Drug Detection Dogs and “The Charge”


I highlight this story for what it can teach us about the power of “ungrounded energy” on a dog’s behavior, the deepest levels of which when abruptly summoned to the surface of awareness, I term “The Charge.” According to learning theory, this dog was trained 100% correctly and I have no doubt it graduated from the school with flying colors performing exactly as it had been trained. And yet when it hit the street it didn’t perform as expected. What happened?
A few years ago I dealt with this exact kind of case. A police dog trained for drug detection at a high-tech facility in Texas, once on the job began to bug out on soda bottles at crime scenes as well as becoming aggressive to children. The salient points in this syndrome are that (1) the temperament of working dogs are being bred for more and more intense levels of behavior {my expression is that every breed is becoming a terrier, border collies are becoming agility terriers, GSD, Malinois etc are becoming Schutzhund terriers, labs are becoming field terriers}. (2) These high tech training operations use unbelievable levels of motivational stimulation in the dog’s training and compress the process into shorter and shorter time frames. (3) They also use electric collars. In the case of the dog I worked with, and which brings us to the most important point, (4), the dog wasn’t given any bite work because the purchasing police department didn’t want the liability. They wanted a “friendly” dog for drug interdiction rather than a dual purpose dog for criminal apprehension. I used to run into this kind of concern with the police chiefs of tony suburban towns. “I don’t care if the dog bites, I just want it to track.” I would then have to explain there is only one Drive, and if this Drive isn’t grounded through specific training to bite, an object-of-prey being what brings Drive to terminus, then the dog is more likely to bite. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as in: I’m-afraid-the-dog-will-bite-so-I-won’t-train-it-to-bite-and-so-the-dog-ends-up-biting. In short, learning to bite the bad guy equals learning NOT to bite the good guy. Furthermore, the Drive to bite the bad guy is the same Drive to work through a difficult track and hold onto the faintest whiff of a lost child elusively wafting about on a high breeze, and the same Drive that goes rogue when not given an object-of-prey to bring it to terminus.
A final reason these kinds of dogs fixate on the soda bottles and cans is that such things are used as part of the distraction training so that the dog will be able to work in high litter zones and in the foot wells in the cars of drug runners, very likely to be cluttered with crumpled wrappers (also crinkly) and soda and beer cans. You may have noticed I repeatedly use the descriptor crinkly. The modern soda bottle, beer can and bag of chips is especially crinkly. Nature is not neutral. Animals do not arbitrarily figure how it is composed by virtue of their singular personal experiences. Predatory aspects reflect emotion and attract unresolved emotion. In counterbalance, that which is crunchable, is resolvable. So crinkly plastic and metal sights and sounds are a reflective, predatory aspect of a high intensity. High intensity predatory aspects trigger the deeper layers of unresolved emotion in the emotional battery. (This is why dogs go nuts for vacuum cleaners, water hoses and laser light beams.) In other words it-can-only-get-out-the-way-it-went-in and a crinkly can or bottle is a highly conductive predatory aspect because it can easily be crunched and when in the jaws is intensely stimulating and faux gratifying to the dog’s most sensual organ, the mouth and tongue. So the items used in distraction proofing are deep down pulling on a dog-in-training’s intense vibratory state (deepest layer of emotional battery, i.e. DIS) that isn’t being channeled into its work.
Deep Inner Stress (that layer most tightly bound to sense of physical center-of-gravity) evolved to be held back until the organism reaches a state of emotional overload. When a dog is being zipped around by adept handlers in an extremely motivated state, if the activity isn’t fully channeling the amount of intensity, then a charge is being absorbed and no one is noticing the increasing pull it’s beginning to have on the dog.
Probably when the dog in the article was sent back for re-training, this particular working kennel took was a regime of counter-conditioning, de-sensitizing and perhaps some electric collar jolts as corrections. But if the underlying Deep Inner Stress isn’t brought up to the surface and then channeled into the proper flow circuit, when out on its own back on the street the dog is always going to degrade because ungrounded energy is but another form of fear, and fear always follows the path of least resistance. With the soda-bottle fixated drug detector dog I worked with, my process of remediation was the core exercises, most especially the bite and carry so that I could channel the intensity off of the bottles and kids and onto me, an object of attraction/resistance the dog could easily learn to become supple toward and around. I became the path of highest resistance to both trigger her DIS and then supple her through the bark/bite/rub-a-dub/collect/bite-and-carry to a point of resolution. Her problem was that she was too intense, and she was too intense because she had been too stimulated through positive motivation outside the parameters of the Prey Drive. I didn’t attempt to desensitize or counter-condition her. I “re-sensualized” her by basically doing the bite work the dog should have received before it was taught drug work.
Don’t get me wrong. If I wanted to train a dog for drug detection I’d immediately sign up to attend such a facility because they’re doing state-of-the-art drug detection training. When I visited Von Liche kennels it was eye opening to see how they had perfected the exercises I used to struggle over in the seventies and eighties. These dogs are being expertly trained. Nevertheless my mission remains to explain that dog’s aren’t learning machines, they are emotional beings with an emotional makeup that it is also our obligation to understand. When a dog gets overly stimulated (which can easily become stress because it hasn’t achieved terminus through the Prey Drive) or when it has become overly stressed by electric collar or handler pressure, there will be a natural tendency by the dog to identify the soda bottles as the release for their ungrounded energy, a.k.a. “The Charge.” However if the handler can attract “The Charge” through the core exercises they can be In-Charge and the dog will work reliably when free.

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Published February 7, 2014 by Kevin Behan
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5 responses to “Drug Detection Dogs and “The Charge””

  1. Very interesting analysis. And very helpful.

  2. I checked the website of the guy who trained Fred and found that he attended a 2012 seminar on training given by Ian Dunbar. Coincidence?

  3. Ann F says:

    Crunchy! Like little mouse bones breaking beneath the fur (when bitten). Snap-a-licious. The sound of the bite of death: crackling bones. Crackling! Now there’s a word with a charge! Electricity and cracks of bones and cracks of thunder….

  4. Nellie Thompson says:

    I think that this might be an appropriate library spot for this material Kevin’s response to a tragic death, an unexpected violent attack “…Alexandra Semanoyev (??) has commented. In my view, in this case I would be suspicious of electric collar stimulation, I think times of excitation/compression such as what happens at a doorway, can evoke the physical memory of a collar stim…and this can trigger manic prey instinct. Also, given that the dog was from Holland I have to wonder if there was a manic prey instinct imprint during puppyhood as we see so much of on You Tube in regards to the current trend in protection dog training and ring sport. With the dogs I see that are trained in the modern methods there is a kind of lifelessness in their eyes when they’re doing their bite work, it seems they are tuning everything out but the bite object. I think that protection dogs, most especially, need to experience a gentle and calm puppyhood with intense training happening after juvenile period. I firmly believe that such a dog is completely trustworthy around children and that this is even enhanced through protection training.”

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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