Prey Drive Promotion, Part I & II
I will use my translation of Helmut Raiser's book Der Schutzhund as a
reference in my discussion.

" Hvordan starte valpen i bitearbeid 1 & 2 "


Let's begin practical training for protection work where it should begin:
with prey-drive promotion. Let me briefly explain why I chose the word
"promotion" over the word "development" to translate the German term
"Förderung", which could be translated either way. To me the term
development refers to a process which takes place on its own. Drives
develop naturally through maturation to a certain degree. As trainers we
should try to give nature a helping hand by promoting what is already there,
and therefore actively enhance a particular drive to its maximum potential.
I like to start prey work as early as possible with puppies, usually around
ten to twelve weeks old. This allows me to work with all the unspoiled
inborn instincts of the dog. I start young puppies the same way I start late
starting adults, with a rag or a sack. The most important thing for the
helper to understand during this early work is that the sack is the prey,
not the helper. Therefore, the quick, sporadic, and unpredictable movements
of the sack are what peak the dog's interest and consequently stimulate the
dog's prey drive. As Raiser writes in his book: "If one tries to promote
prey drive, then all the dog's focus should be on the prey, meaning it is
the prey that does all the moving around, not the helper." One of the
reasons for starting with a sack is that it is relatively easy to shake it
and wiggle it and let it fly around, and therefore get all the dog's
attention on the sack. Another is that it is much easier to bite for
beginners whether they are puppies or late starting adults. Now that we have
the basic idea of what the crucial elements of start up work are, lets see
what typical training exercise should look like.
The dog is on leash, the handler encourages the dog calmly, without
distracting him from focusing on the prey. The helper makes the rag come
alive by moving and wiggling it sporadically. This moving rag triggers the
dog's prey drive. The helper will see first the dog's eyes following that
little creature, then his body will follow slightly pouncing after the
elusive prey, finally the dog will start to snap after it in an attempt to
catch it and make prey. When the dog appears almost hypnotised by the rag
and the tension waiting for just the right moment is written all over the
dog's body, that is when the helper moves the rag to within the dog's reach,
and snap, the dog bites into the rag. As soon as he does the prey is his. He
wins his rag, and the handler should praise him in a proud tone (but not to
the point where the dog forgets about his prey). Initially I let the dog
have his way with his prey for a bit, but then I want to make it clear to
him that it is indeed a prize worth keeping. I use two methods to accomplish
this. One, I have a string on the rag which I keep in my hand even after the
dog wins the rag. And just when the dog starts loosing interest in the
seemingly lifeless prey and he loosens his grip or drops the rag on the
ground, I revive the rag by pulling on the string. The dog will either feel
the tension in the rag and firm up his grip, or it will slip away from him
and the prey stimulation starts again. After a couple of these "losses", or
near "losses", the dog will hold on to the prey quite firmly, not wanting to
take the chance to let it slip away again. As soon as he shows this kind of
commitment the dog should be allowed to carry his prey off the field.
The second method I use is pretty close to what Raiser describes as
"challenging" in his book. Again this work starts after the dog has won his
prey but then either holds it loosely in his mouth or he puts it down on the
ground in front of him. This time I try to show the dog that he is not the
only one interested in his prey. The helper also has his eye on that prize,
and this already describes a large part of the exercise. The helper starts
challenging the dog for the rag, by cautiously reaching for a corner of the
rag, then quickly pulling his hand back, only to reach for it again from a
different angle. If the rag is still in the dog's mouth, a slight tug might
help to make it clear to the dog that the helper's intention is to steal his
rag. A lot of dogs will at that point show a pulling away of the prey, or a
confident re-grip on the prey with a dirty look, or a slight growl and then
a re-grip on the prey. All these behaviors lead to a confident holding of
the prey, which should be rewarded by letting the dog carry the prey off the
field. In dogs with good balance in all drives both methods work well and we
should probably use both to keep the work interesting for the dog. If prey
drive is the dog's strongest motivation, then the first method will lead to
quicker results. The second method works nicely on dogs who are very
possessive and who show defense of prey behavior easily. As Raiser writes:
"...the challenging is already the first stimulation of defense behavior..."
