Lou's Stake Out Test


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"My Stake Out Test" is designed to test the dog to see what drives he operates in during stressful situations. It's designed to find my idea of the "perfect dog" for police service. It is designed to break the spirit of every dog that I test. I will apply so much pressure that only the toughest of dogs can pass the test. I will, of course, not break the dog down completely. When a dog shows some weakness, I apply a bit more pressure to confirm what I am seeing. I will then flee and give him some agitation to bring him back up.

For police service I choose a dog that is high in fight drive. I like some prey drive as it makes it easier to play with a ball to relieve the stress of training. Some defense drive is acceptable but if there is more than a little, it's too much. It's O.K. if there is absolutely no defense drive.

For a home protection dog, less fight drive and more defense is acceptable than for a service dog. I can make a viable argument that both dogs should be the same but since the police dog needs to regard "wherever he happens to find himself" as his territory, he needs to be a little tougher.

I take the dog to a strange area, somewhere he's never been before, and stake him out. I prefer to use chain link fence because it spreads the strain out and has some give to it. I have the dog wearing a heavy leather collar, usually mine, cause I don't trust someone else's, and a heavy choke chain. I double hook the dog, into both the leather collar and the dead ring of the choke, in case one breaks. I usually use a wire cable for the tie out but it's not all that important. What is important is that the dog cannot, under any circumstances, get loose.

I place a reed stick on the ground a few feet outside the dog's reach for later, possible use.

Then I have the owner/handler/anyone the dog is familiar with, leave he area so he is completely out of sight/smell of the dog. I want the dog to be on his own, with no support from anyone.

I then wait about 10-15 minutes for the dog to settle down.

Then I walk onto the field appearing about 40-50 yards from the dog and angling slightly away from him.

I am not wearing any training equipment. I even make it a point to wear short sleeves so that the dog has no chance to cue on equipment.

I pay no attention to the dog, watching only out of the corner of my eye. I would prefer that he pay attention to me, but it's not essential since I am no threat, not near him and walking so that I am moving away from him.

Then I stop and turn towards him. I think of stalking him, as if he were food that I was hunting. My body language communicates that to him. The dog should look at me at that point.

I then angle towards him, mostly moving parallel to the fence he's tied to but not completely. I approach at less than 45 degrees I guess. At some point as I get closer, he better start paying attention to me or he flunks.

At some point during this crossing I will stop and turn full-on to the dog. I make myself as big as possible and try to dominate him from a distance. At this point if a dog has "weak nerves" he will start to show some weakness.

I'm about 25-30 yards from the dog and no real threat, but I've had some dogs try and leave. They hit the end of the leash trying to flee. If that occurs I run away, looking as scared as I can. I may pause and let him chase me off the field. I don't want to destroy someone else's dog.

A strong dog will do one of two things. He can bark at me or he can just stand his ground and look at me.

A dog that has had some civil training (without any equipment) may respond as he has been trained.

A dog that is full of fight drive (a willingness to accept a challenge) who has had not training of any kind will say, (to himself of course) "What is this guy about? He's acting kind of weird so I better keep my eye on him." I am not yet close enough to be any kind of a threat so he is not required to try and chase me away.

A dog that is defense drive oriented will probably be on his feet, growling and barking at me. He will betray himself by his growling and probably will "show some hair." That is, the hair on his neck, scruff and back may be standing up. A dog that does this is trying to make himself look bigger in order to bluff me that he is bigger than he really is. Many animals do this and they are pure bluff. Some lizards, some snakes, a few mammals.

This dog also flunks.

I will do a runaway to bring him back up.

I continue to zigzag back and forth as I approach closer and closer always coming in at an angle.

Other signs of weakness are shown by avoidance or coupling. Avoidance is when the dog suddenly pretends I'm not there. It's usually pretty casual and occurs when I am more than 20 yards away although it can occur closer. The dog just turns his back on me as if I wasn't there anymore. This dog I will agitate, if he has had some training, or just run away to build him back up. Some dogs will show coupling, urinating or defecating as part of their ignoring me. As soon as they're finished I will agitate and run to build them back up.

I continue to zigzag and approach. A prey drive dog and a fight drive dog may look identical to an onlooker. They look very similar from my viewpoint, until I get very close.

At some point, if the dog has passed all the intermediate distances, I get to within inches of the dog. I try to get as big as I can, standing up straight and tall and extending my arms over my head. I stare straight into the dog's eyes, trying to dominate him as much as I can. I know some will say it's silly but I try to be as much of an animal as I can. I try to use my entire body to communicate dominance.

