Dogs working with military forces undergo extensive tactical dog training to become ‘military dogs’. These dogs can sniff bombs and hidden drugs, can carry a man three times their size, and can even track an individual who has left a place long ago. To be able to do these tasks, these dogs start their training as young pups!
Before going into depth about tactical dog training, let’s discuss the basics first.
Skills to master prior to tactical dog training
Develop a Strong Dog and Trainer Relationship
A dog trainer first needs to build a relationship with the dog and develop a strong bond. The relationship between the dog and dog handler can affect the ability to train a dog. There are incidents where dog trainers have been bitten and wounded by dogs because they did not have a good rapport with the dog. Therefore it is essential for the dog trainer to build a relationship with the dog prior to starting tactical training.
How does a trainer develop a relationship with a dog?
- Dog Grooming
To build a good relationship with the dog, grooming is essential. Grooming helps you identify any health problems your dog is facing. Daily brushing can locate cuts and other health concerns (fleas, rashes etc.) which should be treated immediately. Keeping the dog clean and healthy is important in identifying the dog’s unwanted health issues.
If the dog runs around the wooded areas (e.g., forests), it is essential to carefully check their ears and paws for cuts and infections. Even if there is a single cut, it is recommended to get the dog treatment from a vet. Beyond the health issues of injuries near their ears and paws, a dog who is not feeling well will also not be a good student (and therefore it would be hard to engage them in tactical training).
- Rewards – Attention and Treats
Ensure you offer your dog treats if the dog successfully completes a task; this not only reinforces and encourages the good behavior, it also develops the master-dog relationship. Giving the dog attention also helps in developing the bond between the dog trainer and the dog.
Ensure Your Training Includes A High Level of Consistency
While training the dog, remember to be consistent with
- Commands – use the same name for tricks and commands
- Actions – offer the same level of reward (at least in the beginning)
- Location – maintain the same place for training every day.
Consistency will help your dog understand its role and tasks during the coaching period.
Be Patient – Give Your Dog Time To Learn The Basics
It takes approximately seven months for a dog to master all the basic training and commands. Do not push your dog to advanced training prior to mastering the basics. Poor fundamentals will result in longer times to learn advanced commands. Additionally, refreshments of the basics can be helpful in between advanced training modules.
Tactical Dog Training Programs
Tactical dog training includes the Obedience Program and Protection Program.
Obedience Program – Tactical Dog Training
Obedience Training is divided into two parts. One is the Basic Obedience Training, and the other is Advanced Obedience Training. First, we will know about Basic Obedience Training.
- Basic Obedience Training: This includes basic commands to teach the basic dog manners. The basic obedience training also deals with the basic commands such as
- Return to Sit
- Polite Greeting
- Crate Training
Daily training sessions are mandatory for the dogs in order to allow them to quickly learn and retain the commands.
- Advanced Obedience Training: In basic obedience training, the dogs are only trained with direct commands, but in advanced obedience training, the dogs are also trained with direct commands, but the training is conducted including distractions. The distractions come in the form of noisy public environments, other animals, and different surfaces. This training includes:
- Sit-in-motion: Directly sit on command while walking
- Down-in-motion: To in the down position on command while walking
- Recall Sit: To come on command and automatically sit
- Wait at the door: Until the ‘Release’ command is given, the dog shall wait outside the door
These commands are trained without a leash and under heavy distractions. In order for a dog to be a Military Working Dog, it is important for them to be able to perform under such strenuous conditions.
Both primary and advanced obedience training is helpful for a dog to become a MWD. These training are conducted on-leash and off-leash to make the dogs master obedience during unexpected situations.
Tactical Obedience – Tactical Dog Training
In tactical obedience, your dog will remain between your legs, with or without verbal commands. This allows you to move around without checking your dog’s position in tactically sensitive situations.
Contact heeling as a part of obedience training can be achieved through a lure-reward system. Training progresses from luring to rewarding as the dog gains proficiency, and the rewards shift from a 1:1 fixed ratio to a scheduled rewarding. The trainers could also use a clicker or a verbal marker to praise the dog, but this reward training works well with treats, and a toy can be used as a reward occasionally.
Component 1: Positioning
Place the dog in a down position and stand in front of the dog with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold food in your hand and lower it in between your legs and utter any command, usually center or middle are used. Lure your dog in between your legs in the up position so that it’s shoulders are in contact with your legs while moving. Reward the dog and repeat it nearly 100 times to train the dog. Once the dog learns this, start training to bring him between your legs from the back in a straight line and proceed to various positions along with down and sit commands. Always start any new positions from luring and repeat them several times.
Component 2: Pivoting
Place the treats in your hand over your dog’s nose and move your hand to the left and reward the dog once it moves with you. Now repeat it in the opposite direction and reward the dog for moving along with your hand. You can also hold treats on both hands and pivot in alternative directions, and reward the dog. Continue through the pivoting circle by repeating the lure and reward process until the dog masters it.