The next step in training should be to make sure that the dog holds his prey
(the rag) hard enough on his initial bite. This is done by simply not
letting the dog win the prey on his initial snap, but instead holding on to
the rag a bit longer with a bit of tension on it. So that if the dog snaps
at the rag, but then eases his grip, he will lose the prey which should then
immediately begin to move and wiggle again. Prey drive is once again
stimulated by this movement and the dog gets another opportunity to bite the
rag. The goal is not to try and rip the prey out of the dog's mouth, but to
challenge the dog enough to make him bite progressively harder.
This work should progress to where the dog has to jump to reach the rag and
make prey. I accomplish this by simply holding the rolled-up rag high
enough, at the moment the dog gets the opportunity to bite it so the dog has
to jump to reach it. With adolescent dogs or late started adults this means
chest or belly height, with talented puppies I usually hold it just high
enough to make them do a little hop which gets their front paws off the
ground. The principle is the same, jump and bite to make prey. This is a
foundation technique which a dog will use throughout his protection work
The step I chose as the next training progression jumps the queue a bit in
the sequence Raiser outlines in his book. However it still follows one of
his most fundamental principles: "It is not the helper who dictates the
action, but the dog. During drive promotion work one has to accomplish that
the dog stimulates the helper, not the helper the dog." My choice as the
next skill the dog should learn is to flush the prey by barking. The
previous training steps should have created a bit of an obsession in the dog
for chasing and biting the prey (rag). As before I start by stimulating the
dog's prey drive with the wiggly rag, I may even let the dog snap at it and
miss once. Then when I have the dog primed for this activity, I create a bit
of frustration by suddenly stopping all action and movement. The helper
stands still looking off into the distance, the rag hanging in his hand
lifeless. Most dogs whine just a bit, then they let out a frustration yelp.
It is this yelp which causes the rag to fly up like a bird flushed from a
bush, and the dog gets to make prey. It won't take long until these initial
yelps turn into demanding barks which sound purposeful and pushy; their
goal, to get the action started again. So, the dog learns early on that he
has some control over what happens on the field, and that barking is the way
to make things happen. The reason I incorporate this exercise this early
into training is to avoid letting the dog get so pre-occupied with biting
during protection work that nothing else matters to him any more.
The next training stage in my program is usually the strike or attack. And
once again my program deviates slightly from Dr. Raiser's. He lists the
transfer from the rag or tug to the sleeve before the teaching of the
strike. I follow the same sequence when training talented late started adult
dogs. However, when training puppies and young dogs I like to teach an early
form of the striking technique first. When the dog has mastered the hard
initial bite and the jump and bite to make prey exercises, I start teaching
the striking technique. The handler holds the dog by the collar, the helper
stimulates the dog in prey drive, first very close to the dog, he can even
let him snap and miss once. Then he distances himself from the handler and
dog, while still simulating the dog. He goes to a distance of about three to
four meters initially. He continues to wiggle the rolled up rag or puppy tug
to entice the dog. On a pre-arranged signal by the helper, the handler
releases the dog. The helper stands slightly sideways to the dog, when the
dog reaches the jumping distance, the helper pulls the rag upwards and
slightly sideways, "remember prey always moves away from the dog" (Raiser).
This last second movement should prompt the dog to pounce quickly to prevent
the getaway of the prey. The helper should gently absorb the dog's impact in
the rag and set the dog on his feet. Then the prey is released, the dog is
leashed up, and the dog gets to carry the prey off the field. I have found
that puppies and young dogs have no hang-ups about hopping up on strangers
from any angle. Therefore, they learn a nice striking technique into the
helper very easily and early on. Sometimes dogs can't bite a sleeve yet
because they are too small, or because they have to undergo defense drive
promotion before they bite hard enough to handle a sleeve. I have learned
from experience that "missing the boat" when it comes to teaching a
technique when the time is right can lead to a lot of "what might have been"
discussions later on. Don't misunderstand me I do not mean to imply that I
know as much or more than Dr. Raiser, I simply have developed a preferred
program sequence over the years.
