A common question we hear is…what is the difference between a competition dog/trainer and a real-world protection dog/trainer? We’ll try – in the short span of this brief article –to answer the highlights.
First, competition work is very structured and predictable. The decoy must make the same movements in order to be fair to all participants. He always hides behind the same blind in the competition. Even though there is an unknown element on the field, most of it becomes very comfortable for the dog and handler because they’ve done the exact same routine many times before. Personal protection dogs and police dogs, on the other hand, face a very different challenge. The suspect doesn’t always hide behind a blind – he may run into a warehouse, a school, or grab a passerby. An intruder may break into the home via the front door, back door, a window, at night, during broad daylight, or as you enter/exit a vehicle. In these situations, a solidly trained protection dog or K9 must be able to immediately and capably respond as well as act forcefully to neutralize the threat, no matter where it comes from.
Second, most competition work is done in prey drive. It’s all fun and games. Even when the decoy “pushes” the dog, the dog knows it still just a game that will end soon. More than likely, his defense drives haven’t kicked in. But in real-world scenarios, the decoy may fire a gun (not just a small caliber), kick, scream, throw things, and who knows what else. This is why competition dogs seldom make good protection dogs or police dogs. Their defense drive hasn’t been activated and brought to a high level of operation.
Third, because of these two reasons, a mediocre dog can look rather impressive. The dog worked only in prey will typically have a nice-looking bite (all things being equal). Furthermore, bad guys seldom use bite sleeves or sleeves with bite bars. A good dog in the competition field will probably not do as well in real-life situations. Predictability and prey-drive-only are not friends of the real world.
This is not to say that all competition dogs/trainers are inferior. Some trainers take their dogs farther – and to a higher level – than what the game field requires. These dogs will probably work well in a real-life circumstance. But the training must supersede competition work and get into the unpredictability and threats that dogs will face in this cruel world.