Vary the number of degrees you pivot per time – 45 degrees, 90 degrees (left and right turns), 180 degrees (about turns) in all directions, 270 degrees, and absolute 360 degrees. When the dog follows these, stop the luring and demand for pivoting before rewarding, improving the dog’s overall back-end awareness.
Component 3: Forward Movement
Hold traits in both hands over his nose and move forward with the dog in between your legs and reward proper behavior. While luring, slide your hands from his nose to your belt buckle section, then up your stomach and chest, hands together, to form a “low-ready” two-hand pose. This will get the dog used to seeing your hands while walking as if you are holding a weapon. As the dog learns, shift from luring to rewarding and then to variable rewarding. Once you are on variable reward, train by holding weapons like a handgun or long gun and often reward after introducing distractions. Begin mixing components like pivoting and moving at various speeds like quick, slow and praise with rewards on every new shift.
Component 4: Halts and Downs
When you come to a halt, lure the dog with treats to sit in between your legs. Stopping, taking one knee, and having the dog down beneath you is a more proper stance for halts. When you come to a stop and descend, hold the treat over to the dog’s nose to set the dog in down position. Repeat the training and gradually change the luring to reward and variable reward training.
Component 5: Stay
The next component is to train the dog to stay in its position as you leave and return to the spot. Start by dropping to your knees, using the stay command, moving away without him, then returning and trying to heel. If your dog is confused, another person might help in keeping the dog in a stay position.
Component 6: Approach from the back
Start calling your dog to come up to you from the back with your legs extended, so your hand can drop down between your legs and serve as a target for him to approach. Hold the treat and reward the dog as it comes to you from your back. You must have already trained this in component 1 so this should be an extension of what the dog already knows. Once the dog learns to come to its position from behind you, kneel and heel to halt him in that position.
Component 6: Behavior Establishment
Learning, practicing, and establishing the commands can be achieved easily with positive reinforcement. Try using a training collar with a short line to correct the dog if it isn’t cooperating with the tactile position. It is crucial to establish the behaviors that the dog has been training. This can be attained by changing the environment of training and introducing distractions.
Protection Program – Tactical Dog Training
A personal protection program is an integral part of tactical dog training. This training comes in three levels:
- Level 1: Level 1 dogs are are trained with on-leash obedience and area protection. On command Level 1 dogs will turn aggressive, showing teeth while barking and scaring away aggressors. The behavior can be put on hold with the ‘OUT’ command. These level 1 dogs will not be stopped by distractions such as yelling, swirling weapons, or other forms of intimidation. Level 1 dogs will not back off from their task on command. While Level 1 dogs may bite to challenge an aggressor, they are not trained to bite unlike level 2 and level 3 dogs. Level 1 dogs’ main goal is to serve as a deterrent.
- Level 2: Level 2 dogs are trained with on-leash obedience and on-leash personal protection. On command, Level 2 dogs will show aggression similar to Level 1 dogs. However, Level 2 dogs are also trained with real-life scenarios to fight and bite to defend their owner and family. These level 2 dogs are trained with bone-crushing power of the back jaw. These dogs can counter their aggressor (if the aggressor tries to attack the dog). Level 2 dogs can also release the bite on command.
- Level 3: These level 3 canines are highly skilled and in addition to the skills of Level 1 and Level 2 dogs, these dogs have mastered off-leash obedience. Level 3 dogs are also trained in travel protection (e.g., to protect their master from carjacking). Their training can be customized to the needs of their owner (to include protection from robberies, kidnapping and home invasion etc.). These dogs will also release their bite when commanded (even from a distance) and will return to their master’s side.
Apart from obedience and protection training, Tactical dog training also deals with the dog’s behavioral modification.
Behavioral Modification – Tactical Dog Training
Dogs are loyal companions, and when you give your dog tactical training, they become your and your family’s protector (or if conducted for the military, the dog becomes a MWD). While this is beautiful, the training could also result in behavior modification. It is essential to learn if your dog has developed behavioral disorders or an aggressive and destructive nature from the tactical training.
Tactical dog training therefore also focuses on two vital elements:
- The trigger elements for your dog
- Developing an accurate foundation to alter what the dog feels, thinks, and acts.
Behavioral modification is beyond basic obedience training. It reaches to the cause behind the dog’s action. In other words, it concentrates on the thought process of the dog, which can cause unruliness.
The Behavioral Modification programs addressed through Tactical Dog Training are:
- Urinating indoors
- Extensive rough play
The approach is mainly to uplift the feeling of self-control and confidence. While these behavioral modifications, the dog tends to understand what they should do and what should not.
Tactical Dog Training deals with the basic training foundation, obedience program, and the personal protection program. Along with these main courses, the psychological factor of the dog is also given importance. The training program takes time for a dog to learn and it varies from one dog to another. The canines are trained such that their actions always depend upon the command of their handler. Tactical dog training is vital in the fields of military, house protection, kidnapping, robbery, state security.