This brings me to the end of this article, since there are limits to how
long these things can go on. The follow-up article, discussing the transfer
to the sleeve, teaching the dog to fight, shifting into prey drive from the
control phase, and the pro's and con's of prey work, is already in the
works. I hope to get your attention again in the next article.
Prey Drive Promotion, Part II
As promised, here is the second part of my article on prey drive promotion.
Naturally, I won't start at the beginning of prey drive training again. I
am going to make the assumption that the reader has read part one of this
article in order to continue my discussion. There are several exercises
that I personally feel should be started during prey drive promotion
training, these exercises are going to be the focus of this article.
Like everybody else who has been involved with dogs for a while, I am
certainly aware that training does not always follow the steps outlined in
books or videos. But if we are involved in the training of a dog with solid
prey drive, and we followed the steps I outlined in the last article, then
we can assume that the dog has a firm handle on the following techniques:
- He bites a rag firmly and holds onto it.
- He keeps the rag in his mouth and carries it for short stretches.
- He can jump up and bite a rag in one motion.
- He barks at the motionless helper to create action.
- He runs towards the helper then jumps and bites to make prey.
Assuming that the dog we are training is "with the program," so to speak,
the transfer onto the sleeve is a very good choice as the next training
step. Whether we go to a puppy arm, an intermediate sleeve, or a full size
arm really depends on the age, size, and talent of the dog. The type of
sleeve used really does not matter, the training pretty much looks the same.
The first step in achieving the transfer to the sleeve is to make the dog
accept the sleeve as his new prey object, in other words he has to view the
sleeve the same way he has viewed the sack or rag up to now. I prefer to
start by swinging and wiggling the sleeve around in front of the dog, just
out of his reach, from time to time I also throw it past him just short of
where he can grab it.
I have found better success when I start with the sleeve not on my arm in
the beginning for two reasons:
- I can move the sleeve more freely and therefore stimulate the dog
- I have found that some dogs have no hesitation biting an object in the
beginning, but they act hesitant when biting "a part of the helper."
In the initial phases of this training we should take great care to remove
all hesitation or inhibition in the dog to allow his drives to come out as
strongly as possible.
A word of caution for this stage in training. As helpers we have to realize
that the sleeve is much more a part of us than the sack ever was. We have
to be very aware of this and remember Dr. Raiser's words: "If one tries to
promote prey drive, then all the dog's focus should be on the prey, meaning
that it is the prey that does all the moving around, not the helper.
Furthermore, the prey never moves towards the dog, but always away from,
even after it is grabbed." Why do I make such a big deal about this you
ask? The answer is simple, it is a big deal.
As we try to move the sleeve in a wild and sporadic manner we also move
around a lot and it is very easy to move in a way which is viewed as
confrontational by the dog. Which in turn is totally counterproductive to
prey work.
Another very common problem in this stage of training is that the sleeve is
moved towards the dog, sometimes quite forcefully. Very few things annoy me
more when I work a dog than seeing a young dog get out of the way of the
sleeve to avoid being hit with it, or to avoid having it rammed down his
throat. "Prey always moves away from the dog." This applies to the sleeve
as much as it did for the rag.
Now that I am done preaching, let me describe what the work should look
like. As already described above, the dog's prey drive is stimulated by the
moving sleeve, he keeps reaching and snapping at it but so far in vain. Now
it is time to give the dog an opportunity to bite, for this the sleeve can
be held by opposite ends, or it can be worn on the helper's arm. The helper
passes by the dog laterally (not towards him) and presents the sleeve.
