Many years ago, the goal of training bite work was to get the dog to bite a person or target item, such as a bite sleeve. These days, it can be a lot more complicated because often handlers, competitors or departments want a certain “style” of bite work to suit the sport or job they are doing.
In this article I am going to share some of my experiences and why I use what I use to start bite work, develop bite work and proof bite
Types of grips
Very often, if you are around people that train bite work, the term “grip” is big on peoples discussion list.
Grip generally means that the dog is biting with the correct amount of pressure and style that the trainer wants to develop.
The sport of IPO for example favours and seeks a deep, full mouth grip which remains stable throughout the bite until the out cue is given, and then the dog should out the sleeve instantly and cleanly.
Chewing, mouthing and releasing the grip are all undesirable within the sport.
A Police dog often assists in arresting the person, this means that the goal is to get the dog to bite the persons arm and hold on, enabling the Police officer to subdue the person.
As long as the dog bites and holds on, generally the style is not held in high regard in many Policing units around the world.
Often though the dogs genetically pull back or shake on the bite or have been taught to do so, reducing the person’s ability to escape.
Many Police dogs may not out on cue, sometimes this has to do with the manner in which the person being bitten is behaving and other times it may be the importance the out cue has or hasn’t been given.
Dogs that may be used in War or peace efforts are often used as weapons to try and gain advantage over opposing forces, this means that the goal of these dogs may be to generate submission in the person.
To achieve this, dogs are being taught or making use of the “pushing bite“. This bite is taught to the dog so the dog can bite, then take a deeper grip, over and over again to “motivate” the person being bit to submit.
There are of course many ways and thoughts on these but these are just my basic thoughts.
Bite work development
There are several ways to motivate a dog to bite, one of the most common ways that I use is Prey Drive. Choosing a pup with a low threshold to high prey drive will see this pup trigger into prey easily and try with a lot of effort to capture the prey (sleeve, tug, ball etc)
I feel Prey drive is best developed when young, ideally before a pup learns that things such as cats, other dogs and birds etc are good prey.
Having this said, this is why I will stimulate prey drive in very young pups over many repetitions, but I am careful to transition from “the prey makes the pup move” to “the pup makes the prey move”.
I personally try to develop a great deal of pro activity in my pups as later this will not depend much on the helper or decoys behaviour. In simple terms I can send my dogs onto passive targets and they strike them to create a reaction, not IN reaction.
When pups are very young, they can be thought to have low prey drive because when you whip a tug in front of their face, they may show no reaction. This is more commonly due to the fact that they have not yet developed detailed eye sight.
By 8 weeks, most puppies have developed adequate eye sight to move around, run and play etc, recognise their owners etc but they still can easily miss a prey item being moved rapidly.
Here is one of my puppies at 10 weeks old striking a Euro Joe Number 1 Bite sleeve
I use a Puppy Prey Toy that we have in our Online Store (K9Pro). This is a collection of leather stripping of different colours with a piece of (medical grade) sheep skin attached, all held together by a rope for the handler to use.
The Bite Rag is another invaluable tool for young dogs.
Thes are very visual toys and most pups after 5 weeks of age can see them and this can be used to test and stimulate prey drive.
As prey drive and eyesight are developing, and I am going to be developing bite work in this puppy, I move to a puppy bite sleeve or similar at around 8 – 10 weeks.
To increase motivation and or drive for the prey, trainers may back tie their puppies so they cannot access the prey, thus causing frustration and increasing drive, which can then be reinforced by allowing the pup to capture the prey only when drive is peaked.
The Calm, full grip.
Many times with the very high drive dogs that we have these days, a dog may mouth the sleeve because he or she has been exposed to a sleeve that jumps and fights when he or she bites it.
Later in life as you try and get your adolescent dog to have a stable hold, the dog may feel frustrated that the sleeve is not as active as the dog was expecting.
This causes frustration and an elevation in drive, often leading to a dog that is experimenting with behaviours to get more activity. Mouthing is often one of the first behaviours tried, if you move the sleeve at this time, the dog will feel mouthing is useful.
This can be hard to correct and can easily transfer onto any item held in the mouth such as dumbbells etc.
There are many ways to get the grip calm and ten times as many ways to create a mouthy, unsettled dog, experience will get better results than technique here, but here are a few tips.
When using the sleeve for the first time, use a sleeve that is the right size and shape for the age your puppy is at. Using a hard sleeve or large sleeve with a young puppy can easily ruin the dogs drive and grip.
When the sleeve is presented, it should be presented in a way to help the puppy bite the sleeve with a full mouth, once the grip has occurred, calm praise on the puppy that is holding the sleeve firmly and with a stable grip, can help set expectations for what the sleeve will provide to the pup.
