Let’s start by discussing what is NOT Realistic Training. First, Realistic Training is not conducted in a completely controlled environment. This is not to say that there is no place for training in a controlled environment. In fact, it is critical to start your training in a controlled environment. But it is critical to understand that practicing good technique in a controlled environment is only the first step. You must move into the Real Environment. Next, Realistic Training is not conducted in comfort. Realistic Training requires stress. Stress is, by definition, uncomfortable. If you are always successful, then you are not training with enough stress. The more stress you experience with your dog at your side, the deeper your bond will be with that dog. Additionally, Realistic Training is not void of threats. This will vary from person to person based on what your purpose is. If you are police or military, you must train under fire; both live fire and simulated fire. If you want a dog to accompany you at all times, your threat may be someone yelling at you for no apparent reason. In these and many other scenarios, you must maintain control of your dog. And the only way to know that you can do so, is to train with these threats present.
Here are a few things that everyone should add to their training to increase their Realism. Train outside year round. I live in Fairbanks, Alaska. We frequently receive temperatures of -35 degrees (yes, 35 degrees below zero) during our winter days. We train outside year round in these temperatures. If you are training for Search and Rescue, you must realize that people do not get lost on groomed football fields in comfortable weather. They experience life threatening situations when it is cold, raining, and in the most technical of environments. You must be able to function in these environments. The only way to ensure that you can is to train in the same situations you will be called to function in. If you plan to deploy down range to Afghanistan, you must find the nearest equivalent to your operating environment and train there. And as soon as you arrive in theater, you must ensure that you continue to train in country so that there is nothing new in your dog’s function.
You must also learn to function efficiently when you are uncomfortable. Many people maintain terrific technique and control of their dog in their comfortable training environment, only to completely forget they even have a dog at their side when placed in uncomfortable situations. Expose yourself to this discomfort in training and you will remain effective in the real world. This may include the stress of feeling threatened for the average person. There are many instances that you may feel threated, but you would not be justified in deploying a dog. You must maintain control of your dog whether he is trained for protection or not. If you are in a position where you may be shot at with your dog at your side, then you must be shot at…and in fact hit with your dog in training. Allow the dog to experience not only the stress of being under fire, but also of being handled by a fellow officer or soldier while you are treated for a gun shot injury, while you are being carried in a litter, while you are being transported in an ambulance. Too many soldiers and officers are bitten when their handler is injured in the line of duty.
Train in situations where there is every reason to react, but with the discipline to remain calm and attentive, but disengaged. These exercises build stability and control in your dog. Your dog must “Leave it” when commanded to “Leave it” even if there is a helicopter about to crash land on your head. Your commands are paramount no matter the situation.
Train for success!
Until next time, this is Joel with Dunetos K-9 helping sharpen your world…one dog at a time.