relates to the relationship between changes in arousal and motivation. It is also known as the Yerkes – Dodson law. The basic concept is that as the arousal level increases, the dog’s performance improves up to a point. Once beyond that point, increases in arousal lead to deterioration. Thus some arousal is thought to be necessary for efficient performance, but too much arousal leads to anxiety or stress, which degrades performance.

I apologize for emphasizing this and acknowledge that most experienced people are aware of the point I’m stating, but feel I need to reiterate this as it’s easy for helpers to miss this point, and I see it in training systems globally. Acknowledging the above will help us with what and how we teach our dogs in all phases, and what association (classical conditioning) the dog makes.

So what mind set has been triggered in the dog? Let’s look at it from the dog’s perspiring session.

Dog goes on to a field. Dog sees helper/ stranger / man that he is fond of, because his owner allowed him to accept people as his superior during his critical period. Suddenly the human he respects threatens him and because the dog has no prior experience he will react in the most fitting way that secures his survival. The possible reactions are either confident aggression; fear based aggression, which is usually the case; displacement; avoidance or prey. The reaction totally depends on prior experience, the level of threat and the strength of the dog’s temperament. Unfortunately, with most inexperienced helpers they will try to get the dog to bite the sleeve when he shows some form of aggression.

Now lets say the dog does bite and quite reluctantly, which usually is the case. What has now transpired is an example of where the dogs’ introduction to bite work is completely on the dominated side and in favour of the helper. The dog then associates that if he bites to save his life the threat may go away. I use the word ‘may’ because most helpers do not stop there but instead, continue to try to express what they have learnt from a book, video or some expert, despite what the dog’s behavior is suggesting.

What has also happened is that the helper has created a set point. This is a point that the dog will begin from the next time he is confronted by the same or different helper. How else can the dog view this helper? Last week the dog was not afraid of the helper but now the helper has become something to be feared because he threatened the dog’s existence.

However, what happens when there is no aggressive reaction? With the more experienced helper he may go down a different avenue and try prey attractions, which usually works well. The reason it is successful is that most decent dogs have prey drive, which can be developed with just a little work. From the dog’s point of view, he will enjoy chasing a jute bag because it is not threatening; it’s connected to humans, whom he is fond of.
All in all, the whole picture is one of excitement and very little stress, especially when the dog works out that he derives pleasure and success from playing tug of war with the nice human connected to the end of the jute / bag, which he now begins to pair and see as one.

With this succeeding the helper usually continues with prey training until the dog becomes proficient, bites hard and demonstrates wonderful attacks. The helper then contemplates how to encourage aggression because achieving it in the dog is one of the main aims he has most likely read about in training books. Dogs must be balanced in Prey and Defence. The word ‘defense’ does not sit well with me as it denotes ‘fear’; something we should try to stay away from when training.

So, what happens now is that the wonderful human attached to the bag / sleeve, that the dog derives so much pleasure from, suddenly becomes a threat. The helper threatens the dog and tries to incite some form of aggression. However, all this does is perplex the dog because for the last 6 to 12 months this human has been a source of enjoyment and now he is a threat. The dog reluctantly goes into aggression because he favors what works (prey).

This then causes frustration in the helper and he often resorts to use of force such as striking or threatening the dog with open aggression or some form of pain or what ever gets a reaction. Of course the dog is forced to react. This reaction is almost always stemming from the wrong mindset: one of self-preservation rather than self-confidence (confidence based aggression).

Over the years I have grown to recognize that I don’t like or teach punishment based training. One thing you will notice is that if you start using punishment, you will get into the habit of always using it, and you will find it in other areas of your life. A dog looks for two types of information, information that tells him about access to comfort and information that tells him about the avoidance of discomfort. If you use puniin positive reinforcement. I also don’t believe that dogs are born resistant. Resistance in a dog is caused through punishment-based training. This is why I also believe that many helpers make dogs sleeve fixated through thoughtless defence training. A dog will seek a way around the punisher back to the reinforcer. The helper is being the punisher when he strikes the dog and he is trying to get the dog’s attention away from the sleeve, which is the reinforcer. If you really look at it closely, this type of protection training is no different to forced dumbbell retrieval training, except in this case the sleeve is the dumbbell. The dog eliminates the pressure from the helper by holding on to the sleeve, which could be a dumbbell, as the dog knows no difference. Then we wonder why they will not let go!

Lets look at this a little closer:

How can the dog possibly show any form of confidence based aggression when the human that he was fond of, who became a fun connection in prey, suddenly threatened him and made the whole experience uncomfortable?
This situation is suddenly not in the dog’s favour and hence the dog learns to deal with the threat with undesirable aggression, which is reinforced by the helper. It is only natural that the dog will then show complications in biting because the prey has become a threat. And what are we always taught by the old master trainers? Prey being (helper / sleeve in this case) that has been previously paired never attacks the dog otherwise it is not prey. But for decades people have trained this way and still continue to train in this manner.

But does anyone really stop to think about what was going through the dog’s mind?

A very difficult skill to learn and takes considerable time and experience. However, training has come a long way. Science has had a profound effect on the quality of training in the last 20 years but we must also acknowledge that we have allowed inappropriate dogs to get through as well. Schutzhund was a testing tool for the breeding of serviceable dogs but hi-tech training has allowed people to develop ways of disguising the animal’s true character. Consequently, breeders are breeding dogs to suit the discipline that they are involved in. As an example it’s merely a mind set change that is required of (high sport drives and limited aggression) for dog sport enthusiast and (high aggression and adequate prey drives) in service dog enthusiasts. Often the dog’s prey drives are so high that inhumane systems have been undertaken to stimulate some form of aggression. Prey training should satisfy several important needs for the helper: the first and most important need is that it stimulates a non-fear based aggressive response. It is essential to be aware of “Pavlovian Fear”. It is harder to eliminate fear in a weak dog than it is to control the aggression in a hard dog.

Most of the hold & barks that I have seen in clubs in Australia, and around the world, are predominately in prey and almost all aggression is pain-induced. If we trained correctly and bred from the right dogs, inhumane training methods would slowly subside and more thought would go into effective training. I know that a quality animal that is trained properly is sound, safe and can be an exceptional sport dog and an equally good service dog. Such an animal shows true power that can be managed with limited compulsion. This is because the dog learns that it is in his favour to comply, and to do more of what he enjoys – work.

Obedience in dogs should not start generally until 5 or 6 months of age, and this is where a good foundation must be set. Unless it is done correctly, with clarity, you can set yourself up for problems much later. Obedience or not to do obedience, this is a much debated area of discussion which ultimately is your decision. Obedience started at
a younger age correctly, will help keep dominance at a usable level. Also, consider that starting at a young age also can limit the availability of drive for working in adulthood. It has been noted that dogs left until later e have a much higher level of working ability. In addition, the obedience that you put in at that stage must be very clear
otherwise, problems will occur and elevate very quickly. The best and easiest way is to have the breeder assess you and your pup on a predetermined schedule. Mistakes are going to be made; there is nothing wrong with that, just let your trainer or breeder know at each training session. This way, they can be rectified and your level of knowledge increased accordingly.

The Traits are:

High Retrieval which is genetic
High pain threshold, which is genetic
High energy yet not hectic
• Excellent recovery from stressful situation which is genetic
• Strong & solid hard grip which is genetic

Balanced drives, which is genetic
Active Aggression, which is genetic
Socially confident
• Strong-Intense Prey drive, which is genetic

Raz has all these qualities particularly the genetic traits, so you have done a good job in producing her. Now I guess if she doesn’t ‘make it’ it will be because I’ve failed her somehow.

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