Resolving Behavior Issues in Police K9s
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Resolving Behavior Issues in Police K9s

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Behavior problems in police K9s such as dominance aggression can create liabilities for K9 teams. See how the conventional wisdom in dealing with behavior problems can often create more of a problem ...

Behavior problems in police K9s such as dominance aggression can create liabilities for K9 teams. See how the conventional wisdom in dealing with behavior problems can often create more of a problem for the K9 handler. Strategies for resolving behavioral issues are discussed.

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  • For example – the dog who is dog aggressive may bail on a suburban track to go after another pet in a fenced yard, causing you to lose the suspect. Using the same example, having to become a referee in the dog fight takes your (and others) concentration off the mission of locating the suspect.

Resolving Behavior Issues in Police K9s Resolving Behavior Issues in Police K9s Presentation Transcript

  • Resolving Dominance Aggression Issues in Police K9s Jerry Bradshaw Training Director Tarheel Canine Training Inc. Sanford, North Carolina www.tarheelcanine.com Las Vegas, NV February 2007
  • Mission of the Police K9 Handler
    • Is a “usage” mission – the dog is a means to an end.
    • The use of the K9 should provide an efficient solution to the problem at hand.
    • Efficiency means minimizing the expenditure of resources to solve a problem.
  • Behavior Problems
    • Can prevent the efficient training of the K9.
    • Can prevent the efficient use of the K9.
    • Can result in officer safety issues during deployment.
    • Can decrease confidence in the use of the K9 and affect the perception of the quality of the K9.
    • Can in some instances increase liability risks.
  • Some Common Temperament-Related Behavioral Issues
    • Dominance Issues
          • Resource Guarding (Food/Rewards)
          • Manipulating Handler with Aggression.
          • Over-protectiveness.
          • Reactive (Displaced) Aggression
          • Implications for Obedience and general management of K9
    • Sociability Issues & Disorders
          • Public Sociability Vs. Pack Sociability
          • Low Defense Threshold Human Aggression (too sharp).
          • Social Conflict Disorders (neutral, borderline shy) - Interacts with Drive (e.g. dog works through when in drive).
          • Dog/Dog Aggression
          • Implications for PR, Handler safety
    • Obsessive/Compulsive Behaviors
          • Tail Chasing/Barking/Spinning/Self-Mutilation.
          • Implications for general management of the K9
    • Handler Hardness/Softness.
          • Implications for training control-related exercises
    • Drive/Nerve Interactions
          • Overcoming Environmental stressors
          • The basis for most wash-outs in selection or during training
  • Selection Testing Eliminates Many of these Issues but not all…..
    • Temperament testing during selection (e.g. sociability, drives, nerves) can weed out many problem dogs – can tend to be incomplete and reactive.
    • Behavior problems may take time to manifest – especially dominance problems which require a relationship to be established, something not necessarily observable during selection testing.
    • And some behavior problems are estimated to be minor at selection, grow into more severe problems over time so they creep in under the radar.
  • Who is at Fault?
    • When a problem is identified we naturally do a cost-benefit analysis. Is the problem worth putting up with, or is it a deal breaker?
    • Assigning Blame.
          • Blame the vendor?
          • Blame the dog?
          • Blame the Handler?
          • Blame the “match”?
          • Blame the trainer?
  • What to Do?
    • In many cases, the dog is just canned from a practicality standpoint. This tends to happen with dogs that are identified as behavior problems early on in the training process.
    • The irony is we often have dogs with excellent drive and nerve, and if we could only ameliorate the behavior issue we would have an excellent K9.
  • Resolving Behavior Problems
    • Police dog trainers tend to concentrate on practical training issues, not solving behavioral problems.
    • Many handlers/trainers don’t know what to do with certain behavior problems.
    • A better understanding of behavior and how to resolve problems will lead to fewer wash-outs, fewer replaced dogs, and more productive and safer deployments.
  • Behavior
    • Can be genetic.
    • Can be a learned response.
    • Can be genetic and learning augmented.
    • I will for the purposes of this presentation, limit the initial presentation to Dominance Aggression issues, but will open it up in the Q&A to other specific behavior problems.
  • How behaviors/responses are learned
