TWO STYLES OF DECOYING;
Decoying for Certification & Decoying for Real life (Street Training)
For certification, it's pretty simple, train for your routine (False start, Recall, Verbal out, Handler protection etc). It doesn’t matter what certification standards you follow, many have the same aspects with small variances. Whether people want to say it or not, certification training and decoying for certification is a rehearsed "dance" that the K9 becomes accustomed too. The downfall of many handlers, is when the "dance" changes during the routine. Different stress, accidental movement from decoys, the clinching/anxiety of the handler can all cause the K9 to react different than what is expected.
I train to let my K9 partner know, if they listen to my commands and respond correctly, I will be pleased with them and they will always get another chance to apprehend the decoy. It may be in 30 seconds, 2 minutes or 2 days from now, but they will get another chance, but it is at "My" (the handlers) discretion, not the K9’s.
As the training continues for certification, and again, many people will only quietly agree, the K9 learns a routine and is rewarded when they satisfactorily complete the commanded task. Most handlers will train this way, but few will push the limits after the routine has been learned.
Once they have their routine performed correctly, many handlers will stop at this point. But this is where K9 teams fail to certify. They need to add in additional stressors and make it part of their routine. If they fail to do this, on certification day, the K9 will break a command and apprehend the decoy when they are not supposed to.
An example of this is when a verbal call off is made, the K9 is brought back to the handler and placed in a sit/down command. The decoy, who has practiced this over and over with the K9 team, mistakenly reaches up and wipes the sweat from his eyes. At that moment, the routine has changed and the K9 breaks from his position and re bites. That is one simple example of what usually happens.
Another example is the location of where the handler stops to give the verbal release commands. If they practice running up to the decoy, once their K9 has bitten the decoy, and stops at 20 feet away every time directly behind the K9, the K9 learns and expects the handler to "call them off" from that position. In certification if the handler forgets the 20 foot distance mark, or the decoy spins the K9 around facing in the direction of the handler, they will more than likely not comply with the verbal call off.
Practice the routine for certification, then add variables (distance/ positioning/ coughing/ sound/ erratic movement etc..) from the handler, decoy or trainers standing around to make sure the K9 understands to listen to the handlers commands, no matter what variables they are faced with. Push the limits once they successfully complete each task and praise the hell out of them when they do it correctly.
Once certification is complete, stop all routines! Begin real life training. This is by far the most
important training you will ever do. If you are not making the K9 feel that this is the real thing, then don’t expect any more when you have that life threatening call. Many times on real life calls, K9’s have failed because they were never trained under stress. This is where a great decoy is invaluable.
The most important part of a decoy is their TIMING.
The decoy has to “mark" the correct behavior of each individual K9 and their timing has to be perfect.
They need to replicate real life when they can, push the limits to strengthen them and back off of pressure when they are close to shutting a K9 down. Once a K9 has faced and worked with this type of decoy (like Sam Edmonds- Kennel VanMayhem) when they confront real life encounters, they are on a different level, ready for anything.
Depending on the situational training we are performing, sometimes we can get away from an advanced decoy and use a decoy for the simple purpose of "Meat in a bag". To explain, I will use static decoys or non animated decoys that will not respond at all to an apprehension by a K9. They are not to move whatsoever. The K9 is commanded to apprehend and once they are on the decoy, the handler commands the K9 to hold the decoy. Many times if handlers have not practiced this exercise, the K9 will hold for a few seconds, then let go and try to re bite to make the decoy come alive. This has happened to me in real life on the street when a suspect on PCP (or other unknown substances) felt no pain and didn't move at all during the apprehension. This can be confusing for a K9 if they have not experienced it. A more advanced decoy is what I favor in training to build up the "punch in" or deep bite/pain compliance apprehension.
Avoid teaching or allowing "Escape Bites'. An escape bite is a bite where a K9 grips a decoy on an extremity (lower leg, lower arm) and begins pulling and tugging.
Many times they will only have material from the bite suit or sleeve and continue pulling away. If the decoy "Marks" this behavior by reacting, this will continue to teach the K9 that this bite is acceptable. Most K9's like this type of bite, because they can easily get away if the decoy becomes aggressive towards them. This is very obvious behavior to look for. If a K9 has a bite on the wrist area and the K9 is pulling, have the decoy rush towards the K9, the K9 will seem to retreat, keep pulling and moving away form the decoy while keeping the farthest distance from the decoy they can. We want to train the opposite, the K9 will stop the aggression of the decoy if he punches into the decoy and bites with pressure.
With the correct decoy and timing, the K9 learns if they punch in, similar to a Toe to Toe flat footed boxer, they get rewarded by the pain/pressure they give to the decoy, the decoys 'mark" of the punch in, and the praise simultaneously received from the handler. Repeated enough times, this eliminates the shallow, tearing clothing bites. And even though people think a K9 that bites clothing is less of a liability for their department than a deep biting K9, well.. they are simply wrong! A shallow biting K9 usually re-bites in several different places, instead of one location, the bites are shallow and in multiple locations and they usually do more damage with tearing and ripping than puncturing from a solid deep bite. A deep full pressure pain compliance bite usually stays in one location and makes punctures. It also avoids the K9 wanting to fall back into an "escape bite" where they are satisfied playing "tug of war" with a suspects clothing. During that tug of war, there is absolute And in situations where a real life suspect is fighting with no fear of a K9, the escape biting K9 will be seen running around the suspect barely engaging. Many times on and off, re biting and circling a suspect. This is EXTREMELY dangerous to the handler and back up officers.
The same philosophy exists with Muzzle training. Mark their correct behavior. When the K9 initiates a punch in with the muzzle, the decoy must react as if they are getting shocked at the point where the muzzle strikes them. I use a long line and give them enough slack to strike the decoy, but immediately after the strike, I add back pressure to the long line and make them "sled dog" (pulling hard, back into the decoy for an additional strike). The K9 will learn quickly that once they punch in, they will continue to punch in causing reaction and animation from the decoy. The mistake I see many handlers make is they leave slack in the line and the K9 runs around openly, sometimes punching in on the decoy but then running around the decoy and not engaging. Back pressure will help keep the target acquisition, the K9 focused and teach them to drive into the bite. Last thing to remember, While the decoy is working their magic, join the fight with your K9.
Make sure they know who is on their side during an apprehension. Backup officers will tackle a suspect with your K9 during an arrest when they have tunnel vision. Get your K9 accustomed to others approaching during handcuffing etc. The deep gripping/pain compliance apprehension is something all Law Enforcement should work to have with their K9 partner.
Make sure you take care of your decoys! Without them, you would only have a great Article Search/Evidence Recovery K9.