Training the Surprise Attack

In protection training, a dog needs to be able to handle a surprise attack or "pop out" in which the someone suddenly appears out of nowhere right in front of the dog and is directly confronting the dog. On the training field, most dogs will look great as they are fully aware of what is going to occur and, in fact, they realize what is going to happen as soon as you drive up to the training field. However, how a dog will react off the training field, when completely taken by surprise, is a completely different story. Unless you happen to have that rare dog with nerves of steel, most dogs will naturally freeze up or even flee when startled badly.

Training the surprise attack must be handled carefully or else the dog will be ruined. A dog that has been pushed into it incorrectly or too quickly will be a nervous wreck and even a liability. Though the final goal is for the dog to react "correctly" when someone jumps out and attempts to startle the dog, scaring the hell out of the dog should never occur during training. Since we never want the dog to freeze up, hesitate, or flee in a real protection situation, we can never allow such reactions to occur during training.

I would recommend having completed the surprise attacks on the handler/owner portion of the protection program (I am not referring to the Schutzhund attack on handler routine) before working surprise pop outs at the dog. The reason is that the attacks on the handler/owner will have taught the dog how to react when it does not expect training, yet the "surprise" was not aimed at directly at the dog. This is a good intermediate step before teaching the dog to deal with direct surprise confrontation.

Before being trained to handle someone popping out directly at the dog, it would also be helpful to have trained the dog to use its nose and search for a man. Even though the average person may feel that he/she does not need a dog that can track down a suspect like a police dog, this skill has a very helpful secondary benefit. If the dog can smell a person hidden nearby, the dog can then never be taken completely by surprise. This now drastically decreases the possibility of getting the natural reactions that coincide with being startled.

Personally, I recommend giving the alert/bark command when training pop outs of the dog rather than giving the bite command for the sake of liability. I would not want the dog to think that is OK to immediately bite anytime it is surprised in the event a child runs around a corner quickly and accidentally surprises the dog. I also recommend that a personal protection dog not alert or bite unless given the command or an assailant initiates physical contact in an aggressive manner.

When beginning to train the surprise attack, the trainer must start at a distance that he knows absolutely will not scare the dog. In this example, let just say that distance is 30 feet. The owner is takes a walk with the dog and when they are 30 feet from where the trainer is hidden, the owner gives the dog the alert/bark command first . Thought the dog does not see anything, it should be begin to bark. The trainer waits for 5 seconds after hearing the alert command and then comes out. The trainer walks quickly out at an angle that is perpendicular to the dog, not directly at the dog. A good trainer should be able to immediately know when it is OK to begin to walk directly towards the dog based on the barking after he comes out. As the dog becomes more confident, the trainer will walk less and less at an angle when initially coming out until he can eventually comes out directly towards the dog.

In subsequent training sessions, each time the surprise attack is done, change locations and repeat the exact same thing except decrease the distance each time by about 5 feet. After the trainer is coming out directly in front of the dog, go back to popping out at 30 feet, however, now the trainer appears 4 seconds after the alert command is given. Every time the cycle is repeated, the trainer pops out 1 second sooner than the cycle before. In the end, the alert command is given and 1 second later, the trainer pops out directly at the dog.

While running through these cycles, I HIGHLY recommend occasionally giving the sit command, having the trainer pop out in a non aggressive manner, and making sure the dog stays in the sit position. This will teach the dog to listen to the owner rather than making a decision on its own. As mentioned before, you would not want a dog to instantly go into fight mode when a child happens to accidentally surprise the dog. Remember that we are not teaching the dog to instantly attack when startled. We are teaching the dog not to freeze up, hesitate, or flee and then listen to the owner on what to do.

In this training method, the alert command is given before the "bad guy" pops out so the dog is never startled in order to condition the response we want. After the entire sequence has been completed, the dog can be tested by having the trainer pop out right in front of the dog without the owner saying anything beforehand. If the trainer did not attempt any shortcuts and went through all the steps and every cycle, the dog should immediately alert without any other undesirable reactions when the owner gives the command after the bad guys pops out. Keep in mind that training can be done regularly, however, a dog should only be tested once in a great while.