24 Hour Basic Agitator / Decoy Course

Wed May 19th, 2010 @ 8:47 am

Studying Dog Behavior

Hereditary Traits

Hereditary traits can never be completely changed by training or behavior.

Courage - Absence of fear towards objects or in new situations.

Confidence - Acceptance of safety feeling safe in all situations.

Hardness - Resiliency toward unpleasant experiences, ability to overcome unpleasant situations.

Softness - Inability to overcome unpleasant situations.

Sharpness - Tendency to react aggressively to stimuli.

Instinctual Drive

These are the major drives we look for when choosing service dogs. These drives can be modified to fit human needs by training and behavior modification, for service work. (i.e. law enforcement, search rescue, etc.) If any of these drives are weak or non-existent in a dog, it should not be used to service work.

Prey - Drive to hunt and pursue prey, bite and catch prey. Includes tracking, air scenting and retrieving.

Defense - Drive to flee from real / imagined danger or drive to attack real / imagined danger. The drive to survive.

Fight - Drive to measure physical prowess over rivals.

Play - Drive for physical contact with pack members.

Muzzle fighting techniques with dogs that are comfortable in the muzzle:

First and foremost you must remember that we are taking the dog's primary weapon away from him, his/her teeth. It is your job to make him feel he is winning the fight at all times even though he can't use his/her teeth.

Present your back to the dog at every opportunity, so the dog will start learning to hit center mass and the back area in general. Moving away from the dog, tap your chest to get the dog to target high, when the dog is in the air, turn and present your back. Be sure to keep moving away from the dog to prevent injury to the dog when it makes the hit. After the first hit you can face the dog to fight it, lean back and move away from the dog at the same time pushing and fighting with the dog. Keep moving away from the dog. Remember dogs determine who wins a fight by who gives up ground.

When the handler gets control of his/her dog, the agitator must run away fast, and always run out of sight, so the dog feels it has won the fight. Never lean over the top of the dog, this is bad body language and the dog may feel overpowered. This also prevents the agitator from being injured by a hit in the face from the dog.

When fighting the dog, do not grab the dog's head or muzzle, this is to prevent you from accidentally sticking your fingers inside the muzzle and getting injured. Hold your arms in close to your body, and do not fling your hands and arms around during the fight. This helps prevent the dog from becoming arm fixated.

Remember the agitator's job is to make the dog feel he/she is winning the fight, and to keep the dog from being injured during the muzzle fight, by jamming its neck or receiving some other type of injury.

Basic Agitator/Decoy information when working on young or new patrol dogs and specific problems in older dogs:

Agitator/Decoy should talk to handler prior to training of dogs.
A. What goal are we trying to achieve?
B. What are we going to do to achieve goal?
C. What has dog been showing in previous training sessions?
D. What do we want to do next?

Agitator/Decoy should know:

A. What drive is the dog working in?
B. Where does handler want to go with dog?
C. How to get from point A to point B.
D. What areas of training is the dog lacking in?

Three zones you should be aware of when agitating:

A. Suspicion
1. No real affect on dog.
2. Dog realizes you are there and pays attention.

B. Reaction
1. Dog comes forward.
2. Dog begins to react to your presence.

C. Avoidance
1. Too close to dog.
2. Dog will start to shut down.
3. Dog may flee.

Avoidance vs. Reaction
A. As you progress in work, the dog's avoidance will decrease and eventually disappear.
B. At the same time the reaction zone will enlarge until as soon as the dogs is suspicious the dog will react.
C. Your goal is to increase reaction zone and decrease avoidance zone.

Training Terms

Trainability - Dog's desire to follow the wishes of the pack leader (handler).

Protection - Dog's desire to defend the pack (family or handler).

Pack Drive - Dog's desire for emotional contact with the pack.

Rank - Attempt to achieve higher rank in pack (growling or biting handler when under stress).

Homing - Dog's desire to return to pack (handler recall).

Territorial Aggression - Warn intruders by barking, growling, biting to stay out of territory (vehicle or yard).

Sound Nerve - Referred to when the dog has a good balance of Hereditary Traits and Instinctual Drives.

Only 30% of a dog's temperament and drive is environmentally affected by humans (i.e. training). The other 70% is affected by the instinct the dog is born with.

When we train dogs for service work we use their natural instincts by modifying them to fit our needs. For example, to chase and hunt humans instead of animals.


There are three zones you should be aware of when agitating a dog:

A. Suspicion 
1. No real affect on dog.
2. Dog realizes you are there and pays attention.

B. Reaction
1. Dog comes forward.
2. Dog begins to react to your presence.

C. Avoidance
1. Too close to dog.
2. Dog will start to shut down.
3. Dog may flee.


As you progress in work the dog's avoidance zone will gradually decrease & eventually be gone, thus no more avoidance.

The reaction zone will enlarge until as soon as the dog is suspicious he will react & go for it.

Increase Reaction Zone
Decrease Avoidance Zone

Communication During Training

Before I work with a new dog, I try and take the time to find out a little bit about the dog and handler. This way I know what to expect and what goal to help them achieve.

Quarry and handler should discuss:

What are we doing with this dog?

What has the dog been showing us?