The ACTIVE pushing bite
Many times, this style of bite is genetic, quite a lot of my pups will display this style of bite from 4 weeks of age, often on each other!
So with these pups it is a matter of developing drive and motivation and when the pup first bites the sleeve, holding it still and being quiet until the pup counters (bites deeper), at which time you give a reaction (twitch) feedback.
This conveys to the pup that it has power in its bite and it can motivate the helper to become active with a deeper bite.
The pups without the pushing bite as a genetic feature, will need to be taught this if the pushing bite is desirable.
It should be said that regardless of the pups genetics, with detailed training I have created pushing or pulling grips in dogs that genetically were not included to grip this way.
The type of equipment that you use to train bite work can be a big part of the success you have or the reason for failure, so pay attention to this section because you can make or break your program right here.
Harness or collar
The Harness is a great piece of equipment to restrain your dog from a puppy age and create frustration and increase drive. The load from the back tie can be displaced across the large surface area of the harness straps so that no aversive feeling is experienced by the dog, allowing the dog to escalate into higher levels of drive without consequence.
We have dozens of harnesses available to us and to be honest, my go to starter harness is one of the lowest priced harnesses we offer, the simplistic yet very effective, Redline K9 Hero Harness.
It goes on quickly, has little cover so keep the dog cooler but super supportive when loaded. It has a lot of adjustment through Milspec Nylon Velcro but comes off and on easy through one buckle system.
When working a civil, full sized adult dog in back tied agitation, I go to our Tactical Leather K9 Harness, a two ply beats of a harness that is stronger than any dog I have ever met!
There are times that I would use a wide collar on a dog during development, the width of the collar allows the load to displace over a wider surface, 40 – 70mm wide perhaps. One of the reasons I may do this is to increase the dogs possessiveness of the sleeve, pressure applied under the dogs neck from your hand or collar will cause an increase in grip intensity.
I don’t allow dogs to place a heavy or solid load to their necks through any collar to minimise chiropractic issues.
I like the MaxTac collar for a lot of this work, it is made from a flexible Milspec nylon with genuine Cobra buckle for strength. This have a handle for the trainer / handler to use to create possessiveness.
A very popular collar amongst many is our 2 inch wide leather collars, a very solid collar that is either made from 2 layers of leather op a layer of leather and a layer of felt for comfort.
Many people don’t know this but, when a dog lunges into a line or leash tied to something solid such as a post, the “shock load” value can be hundreds of kilos, shattering the leash snap or breaking the leash. This is because leashes are not designed to be back tied.
We use a couple of different back tie options when training, the first is a heavy duty back tie line DESIGNED for this purpose.
It is 50 mm wide heavy duty nylon webbing with designated snaps. This could easily be used to tow a truck around it is that strong. Attach this to any dog and you can be sure that it will not break.
We also use a bungy line, this is used to build strength, speed and power and also grip.
The bungy line is secured to something solid, often a vehicle tow ball or similar and the other end to the dogs harness. The dog is restrained under load and needs to pull between 50 and 70 kilograms of load to extend the bungy.
This of course develops incredible strength and power in your dog.
This section could go on for a month as there are so many that so many different things.
I am going to start with Sleeves with a bite bar or bite bar profile and those without.
Sleeves with a bite bar profile
The goal of these sleeves is to develop a full mouth grip for sport such as IPO. I personally do not use these in protection, police or dogs for armed forces.
The profile helps the dog develop the grip and muscle memory and feel for the sleeve profile the dog will be biting within the sport. So it is very helpful to start with sleeves that help the dog adapt to the equipment he or she will be working on.
Both of these slide over the arm or can be held in the hand or attached to a rope. They are soft enough for the puppy to sink its young jaw right into, creating that expectation that things the puppy bites can be crushed.
With the puppies I breed, they have a lot of drive and develop hard grips quite fast, so I normally want to change out these sleeves by the time the puppy is about 17 or so weeks, as too much feel is coming through them. But I have worked many pups well over 20 weeks on these when they had not had any development done.
Once I decide to transition a dog to the next sleeve and we are working on calm full mouth grip, I will move to the Redline K9 Puppy bite sleeve. The Redline K9 brand is one of our most popular because the company strives mainly to develop equipment for IPO and Police all over the world.
The equipment is well made, purposefully designed and very good value.
This sleeve will often be used from 20 ish weeks through to at least 40 weeks. Of course the dog in training determines this also, some of my own hard biting pups move up the sleeves very fast where as many dogs really benefit from developing over a number of sleeves.
Next I will more often be working on the routines of the IPO Protection phase with a targeting sleeve. Targeting sleeves are smaller and lighter than full sleeves and help teach the dog to target accurately and move with the sleeve.
