Why you Can’t or Shouldn’t Play “Stick” with Just Any Dog! A Story Parents Should Read
When I was slightly younger than I am now, and I was training very actively with one of my many mentors I was beginning to learn the world of police, military, competition, and attack dogs.
Ironically the older man who was teaching me was insistent on using positive reinforcement as often as possible. Unlike the woman who I began learning from he believed that NO PUPPY should ever have a prong collar on and that teaching dogs how to behave was the only way to train.
I was totally blessed to find him. Most people training police and attack dogs, especially back then, were all about corrections, and shock collars and punishment. And, even though he had been working with police departments for over 30 years, he wanted to be kind to the animals and teach them what to do, not force them.
He also refused to work with any dog that did not pass his temperament test. He always told me never to become the kind of trainer that “scares” a defensive or fearful dog into a behavior that makes him uncomfortable to bring out aggression.
He convinced me that these dogs may begin to come out of their shells and show signs of being aggressive in the work, but it was not a strong training technique and eventually something somewhere would break down.
He simply declined to work with a dog like that, for the sake of the dog and all the discomfort it would have to endure and work through while knowing that someday when a police officer’s life hung in the balance the dog might break down and revert to his first instinct of flight rather than fight.
That was an important lesson to me when I was young. You can force some dogs… but what does that get you and when will those behaviors break down?
So I never learned to use table or box work to make a dog more aggressive, I believe what he told me back then and I am grateful for the information and education he instilled on me when I was young. Seeing a big police dog trainer using the principles of positive reinforcement and reward was very powerful to me and was when I fell in love with the work.
While I was working with him and running around in bite suits, hiding in trees, under cars, on playgrounds and letting those police dogs find me and beat me up, I ran across another soon to be good friend.
He was a K9 trainer at our local Air Force Base.
Certain breeds, especially back then, were mainly used only in military and police service areas; these breeds just don’t make great pets.
So when he saw a bumper sticker with I Love My Malinois on our truck he tracked my ex-husband down and I set up a meeting to go and meet him and watch our military’s finest at work. It was an honor to be escorted around the base and watch the dogs and handlers work.
But as I walked through the main training and kennel building I noticed a very graphic photo taped to the door I won’t subject you to images of the like.
The picture/s were of a young vet tech’s (I was also a vet tech at the time) hand and forearm right after the attack and then once she had had a few surgeries to try to correct the damage.
I think they kept this on the door to help remind their handlers and anyone else that these weren’t your average dog or pet and needed to be treated as such.
Ironically she worked for a very famous, well known veterinary hospital where the high profile veterinarians worked with most of the police and military dogs in the area.
As I recall (and my memory may not be THE best) this particular dog had been in for some routine work like a dental and he was very friendly, outwardly. So the sweet tech took him outside in the fenced in exercise area for a bit of exercise and a game of “Stick” throwing.
I don’t know if she knew it was a military or police working dog or not, but most people especially kids don’t know or realize what I am about to tell you anyway.
You Don’t Play Stick with a Working Dog!
And, sometimes you can’t tell what dog may or may not be a working police/protection/ or military dog.
These dogs are ingrained from the time they start training (usually around 8-10 weeks old) that when someone raises a stick or yells at the dog; the dog is to engage in an attack. Anything that appears aggressive to the dog is met with teeth.
We even train by raising sticks and letting our dogs play the game of biting until it is conditioned, just the raise of a stick over your head becomes like a command to bite. So is yelling or stomping or screaming and running toward one of these dogs.
Then they are taught to withstand some stick hits (the sticks are usually quite small and dried bamboo that is cut up the sides to make a clatter or sometimes a padded stick is used), but it is never meant to hurt the dog, only to build his confidence and raise his drive for the bite and the “game of bite work”.
They are also taught to ignore the sounds of serious pain and screaming from a human.
Trust me, you don’t want a dog patrolling your neighborhood from thugs, drug dealers, rapist and murderers that would turn tail and run if someone yelled at, hit, kicked, or did anything to get the dog off of them. You also don’t want a dog that would drop off of a criminal as soon as he screamed in pain. So we include some aspects of this in our training to help control it and teach the dog by building his confidence that he is stronger.
Lets Go Back to the Girl
So she probably took this big dog out with only intentions of playing with him. It is clear that she didn’t bring a toy, since she resorted to using a stick. And, I can only imagine as she got his attention and raised that stick it was a clear invitation to the dog to bite her since she was threatening him and the amount of horror as she realized he was going to bite her.
Add to that the fact that his handler was not there, the dog simply did what he had been trained to do for most of his life.
Sadly, the technician had to have several reconstructive surgeries and will probably never be able to use that hand and forearm like she once had. She will likely be affected for the rest of her life.
Why is this Important to YOU or YOUR KIDS?
I personally think the world of working dogs is fascinating! And others must think so too, with the recent addition of many new working dogs shows on TV.
If you were to see a friendly German Shepherd Dog wandering your neighborhood or in your yard that seemed friendly and playful would you or your kids think about grabbing a stick to throw for him?
I think this is a natural behavior for people. I remember dogs wandering into our elementary school when I was a kid and I was the first to hide the dog (from staff) and then search for a stick.
And, if you do this or stomp or yell or threaten the wrong dog you may just be attacked.
I know if you wandered up to my dogs and yelled at, stomped at, or raised what looked like a weapon over your head you would be in for a world of hurt.
And, have you seen kids or teenagers or even adults teasing aggressive dogs in cars?? Well, I have seen dogs break out of windows to subdue the aggressor.
And, you just can’t tell by looking at a dog (When I trained with the older gentleman we had Cattle Dogs, Labs, Min Pins, Mastiffs, Aussies and even a Golden Retriever that was protection trained).
So rewire your thinking when it comes to dogs, don’t do anything that could be considered aggressive by you toward them and teach your children this valuable lesson and story.
The dog is just reacting to a situation but we as humans need to pass along the information so that we can all keep each other our kids and these highly trained defenders of our streets and country safe.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.