A prey drive dog will be barking, lunging and trying to bite me. But as I stand there, not showing the slightest fear of him and making hard eye contact, he will weaken. His barking may change in pitch, an ear will flick, (the first sign of avoidance), he may occasionally glance over to where he last saw his handler, but mostly he will not be able to maintain eye contact. The eyes give the true picture of what he is feeling.

A dog that has little or no training but is full of fight drive may show up radically different, If he is sitting calmly but watching me intently, that's OK. I have given him some body language that says that I may be a threat, but that's all there is so far, a threat and I'm too far away from him to hurt him at this point. As long as he hasn't shown any sign of weakness as mentioned above he is getting a passing grade. I have been within inches of some dogs that maintained good eye contact and still sat quietly even though I was towering over them.

The first couple of times it happened, it was unnerving. Imagine a scene from a James Bond or a Van Damme movie where the HUGE bad guy was towering over our hero, spit dripping from the corner of his mouth. In real life, of course, even the most proficient of martial artists would not allow the bad guy to approach this close. But this is only in the movies where there is no such thing as lag time. But when a dog does the Van Damme thing it is awesome.

However, a zero dog may also be sitting there watching me, but so disconnected that he has no response. There is a deadness in this dog's eyes. Sort of the same look that one sees in the eyes of some mental patients. Empty, blank. Kind of hard to explain, but once you see it you'll recognize it.

I am careful not to give the dog any types of cues that remind him of training. I avoid moving rapidly to avoid bringing up prey drive. I do not present an arm as if I was wearing a sleeve. I do not present my arm as if holding a stick.

A fight drive dog may also be barking and lunging at me at this point. If he is not; if he is still sitting quietly, intent on me, I will pick up the stick and strike him sharply on his leg or shoulder. I have now gone from being merely a threat, to being an attacker. He should then bark and lunge at me, trying to bite me.

He will maintain hard eye contact throughout our contact.

I require that a dog have much fight drive, some prey drive, some defense drive and high play drive.

At this time I will make soothing noises, and approach the dog in a friendly manner. A defensive dog will remember how I acted before and will soon start to bark and lunge at me. I will approach, still being friendly and even may kneel down, just outside his reach to try to calm him down. I may use his name to help calm him down. A dog that still regards me as a threat, fails this test.

A dog that at first barks and lunges but can be calmed down may be either a prey or fight drive dog. Usually the prey dogs will bark at first and then can be calmed down.

A high fight drive dog may remember our last contact but will very quickly calm down, as I approach.

If they will let me, I will pet the dog. Most defensive dogs will not let me pet them because they remember me as a threat a few moments ago. Many prey drive dogs will let me pet them. Almost all fight drive dogs will calm down immediately and let me pet them. With some, it takes a few seconds.

The dog must be able to change gears very quickly. This dog is usually easy to train to out because he is able to shift from one mode to another easily.

If a dog has passed the test so far, I will get a hard sleeve and take a bite while he is still staked out. I will make several passes by the dog using a minimum of prey drive moves and then give him a bite.

I will work the dog in defense, prey and fight drives and measure his response in each. I will look away, (only glancing out of the corner of my eye occasionally) pull away, fight vigorously and make lots of noise in prey. I will stand up straight, make hard eye contact and fight vigorously in fight. I will lean over the top of the dog and make hard eye contact in defense.

If I feel that a dog is operating primarily in prey drive, I will stop moving and avoid eye contact to see what he does. A prey drive dog will usually tone down his fight (he has killed the prey) and may even drop off the sleeve.

A dog that avoids eye contact is probably operating in defense drive and he fails this test.

I will then have the handler remove the dog from the fence and I will take an on-leash hit. I work the dog in all three drives and see how he stands up with a handler present.

I will then take an off leash bite from the dog and again see how he measures up in all three drives.

This is a very tough test and very few dogs pass it. But then very few dogs deserve to work the street.

I'm not advocating this test for everyone. I use it because it lets me select a dog that fits into my style of training.

Lou Castle is currently a Sergeant for a medium size police agency in the Los Angeles area of California. He has been in law enforcement for 29 years. In addition to working as a patrol Officer, Lou has worked many specialized assignments such as a K-9 handler, Trainer and Instructor, as Traffic Officer, in Vice and Narcotics, SWAT, Detectives, as an investigator on SIT (a liability/shooting investigation team), Field Training Officer, Personnel and Training, and Department Rangemaster and Use of Force Instructor.


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