Monday, February 15, 2010

predisposition to grip low on the arm

I was talking to a friend last night and it was mentioned that the instructor at a seminar stated that a particular dog's choice of the first strike being low on the sleeve was genetic. This particular dog would then apparently switch to another grip, more centered.  I found this to be an interesting statement.  A dog may have a genetic weakness of nerve that causes it to prefer to bite as far away from the center mass (dangerous part) of the man as it can,  This can be evidenced in the dog who bites near the wrist, uses the front canines and tugs away, not into, the decoy. In a police dog-- god forbid that dog gets passed through the training!- it is the dog who bites low on the arm, tearing off layers of clothing but never inflicting significant damage..  Pretty soon you have a naked suspect, and a pile of rags that the dog is busily thrashing while the suspect runs away.  I'm only half joking on this. 

When I select a puppy, I look to the one that has a grip compatible with the type of sport I do.  For schutzhund, if my favorite demonstrates a desire to fill its mouth with the rag or toy, to push in and take more, and is calm,  I am that much farther ahead.  I will not have to spend so much time in the formative stages, teaching and reinforcing the type of grip I want.    But I cannot imagine a dog being genetically presdisposed to say, grip in the center of the sleeve.  A dog is taught that behavior. A dog is not born with a sleeve in its mouth.

Going back to the basics of behavior, behavior reinforced/rewarded is likely to be repeated.  If we do not allow the dog access to the wrong bite locations in training by using a back line, drag line, blocking or simply stopping the game the dog learns what grip and grip location on a sleeve will cause the game to continue and be rewarded.

If we repeatedly give the dog a bad grip initially, whether intentionally or not, and then cause it to move the grip and reward that the dog believes this is the behavior we desire. Bite badly, move,  and be rewarded.  It is no different than when we unintentionally teach a dog that the return to heel is a 2 step process. Instead of going immediately to heel position, it moves to a crooked position, then is asked to "fix" that, straightens out and is rewarded.  Very quickly we will have a dog who never finishes correctly on the first attempt.

It is possible that the instructor, who has vast experience in training and an impressive resume of accomplishments,  made a shortcut in explaining what he was seeing.  He has likely seen this so many times that going into a lengthy explanation bogs down the seminar.  The newcomer may be left without understanding how genetics do influence the grip and gripping style and how a bad grip can also be made, not born , improved upon but never eliminated if it has a genetic component BUT that genetics do not tell a dog where to bite a sleeve.  Once you understand that, you can make an educated decision as to your training course.  Is the issue nerves/genetics?  To what extent will you be able to put bandaids on that problem and how far is that likely to take you?  Is it a training issue?  Particularly if you see multiple dogs worked by the same helper exhibiting the same problem, you may wish to change helpers/trainers.  Are either of these things possible, given your resources?  Ultimately, you will find it frustrating to pound that square peg into the round hole unless you make an honest assessment and acknowledge when your dog is giving you HIS 100%.

More about that 100% in an upcoming post....