    • Observation: Mimicking behaviors (e.g. teaching open stairs in a group).
    • Classical Conditioning: Learning by association, dogs respond to a signal in anticipation of another event. (e.g. They get excited seeing a decoy because they are anticipating biting).
    • Operant Conditioning: Learning by consequence.
        • Reinforcing Consequences (positive & negative)
        • Punishing Consequences (positive & negative)
  • Reinforcement
    • Positive Reinforcement is providing a desirable consequence to increase the likelihood of a behavior.
    • Negative Reinforcement is removing an undesirable consequence to increase the likelihood of a behavior.
    • Timing, intensity, and intervals of reinforcement shape learned behaviors.
  • Reinforcement Continued….
    • Timing: Rewarding a dog at the end of a routine is pointless. You must reward individual behaviors immediately after they are performed.
    • Intensity: Rewards can be too big, and thus distracting, or too small, and as such inconsequential. Reward intensity should fit the behavior, circumstance and achievement.
    • Interval: Initially, continuous reinforcement by which a dog is rewarded every time for a correct behavior leads to rapid learning. Continuously reinforced behaviors are the easiest to extinguish. However, Intermittent (Variable) reinforcement schedules create the strongest learned behaviors, and as such are the hardest to extinguish.
    • E.G. For our discussion, suppose the handler positively reinforces the dog’s dominance behaviors on a variable schedule (inconsistently dealing with the dog’s dominance plays). This makes for a behavior problem that is difficult to extinguish.
  • Punishment
    • Positive Punishment: providing an undesirable consequence to reduce the likelihood of a behavior.
    • Negative Punishment: withholding a desirable consequence to reduce the likelihood of a behavior.
    • Timing, Intensity and Intervals also impact the effectiveness of punishment.
    • Timing must be immediate & consistently applied for punishment to be properly interpreted. Inconsistently applied punishment can create a neurotic condition called learned helplessness.
    • Positive punishment must be perceived as serious and be somewhat traumatic to register. Nagging punishments should be avoided. The consequence must be undesirable as perceived by the dog in question.
  • Summary of learning
    • Dogs learn through observation, and classical, and operant conditioning.
    • Learning takes place whether we are aware of it or not. The dog’s environment provides myriad consequences.
    • There are constant gains and losses from the dog’s mind.
  • Techniques for Changing Behavior
    • Remove the Stimulus
    • Punish the Behavior (Positive or Negative Punishment)
        • Extinction: If a learned response is not rewarded any longer, the behavior is gradually lost and the frequency of the behavior will return to naturally occurring levels. If naturally recurring levels are high, no noticeable change will have occurred. (e.g. proofing off plastic bags and reward toys in detection training).
    • Modify the Behavior
        • Re-Direct the Behavior
        • Train Mutually Exclusive Behaviors
        • Habituation: Constantly exposing a dog to a neutral (non-harmful or non-rewarding) stimulus, or gradually introducing the dog to a neutral stimulus will allow the dog to habituate to the stimulus.
        • Flooding: Habituation through constant heavy exposure to a non-neutral stimulus.
        • Systematic Desensitization: Habituation through gradual exposure.
  • K9 Dominance Issues
    • Can affect both new and experienced handlers.
    • Typical response to dominance is to establish rank by force ( Positive Punishment ). Fight fire with fire.
    • This may work well, or may initiate a cycle of constant struggle for supremacy in the relationship if the punishment is not severe & traumatic.
    • Changing behavior through negative punishment is used less often, and may be seen as less proactive, but may be safer and more effective.
    • Have you ever worked a dog you didn’t think you could win a fight with? One you can’t traumatize with punishment? You behave a lot differently!
  • Canine Dominance Facts…
    • Dominance is a pack-relative social behavior.
    • As pack animals, dogs expect all relationships to be unequal. Somebody has to be in charge.
    • Dominance aggression is usually shown by male dogs (85% of cases) and is most intense as social maturity is approached (2-2.5 yrs). Social maturity takes a lot longer than sexual maturity.
    • Dominance aggression is both genetic and learned.
    • The genetic component is formed while still in the womb when a testosterone surge “masculanizes” the brain. If no testosterone surge occurs, a female brain is created.
    • Therefore, castration has little effect on correcting this behavior. However, since learning is involved, extinction is still possible.