What do we want to do next?

Quarry should know:

What drive dog is in.
Where you want to go with your dog.
How to get the dog from A to B.

Handler should warn quarry about dogs lacking in areas:
Prevents injuries from unexpected move from dog.
Prepares quarry for your dog.

Intensity / Bite Timing

Question - When do you give the dog the bite?
Answer - When the dog has peaked in his intensity.

Intensity & Time

 Should you miss the peak, you can load the dog back up to his peak for the bite.
It is the decoy's job to know when the dog has peaked and to give him his bite right away.

Training Tips

Avoid ego handler agitators / track layers "Let's see what his dog is really made of".

Ensure training is fun, make all time quality time.

Be consistent in everything you do. Your dog reads you and inconsistency confuses him. (i.e. commands, voice tones, praise, corrections.)

"Isolate" problem areas. Make the problem the center of your training session.

1. Start with an easy task, something the dog knows well to loosen him up and make you both happy.
2. Stress the problem areas in the middle of the session.
3. Always end with something the dog loves to do.

The dog is not stressed going into the isolated problem or coming out. The dog remembers easy tasks and has only one new thing to remember.

Duration of sessions:
1 hour?
15 minutes?

Take into account:
1. Dog's mood.
2. Your mood.
3. Stress of training exercise.
4. How the dog is doing today.

Read your dog's mood at the beginning of the session. Some days are just not days to do obedience. Do something else or put the dog away. You will not benefit or teach the dog anything by making him work under negativity. All training sessions should be kept short and should end while dog is still "up". Implant one idea at a time, and break the exercises down to components.

Modular Training

Short, simple sessions working on one facet of a finished product. Break training into modules to solve problem areas, then putting it together later to complete.

Articles on track.
Bark indication of suspect.

Conflict Training

Constantly change training so dog does not become "pattern trained" into incorrect response.

The decoy always at the end of the track.
The "stand still" 2 second delay, then "out".

At the end of each training session evaluate your training, isolate your problem areas.

Training Evaluation Questions

To isolate problem areas ask yourself.....

What was the purpose/goal of this exercise?
Did we achieve what we set out to do?
Why / why not?
What parts of the exercise did my dog have difficulty with?
What kind of exercises can I do with my dog to overcome this problem?
Did I, as a handler, do anything that may have caused a problem?
Did the quarry do everything correctly? (Review the exercise together.)

Write down your answers and ideas right after exercise for future training ideas. We forget very quickly how things went and don't apply them to future training sessions.

Most important of all:

What did my dog do well?
What did I do that was good?

Don't be embarrassed to ask other handlers' opinions. Remember, agitators work lots of dogs and have lots of experience and ideas. These questions help you isolate your problem areas and create goals for you and your dog.

Planning, Objectives and Goal Setting

You must establish goals in order for your training to be effective and less time consuming. Goals must be long and short term.

Short Term

Before going out on field for protection - "What is is I want to accomplish today?"
Attempt to be a visionary trainer as opposed to a reactionary trainer.


Puts fire out......too late.
Deals with problem when it happens.


Anticipates what is coming.
Has plan for all possible reactions of dog.

You should have:


Commands and Voice Tones

Three components of a command:

1. The word itself (command).

2. The tone of voice (most important part of command).

3. Method of enforcement.

Tones of Voice: Tone To Use:
COMMAND: Monotone, bark
CORRECTION: Low, growling
PRAISE: High, happy
PERMISSIVE: High to low
AGITATION: Whispering, suspicious, excited

Method of Enforcement:

1. Build for success.
2. Never give a command you cannot back up with enforcement within 1/2 to 1 second. This means both praise and corrective enforcement.
3. Maintain a praise to correction ratio of 5 to 1. Five times the praise for every correction.

Why the "Choke Off" is Used:

The "choke off" is used so the dog has to keep fighting for his bite or toy (detector dogs). It makes the dog want the bite or toy more next time. It also builds fight drive, making him fight harder to keep it (bite), and builds bite strength. It also builds prey drive (detector dog). In the past we would let the dog have the sleeve for his reward after a bite. This has taught the dog that he won the sleeve, not the man.

By using the "choke off" the dog never wins the sleeve. In this training method the dogs always wins the fight with the man. The handler does the "choke off" (the handler is the alpha male in the pack), so the dog is being choked off by the handler (pack leader) and the man just simply escapes. From the dog's point of view the man "gave ground". The sleeve does not even enter into the matter. This helps teach the dog that his fight is with the man, not the sleeve.

The "choke off" also helps in training so you do not have to give the dog an "out" command too often. By doing a "choke off" the pack leader/handler is controlling the dog, not the agitator. This method always leaves the dog "wanting more", which builds drive.

Why We Use the "Fake Choke Off":

The "fake choke off " is used to make the dog think he is going the lose his bite. This makes the dog bite and hold harder, or sometimes the dog will re-bite and take a deeper full mouth bite. This is a conflict training method also.

The dog may become handler sensitive if too many "choke offs" are done. Using the "fake choke off" conflicts the training so the dog never really knows when the real "choke off" is going to come. The handler sensitive dog will spit out the bite to avoid the "choke off" at the slightest touch by the handler around the collar.