Dogs can be taught to carry sleeves when they are smaller targeting sleeves before they have fully developed.
I actually use targeting sleeves mostly with adult dogs right up to almost ready for trial. They are great for presenting to dogs to teach all of the bites in the protection phase.
Trial ready and competing dog bite work management will see me often use a full sleeve. The Redline K9 Evo sleeves is hands down the lightest sleeve you will wear. I have tried every brand I can get on the market and had helpers from all over try these and they rave about them.
The sleeve is fast and angled to get a dog gripping hard and on target. Like all of their products the sleeve is durable and lasts a long time properly cared for.
If your an IPO helper reading this, try and EVO, if when it arrives and you put it on you don’t marvel at how light and fast it is, send it back for a full purchase price refund!
Bite Sleeves without a bite bar
I use sleeves without a bite bar for dogs that will be used on Police, Corrective Services, Armed Forces and Personal Protection, any where the dog when finished will be biting skin.
I do not use a bite bar for these dogs as they often take some time to become comfortable biting arms that do not have a bite bar and can slip off in real life situations.
Young puppies 8 weeks to 18 weeks, I still start with the Euro Joe Number 1 sleeve. Euro Joe make a quality product and I find these very useful for training dogs that will be biting a bite suit, Mondio Ring etc and dogs that will be biting people without any equipment on (Police – Military – Protection etc)
I also may use the Euro Joe Number 1 LEGSLEEVE as well if the goal; is to teach the dog leg bites.
I generally go through the 5 levels of Euro Joe sleeves, before going to the bite suit with these dogs.
Each level of Euro Joe sleeve provides more padding and protection for the wearer. I personally feel that when training dogs for this end, the decoy should choose a sleeve in which he or she can “feel” the intensity of the grip and determine how much biting effort the young dog is delivering.
This feel allows me to give feedback when the dog pushes in deeper, this is lost when the sleeve being used is harder than the young dog can compress.
The individual sleeves enable me to slip the sleeve and allow the dog to take possession easier than when wearing a bite suit which is another useful element of wear arm or leg sleeves individually, they can also be placed on a line to agitate the dog and generate more drive.
I have owned a few dozen bite suits in my life, I normally sell my current suit when they are around 2 – 3 years old, which means they have a lot of life left in them.
The suits I like the most for training Police and Military dogs are the Roca and Demanet suits because they have the best elements I need to work very serious dogs. They provide adequate protection and feel, with good to great mobility. They are durable and functional as well.
When we order our suits, we ask for a change in design to give more mobility and movement to the decoy. This is our own design after wearing many suits.
Proofing the bite
When training is at a stage in which the dog would be deployed in a working role, I feel it is essential to proof that this dog would bite without the visual of equipment being worn.
I personally do this over three different avenues.
The Hidden Sleeve
The hidden sleeve is a low profile heavily padded sleeve that can be worn under clothing to proof that the dog will bite without the large visual of a bite suit or obvious sleeve.
The first ones I used many years ago were laced onto your arm, this required a person to help you lace up the sleeve and unlace it, it was a bit of a pain. These days we use a sleeve that has velcro closures which can be fitted by the wearer and also slipped or removed instantly if you so desired.
It has a heavy surface so you will not get punctures nor will it wear out quickly.
Hidden sleeves are not really for training, they are for testing.
Silicon Rubber Arms
These strap onto your arm or leg and look like a person’s bare arm. They are made of silicon rubber and have a similar feel to a human arm.
Dogs that are used to biting linen or jute may slip off these once covered in saliva but it does prove that your dog would bite a bare arm.
These are a must for proofing in my system so we are assured that the working dog will actually bite under pressure.
I feel this is a twofold benefit for a dog, one is that when trying to bite, the decoy will actually be without any equipment and the dog will become frustrated due to the fact that he cannot get a bite because of the muzzle. Therefore you can increase drive and proof the bite at the same time.
It is important to use a muzzle that will A: not injure the dog and B: not come off leaving the decoy vulnerable.
To sum up this short article…
There are so many ways to teach bite work and some of them are great, many more create future problems and it is only after training a lot of dogs successfully in ite work did I find a place where I can create the outcome I want every time.
Bite work can be a great recreational outlet for even pet dogs and no aggression is neccessary or needed, nor will your dog bite anyone if your training is done well, but for others in the Police, Armed Forces, Security etc the bite quality can all that is standing between the officer and a serious threat.
So it makes sense to invest in the right type of gear and right type of training to give you access to the power your dog has.
As this is just a beginner guide, feel free to give us a call and we can give you advice on the right equipment!