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Hydro’s Journey: Part III

Continuing with the story of Hydro, he had already bitten his first K9 handler and been returned to the broker, who continued his training while looking for a second handler.  Use these links for Part 1 and Part 2.

Second Handler…Another No Go

I then received word that a department in Mississippi was looking for a dual purpose dog. They required a real dog who could take care of business. I will say that if you want a real dog that could take care of business in a SWAT type situation, or a patrol dog to have your back in high risk situations, Hydro is the dog for the job. I learned that Hydro was getting prepped, engaged in vehicle deployment scenarios, and I received nothing but great reports back. He is, after all, the real deal. I was asked about his early training, and understood they were beginning to have control issues. Red flag. Just weeks later I learned he bitten his second handler in “high pressure” training exercise involving a decoy stimulating the dog whilst the handler attempted control work. I have been unable to get any information regarding this bite or actual circumstances, so I will just suffice to say he was likely worked over threshold and exploded on the handler.

Well, hopefully I have outlined above (which most working sport dog trainers will understand) that it is not beneficial to train a high drive, high fight dog with impulse control lifted, who has recently paired with a new handler. The nature of the beast in police canine training is that these dogs are tools. There is limited time in which to acclimate one’s self to the new tool. Certainly, a police officer may learn to handle a gun, but this does not make them a gunsmith. I know because I personally went through two police academies and it’s about having the tools and training to get the job done. Pairing Hydro with “handlers” versus skilled and experienced trainers was what led to the downward spiral. No fault directed at the institution of law enforcement. It is what it is, and given their time constraints and liability issues associated with biting dogs “using dogs” are more the fashion these days than handler skills.

When I was with the police department I took physical conditioning seriously. I also took additional training in defensive tactics (through the fabulous Jason Jeannette in Nashville) to improve my skills on my own dime. Most police canine handlers do not have the time, funds or inclination to procure specialized training outside of work. Can you blame them? To handle a dog like Hydro it has to be a passion. He is super charged, and you have to TRAIN WITH YOUR BRAIN. I regularly treadmilled this dog for 45 minutes at a slow pace (walking) to bleed excess frenetic energy, always exercised impulse control (wait and leave it), did far more reward based obedience than anything, and took him everywhere to dull his little brain to stimulus. He was crated more than kenneled to eliminate visual barrier frustration, and that was balanced by lots of free time where he could run and hike. Pairing Hydro with an average police dog handler without direction is like giving me the keys to a Sherman tank and using it as a grocery getter. Sooner or later a fender bender is going to ensue.

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Third bite

So, Hydro went back to the broker. What has Hydro learned? He gets over aroused and he takes it out on those handlers whom he really doesn’t have any connection with anyway. In my experience it takes several weeks for a dog to come down from their “high” of a live bite.  I can relate, as I have been in high stress situations myself, and I could consciously predict over time that approximately two days after a high stress situation the stress would kick in with me.  Every person and dog, I believe, responds to stress differently and at a different rate.  Displaced aggression or not, he was now getting a bit of a “release” and learning to act out when frustrated. Worse yet, he was nearly choked out, further exacerbating the problem and reinforcing his “bite to make the demons go away”.

About one month upon returning to the broker he was back at training. A police canine handler (not someone with whom Hydro has a strong relationship), got him out of the vehicle while Hydro was stimulated (he could hear odor box drills going on and barking dogs). Now, let’s revisit impulse control. This dog was always asked to wait at the crate. Never was he allowed to bound out. Very, very important.

So, back to the story…..Hydro’s crate door was opened, and I was told he was very worked up (as in frothing, barking, spinning, every tooth in his head showing while panting).  He came bounding out and midair the handler got a hold of him in an attempt to get him under control. A fight ensued. A bite ensued. Victim #3. What has Hydro learned? Apparently, during the course if this cluster <ahem>, the canine handler’s partner rushed in to assist at which point Hydro attempted to redirect on him. He swiftly kicked Hydro in the chest to deflect, and the quick actions of the broker (who was working the boxes) saved the day by way of fishing tennis balls out of his pocket.

The next morning we received a frightening call that Hydro had yet another incident. Still on his bite high from the day before, he was let out of the kennel while stimulated (kenneled next to other dogs). He started to fence fight, at which point the broker (lacking his morning coffee), just reacted by grabbing his collar. Hydro immediately redirected. A bite ensued. Another near choke out ensued. I will add that the broker admitted to letting his guard down so close to the last bite incident. My hat is off to this broker, who by all rights could have euthanized the dog. He called us, explained the course of events, and  then held onto Hydro for a month before I could drive back to pick him up. For this I thank him. That takes self control under a highly emotional situation. I have been there. Now, I can also understand the lacking of morning coffee. 😉 I can certainly relate to the immediate reaction by most to grab the dog.  After all, humans operate on muscle memory and have conditioned responses like dogs.  This reaction has been trained out of me over the years dealing with reactive dogs. I hate getting “dog bit” as they say in the south.

Perhaps, in hind site, a more appropriate way of dealing with Hydro would have been crating him at night, letting him out with an e-collar for off leash control (and asking him to exercise impulse control by waiting instead of clambering out of the box), after coffee whilst alert and prepared, and maybe a bumper in his mouth. After the initial excitement wears down, arousal levels are diffused, and you can have a second mug of Joe in lieu of an ER visit.

The next blog will be about the actual pick up in Tennessee. Many readers may have followed along via social media as I made the trek back. I’ll provide specific details on what I saw, our trip back, and handling through the first week of rehab. Stay tuned!

Hydro doing rehab back in Arizona