Over the last 25 years I have been witness to a multitude of selecting methods. These methods come from every part of the world and every corner of thinking. I have never seen a rhyme or reason to the vast majority of these tests. My assumption is someone has been teaching these ideas upon students with the belief that will make for the ultimate police dog candidate being selected. As I said in the title Myths of Testing, is what the vast majority really is.
First let’s look at just some of the tests you may hear of or see. The oldest test possibly is the GERMAN PSP test as it is commonly referred to. This test I see many times from trainers who have attended a basic trainer’s course in the southern USA. This test was developed by the German police a long time ago. It looks at many areas of a dog from playing to defense. The problem with this test is dogs today are younger and younger so allot of the areas this test looked at are not applicable to this age dogs if you know anything of dog development. The second problem is the way they use dogs in Europe in general is greatly different than the way we use them in the USA in most cases.
The PSP test looks at the flowing areas plus more:
1) Play drive
2) Hunt drive
3) Retrieval of Objects
4) Distractions such as food or water while searching
5) Social skills
6) Bite work, including prey bite, and defensive bite
7) Suit work
8) Muzzle work if possible
9) Stake out testing for courage
As I stated above the dogs of today are much younger. As a trainer you should recognize this fact and realize if you understand drive development in dogs, that the vast majority are too young to show much as far as defensive work. The fact is they have probably only done prey type bites their whole life. Especially dogs from Europe today. In dogs today the average age of a “green dog” candidate is around 12m to 14m of age. Many are downward of 10 months of age. Male dogs do not reach maturity until around 3 years of age typically. So for us to stake out or do defensive bites with a 10 month old is pointless and very dangerous in the respect you can cause serious damage to a young dog especially if the person doesn’t do the test correctly and then bring the dog back regardless whether he passed or failed the test in their eyes. This is the sign of a good trainer, a person who has that type common sense if they must test for this. If all dogs tested were 2 years of age or older then the stake out or defensive type bite would really show you something or at least have a better chance of doing so. Muzzle work and even allot of suite work falls into the same basic realm. The dogs many times have never even seen either thing let alone know what to do with it. So to fault a dog based on that is wrong, as it shows nothing of what the dog may be when it matures. Typically what happens when trainers do fault the dogs based on these things is they pass up very good dogs, who they didn’t give a fair chance.
Testing for food and water distractions is really a test which is totally inapplicable. I find myself wondering who in the world taught this idea as I watch some supposed trainers test the dogs for this. They forget or don’t understand about imported dogs, shipping, condition, condition of the dogs etc and more. If a dog just recently came in from Europe, many times they are very thin, thus hungry. Allot of times you can see every bone on the dog. So to expect the dog not to stop and get a free meal when it is starved is ridiculous and tells you nothing of the dog’s true heart, drive or character. The same holds true with testing for water distraction. If you were the dog you would very likely do the same thing if you were starved or in desperate need of water.
Another test I see some trainers do is they want everyone the dog knows leave the area so not to influence the dog working. This again is ridiculous especially if the dog just came in from Europe, he doesn’t know anyone even the kennel staff normally. Besides in the real world, what the dog won’t encounter more than one person at a time. Standing at a distance, not prompting the dog in anyway has no impact on the testing in 99% of the time. If you tried asking everyone to leave the area in Europe so you can test the dog alone, they would tell you to leave and sell the dog to someone else. You just can’t do that, not only is it rude, it shows a lack of professionalism, and true training knowledge.
I could go on and on about different things I have seen and been exposed to but the reality is this. A “Good” trainer, a trainer who knows what they are doing looks at the very basics and bases their selection on those things. When I test dogs in Europe or here these are the basic things I look at. After over 2000 imports I have tested, I feel pretty sure these will give you a good picture of what the dog is or isn’t.
1) Play drive of the dog- does the dog play and never stop till exhausted basically
2) Hunt drive of the dog- does the dog search for a toy until he/she finds it, without stopping to mark things, not needing to be repeatedly being resent out, or restarted, or quitting altogether. These shows allot as long as the testing area is reasonable for search work.
3) Confidence- will the dog jump on tables, over things, go in dark areas to search, stand on unsteady chairs/tables to retrieve the ball. Is the dog ok on stairs, preferably open stair cases.
4) Possessiveness- does the dog keep and fight for possession of the toy once he found it. I like to see that to get it back they have to force the dog to give it up (choke him etc).
5) Social skills of the dog- Is the dog generally open, approachable by unknown people. I like to see the dog want to approach me.
6) Floors- is the dog ok on different floor types in general, ceramic, wood, stairs etc.
7) Bite work-
a) Does the dog have a full grip on the sleeve
b) Does the dog take stick hits ok
c) Can the decoy cover the dog’s eyes with their hands and the dog
maintains its grip.
d) Can the decoy grab the dog under the sleeve in the throat area and it
e) Does the dog not hesitate to bite even if the decoy is screaming at
it while pursuing
f) Will the dog bite a basically passive decoy
8) Gunfire- is the dog neutral to gunfire, it is better to be neutral than afraid or aggressive to it. Both ends of the spectrum can be difficult to work out.
9) Testing in a basically neutral site to the dog. Many dogs are totally different when you get them away from their home territory. I like to see a dog play or work reasonably well regardless where they are or how long they have been there. But remember some dogs take days or even works to adjust to being transplanted from Europe to the USA, so you have to keep this in mind when evaluating a dog which recently arrived in the USA or from one country to another in Europe.
10) Age of the dog- does the dog perform playing or in aggression work in relation to their age. In other words if an 8m old is very civil, then you can expect to have serious issues with control or dominance with the dog when it reaches maturity. Likewise if a 3 yr old dog acts and works like a 12m old dog, then you could have just as bad a problem with the working of the dog as they may never develop the civil drives as most adults do. This could be a long term problem with this type of dog.
If the dog performs normal or better in these 10 general tests then good trainers can take that raw product and train it into a finished team. To do lengthy step by step testing as some tests as some tests do, is pointless and doesn’t tell you really anymore than these 10 basic ones do. Some people have a score card type sheet for each dog, which if your testing allot of dogs at one time it helps keep things straight on which dog did what. I keep notes on each dog as I go, but no per say score card. If a dog just passes or just fails the score card method, does that mean they are a bad dog or good dog? Neither really it means basically the dog was average and probably could be trained by the right person.
One main problem I see today is many trainers expect the dog to be doing everything without flaw, so the more it does the less they have to do and yet they can take credit for it. This really isn’t what training is about. Anyone can do that, and you don’t have to be quality type or an experienced trainer to do it.
If you follow these basic ideas and don’t let the myths of testing over shadow the basic need of basic drives in a green dog, you will do well with your selection and future partner or member of your unit.
Stay Safe and Train Hard
– Al Gill
Master Trainer- Patrol/Explosives/Narcotics/Cadaver/ Accelerant and serves on the Executive Board of NAPCH in charge of Accreditation. He also serves on the Accreditation Board of APCA for Explosives.
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Copyright © Al Gill 2020