    • Dogs tend to direct their dominance aggression toward those that are threats to their social position (i.e. the K9 handler).
    • Common Triggers:
        • Affection
        • Placing or removing collars/leads which initiate control on the dog.
        • Punishment (staring/discipline).
        • Withholding rewards (e.g. keeping the dog under obedience when he thinks he may do bite work).
        • Grooming (Postural)
        • Can be context driven (e.g. place associated)
        • Can be psychologically dominant and physically submissive (e.g. allow physical touching/handling).
  • Example 1: “Benny” Male GSD.
    • Trained as a narcotics/tracking dog only.
    • In a short time subsequent to training and initial certification, he became socially aggressive & over-protective of the vehicle, handler.
    • Dominance grew over time, and was unchecked by the handler.
    • Was returned for being overly aggressive. Reported to have bitten other shift officers, and have shown aggression to civilians.
    • Agency ships the dog back to you, and warns you to be careful getting him out of the crate.
    • Dog is going nuts barking aggressively barking in the crate and is now in your van.
    • What do you do? How do you get him to relate to you?
  • Specific Dominance Perceptions
    • Public vs. Pack Sociability: Many new handlers think dominance applies to the dog they just took out of the crate!
    • “ I want a Tough, Hard Dog with no Rank Issues…”
    • “ I like a dog that comes up the leash…I respect that…”
    • “ if I let him get away with anything, he will lose his respect for me…” leads to constant nagging of the dog about every little thing. Alphas don’t sweat the small stuff. Avoid confrontations you cannot control or are not certain you will win – use retreating reprimands.
    • Try to look at things from the dog’s point of view: If you use a “dutch method” to train the out….you may think you are training an out, but your dog may think you are fighting him for possession of the decoy.
  • Addressing Dominance ( Judo for K9 Handlers)
    • Key: Gain the dog’s respect using your brain, not your hands.
    • Reject model of Alpha for that of “Super-Alpha”
    • Dogs don’t expect equality, so put all the odds in your favor.
    • Use your head not your hands. Imagine you are training a grizzly bear and not a dog. What would you do?
    • Techniques of the No Free Lunch Program (Bill Campbell).
        • Disorient his expectations, and set the dog up to have to show deference to get anything he desires, including affection, rewards, food, etc. (including toys, bite sessions).
        • Use obedience as a pre-cursor to his favorite activities or those where he gives you problems (e.g. obedience for bites).
        • Keep a level head – leaders do not explode with anger. Be results oriented, and do not become upset if you need a few trials to get the desired behaviors.
        • Regiment his life. He makes no decisions, and he makes no choices on his own. Use negative punishment to reduce unwanted behaviors (dominance behaviors). Positively reinforce appropriate behaviors.
        • Use rewards in obedience (food rewards work well – little chance of fighting over possession of the reward).
        • Focus on the pre-cursors to aggressive responses, and plan your training to set yourself up to win any possible confrontations. (e.g. You know he gets frustrated and impulsive prior to bite work, and challenges your authority to control him).
        • Desensitize the dog to triggers (e.g. corrections, by focusing the dog outwardly during the use of physical correction, and planning ahead).
  • Examples & Personal Experience
    • Handler's Mindset:
          • Jadi – Dutch Shepherd
    • The Bears:
          • Ricardo PH I PSA 3 – Malinois
          • Amigo – GSD
    • Nagging a Dominant Dog:
          • Britt – GSD Single Purpose.
  • Question & Answer Session
    • Dominance Issues
          • Resource Guarding (Food/Rewards)
          • Manipulating Handler with Aggression.
          • Over-protectiveness.
          • Reactive (Displaced) Aggression
          • Implications for Obedience and general management of K9
    • Sociability Issues & Disorders
          • Public Sociability Vs. Pack Sociability
          • Low Defense Threshold Human Aggression (too sharp).
          • Social Conflict Disorders (neutral, borderline shy) - Interacts with Drive (e.g. dog works through when in drive).
          • Dog/Dog Aggression
          • Implications for PR, Handler safety
    • Obsessive/Compulsive Behaviors
          • Tail Chasing/Barking/Spinning/Self-Mutilation.
          • Implications for general management of the K9
    • Handler Hardness/Softness.
          • Implications for training control-related exercises
    • Drive/Nerve Interactions
          • Overcoming Environmental stressors
          • The basis for most wash-outs in selection or during training