Several points to consider:
- The dog needs to be allowed a good opportunity to bite the sleeve.
- The dog may be a bit unsure by the feel of the new prey, so he should win
it right away, even if the bite is a bit weak.
- This is a teaching exercise, so we want to show the dog where on the
sleeve we want him to bite, by only allowing him to bite the correct area on
the sleeve.
As soon as the dog has won the sleeve we work on getting him to hold on to
it. The same two methods work I described for sack work, have rope or leash
on the sleeve to tug on it when the dog wants to let it go, or challenge the
dog for his prey right away. I follow the same training steps as with a
sack to get the dog to hold his initial grip on the sleeve. As with the
sack, the sleeve will then be presented progressively higher until the dog
again has to jump and bite to make prey. Remember, there is no rush to put
a dog on a sleeve.
At this point I feel it is necessary to briefly talk about the strike or
attack exercise again. As I described in my last article, I start this
exercise with a sack already if I can, to teach the dog targeting technique
and to lower inhibitions in the dog when it comes to biting prey on a helper
who is facing the dog. Those two points are very important, and present us
with new problems when we are working with a sleeve. The dog has to target
more accurately to get a good bite on the sleeve. The helper has to be very
careful to catch the dog softly, so the dog does not hurt his mouth on the
sleeve. And, the sleeve is much closer to the helper's body, so the frontal
picture is much more ominous for the dog.
Raiser describes that he starts this exercise by moving laterally to the
stimulated dog, then the dog is released when the helper gives the signal.
Initially the dog gets a shot at the helper and sleeve more from the side
than frontally. Gradually the dog gets more and more of a frontal view when
he makes prey, until he attacks straight into the helper with the sleeve
horizontally across the helper's chest. During all these bites it is always
important that the helper compensates for any problems the dog may have, and
that he always absorbs the dog's impact softly.
I teach this exercise very similar in principle, but somewhat different
technically. Let me describe it briefly. The dog, who is held by the
collar, is stimulated by the helper in prey, the sleeve moves a lot, and I
usually let the dog snap and miss a couple of times. Then I move away from
the dog, always making sure that his eyes are fixated on the sleeve
(remember, we are working the dog in prey at this stage), by wiggling it.
In the beginning I don't move more than about 5-10 meters away from handler
and dog. When I have reached my catching spot, I bend over wiggling the
sleeve around just above the ground. When the dog is nicely pumped up, I
give the handler the signal (something pre-arranged) to let him go. The dog
charges at the frantically wiggling sleeve, when the dog comes to within a
distance where he is setting up to target and then leap, I stand up and pull
the sleeve up with me to a height I think the dog can easily reach. This
last minute "escape" manoeuver by the prey (sleeve) prompts the dog to
follow the movement of the sleeve. The dog will leap upwards and forwards
to catch the sleeve which moves upwards and backwards (prey moves away from
dog). Contact should be timed so it occurs when the sleeve is in the
position it normally is in when a helper performs any frontal trial
exercise. The impact from the dog has to be absorbed by the helper, who
then goes on to set the dog onto the ground. In the beginning the dog will
win the sleeve at that moment. I feel that this method brings great success
with dogs who do not naturally strike hard. The dog strikes the helper
frontally right from the start without realizing it because he should be
completely mesmerized by the last second movement of the sleeve. As I said
in the beginning the principle, making the exercise about the prey, is the
same it is just executed a bit differently. A word of caution regarding this
method, it takes good timing on the part of the helper. I would recommend
that helpers practise this manoeuver with experienced dogs who already
strike well, before they experiment around with dogs who are just learning.
The next skill the dog should learn during prey drive promotion is the
active counter. In his book Dr. Raiser titles this chapter "Teaching the Dog
to Fight." Let me take a moment to remind the readers that none of the
described exercises have to occur exactly in the sequence I am outlining
them. I sometimes teach the countering much earlier in training if the dog
allows it. However, I do believe that biting a sleeve, striking, and
countering are techniques a dog must master before trial exercises are put
together. Now back to countering. What is countering? Let me give you my
definition. Countering is any type of assertive behavior on the part of the
dog when he feels adversity (stress) during a bite-exercise. The most
common forms are forceful tugging, growling, re-gripping, and shaking. Dr.
Raiser concentrates pretty much on the "Shaking Prey to Death" behavior in
his book. My preferred reaction is the re-gripping behavior, because I feel
it has the most benefits for the dog, especially in his sport career. For
the purpose of this discussion, I will use the term countering.
Teaching countering depends very much on the dog, we have to tailor our
training to the individual dog. To quote Dr. Raiser: "In dogs with very
strong drives and in some insecure dogs it is relatively easy to provoke the
"shaking-to-death" behavior. In other dogs that might not be possible until
the are 15 months or older or until the have undergone heavy defensive drive
promotion." For that reason I believe very strongly that we should keep the
teaching of this technique in mind at every stage of training so that we do
not miss an opportunity. We have to recognize countering behavior for what
it is and reward it whenever it occurs, even if we are working on another
Let me describe how I teach countering. The dog gets a bite on leash. While
the dog is holding on the handler should hold the leash tight, the helper
should keep the bite object (sleeve or rag) calm and steady. The helper
should also not be confrontational with the dog, meaning he should keep the
dog behind him a bit. Now remember, it is adversity which provokes the dog
to counter. So, we have to create adversity in very small doses. We flex our
sleeve arm, as if the prey animal has found new strength. We can cover the
dog's eyes with our hand. We can face the dog more frontally. We can tickle
his throat. We can lift the dog up a bit. We can rub the dog with a stick.
We can drag him towards a foreign object. We can blow in his face. The
possibilities are really endless, as long as we always keep in mind that it
is always better to create too little adversity than too much. The adversity
is designed to cause the dog a bit of stress and make him feel slightly
insecure. Immediately following the stress, should be a moment when the
stress causing factor lets up a bit. The dog will perceive this as if the
adversary is experiencing a moment of weakness. Dogs with normal drives and
instincts will take this moment of weakness to assert themselves, and this
assertion is our counter.
What we have to realize is that it is stress which triggers the counter. We
may cause the dog stress unintentionally any time during training, so if the
dog counters at any point in early training, we have to let him win. We can
do this by stripping the sleeve, or by relaxing and giving up momentarily
before we continue with what we were doing. We have to really feel out a dog
to see what method of triggering the counter is best so that we do not
create grip problems. In the beginning I reward any countering behavior so I
will not create insecurities in the dog ( Raiser: "unaffected tolerance of
aggression causes insecurity"). However, as the dogs confidence and skill
repertoire grows, I become more choosy as to which counters I reward, and
which ones I do not. For example, a dog with a very shallow grip who shakes
violently will not reach his goal from me for very long, I will wait for a
re-grip before I will reinforce his counter.
In general I would say that I only reward the shake, growl, or tug as a
counter in the very beginning of training and later only with dogs whose
grips are very full and almost perfect. But once again I have to judge each
situation as it happens, nothing is chiseled in stone. If the above method,
which by the way is very similar to what Dr. Raiser describes in his book,
does not lead to the desired countering behavior, then we probably have to
wait until the dog is more mature, and defensive drive promotion has begun.
Before I wrap up prey drive promotion, I want to discuss one more exercise,
which I consider imperative for prey drive work. That exercise is exploding
into drive from the control phase. For this I need a dog advanced enough in
training that he bites a sleeve (or at least a puppy-sleeve) and preferably
already counters (preferable, but not absolutely necessary). One very
common but also huge problem I encounter all the time is that very competent
dogs suffer tremendously from handler influence (however mild it may be). A
dog's drives are inhibited by obedience, after all, obedience teaches the
dog that the handler decides when he can and when he cannot follow his
instincts. It is only natural then that after obedience during bitework the
dog's biting performance may suffer. Let me anticipate some criticism here.
Has this guy never heard of drive capping? Of course I have, and for the
readers who have not, drive capping refers to harnessing or collecting drive
through obedience. Unfortunately, it takes a master to make that technique
work well, and not all of us, myself included, are masters at it. The
exercise I am about to describe in a way serves the same purpose, only that
the dog learns to do it himself, rather than the handler doing it for him.
The way I start this exercise is to set a dog up like in the SchH II and III
escape. In other words, I get the handler to make his dog lie down, holding
him by the collar. I stand sideways to the dog the sleeve facing the dog.
The agreement is the handler releases the dog as soon as I take a step. I
then perform a run away. The dog should follow and bite the sleeve. As soon
as he has a firm grip I will strip the sleeve, the dog gets to make prey.
Initially I find that the dog's grip may not be as convincing as it is
during the exercises with heavy stimulation. The dog may even act a bit half
hearted, after all, first he has to be obedient by lying down, then he has
to be dis-obedient by breaking the down. And still he has to muster enough
drive to catch the helper and bite the sleeve. This exercise is harder on
dogs than people realize, and I am sure every helper will agree with me that
a lot of dogs show diminished bite performance in the beginning stages of
this exercise. The exercise evolves to where the dog has to down off leash
and stay put until the helper moves. This takes quite a bit of control. The
next step is to make the dog heel around a bit, then down, then the escape.
Next we have the dog heeling around with some sits for pauses, then when the
dog shows nice collected heeling and sitting, the helper jerks the sleeve
while the dog is in a sit, to allow him to come for a frontal strike. The
attentive reader will recognize this as a very close approximation of the
attack on handler exercise in SchH I. Finally, I have the handler heel
around me and do one of the sitting pauses while behind me, then I will spin
around and jerk the sleeve, to let the dog bite. The down before the SchH II
and III escape, the heeling to the blind for the attack on handler in SchH
I, and the rear transport in SchH II and III before the surprise attack, are
huge handler pressure exercises in trials. Dogs who have learned how to
explode into drive from an obedience phase will have fewer problems with
these exercises. I deliberately teach this exercise during prey drive
promotion, because I feel that dogs learn this exploding into drive easier
while they still work purely in prey drive and not carry any extra baggage
from the stresses of defensive drive work. Naturally, the amount of
obedience has to be tempered to the dogs level of proficiency in obedience.
The goal of prey drive promotion has been reached when the dog has learned
that the presence of a helper on the field means that the prized prey cannot
be too far away, that he can incite the helper into action by barking and
when he has mastered good gripping technique, fast, hard striking,
countering, and exploding into drive from obedience. At that point, the
field, the helper, and the sleeve have all become trigger stimuli for the
dog's prey drive. If we were able to lay such a solid and strong foundation
in protection work in prey drive we are well on the road to success on the
sport field.
Of course, as wonderful as prey drive is, it is not without downsides. One
of the biggest problems is that prey drive can be exhausted or fatigued.
This means a point may come when the dog just does not feel like chasing or
catching prey any more, Raiser calls this "Stimulus-and Action-Specific
Exhaustion". When the dog's prey drive is exhausted training is over for
that session. If exhaustion sets in very quickly, it becomes very difficult
to make gains. Another problem with prey drive may be that the prey drive in
a particular dog is not strong enough to even bite a sack competently. With
dogs like that training is frustrating and no progress can be made working
only in prey. I am not making these comments to cast a negative light on
prey drive work, on the contrary, foundation work should always be based on
prey drive. But I want to make it clear that training is not over by any
means yet at the end of prey drive promotion. We still have to work with the
dog's defensive drive, and then we have to work on channelling defense drive
into prey drive, and how we can work on balancing the two drives. I hope to
get the opportunity to discuss those exciting topics in future issues, as
well as explaining some specific cynological (dog related sciences)

Part 2

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