Critical Timing and Redirection of Canine
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by Master Trainer Tracy Lenhardt



Understanding the importance of split second timing in canine training and effectively utilizing the concept to successfully redirect unwanted aggression is critical.  The inability to refocus a dog’s aggression at a precise moment in a positive manner could lead to long term behavior issues or injuries to a handler/trainer that may have otherwise been avoided.  While not all aggression related behavior issues are avoidable, most that are training related can be with proper planning and follow through.  


Critical Timing and Redirection of Canine Aggression

Split second timing in a canine’s mind can be the difference between a frustrated and unsatisfied dog  to one that is calm and focused, especially  when under pressure.   A handler/ trainer that recognizes early signs of stress and aggression and is able to redirect that aggression, will have a better chance with the dog becoming successful in its endeavor.  Failure to mentally move the dog in the right direction at the right time could possibly lead to behavior issues such as leash biting, fence fighting, digging or the most undesirable form, aggression towards the handler/trainer themselves.    

Because canines like people, have different threshold levels and triggers,  attention to the little things in a canine’s demeanor can be tremendous in alleviating any such aggression.  I had an instructor in the military that used to preach “Pay me now or Pay me later”.  With a canine’s thought process always being “in the now”, I think this is what they would say if they could speak.  

If a handler/trainer does not recognize what the dog is telling him through his body language and fails to make that time sensitive adjustment in behavior, they may run the risk of paying later by being on the receiving end of such aggression.  While not all canines turn their  aggression towards the handler, it’s easier on the canine and safer for both if attention to detail is paid up front.    


It’s all in the planning

Training a canine takes careful thought and planning(augmented), and most success in training comes from it.  Sometimes an unexpected situation arises and training has to be adjusted on the fly.   The handler/trainer recognizes the need for the adjustment and makes it.  This unexpected situation may become a permanent part of the training plan or the handler/trainer keeps it in the back of his head for future reference.  The same is true when dealing with the canine itself.

Recognizing a change in a canine’s behavior at the earliest moment and following through with the appropriate response(rote-rehearsal) can mean success or failure.  A slow or lack of any response at all can signal to the canine that this behavior is acceptable.  This behavior if left unchecked may now become a regular part of the canine’s behavior response and could lead to bigger problems and many hours of remedial training to get the canine back on track.

We know canine’s have mastered the art of reading our body language and are able to determine our state of mind to a degree.  While we don’t have quite that same ability, with enough work we can predict when we may start to have a problem based on observable changes in behavior.  By employing proper redirection and changing the canine’s state of mind at that critical moment, we maintain the higher rank and are able to prevent an aggression related behavior issue before the canine has the ability to get the upper hand.  


Example 1:

While working a training track with a reward placed at the halfway point, the canine tracks successfully and locates the reward.  The canine is allowed to possess the reward for less than a minute before it’s commanded to release.  

Thirty seconds prior to locating the reward, the canine was nasally engaged, focused and tracking.  After locating his reward which he now physically possesses, the release of  dopamine in the brain adds to his satisfaction.  The handler commands  the release of the reward which the canine responds to appropriately.  Ten seconds prior to re-acquiring the track as the handler is putting away the reward, the canine starts jumping up and snapping at the handler’s gloved hands.  

The handler gives a quick verbal correction, immediately moves forward in the direction previously headed and gives the command to track.  Within a few seconds the canine turns his attention from the handler and is quickly looking to locate and continue the track.  Thirty seconds later the canine is again nasally engaged and focused on the track which he successfully completes and locates the decoy.  By rapidly changing the canine’s mindset of aggressive behavior he was able to get him to focus his attention back on to the track, thereby thwarting any physical contact the encounter could have led to.      


Example 2:  

While training building searches a handler with an older high drive Belgian Malinois exits the building and is waiting to go back inside.  The training was set up to train the canine to search thoroughly by working doors as the primary objective and to focus on the man as a secondary objective. Various bite equipment had been placed throughout the area as a distraction.  Prior to exiting the building the canine had previously completed one short search and located the decoy.   The second search was longer and the canine started showing his frustration by running around using his eyes more than his nose and was randomly barking at doors in an attempt to get the decoy to show himself.  When this didn’t work he grabbed a bite sleeve that was sitting on the counter.

 The handler corrected the canine and was scolding him as he removed him from the search.  As the team waited, the canine was barking and lunging forward trying to go back inside.  When he couldn’t move forward he started spinning in circles and continued vocalizing his dissatisfaction. The handler attempted several verbal and weak physical corrections to try and stop the lunging with no effect.  When the handler attempted to physically down the canine, he made a quick turn of his head and briefly bit the handler on the hand.  The handler gave a verbal and physical correction and the canine slowly went into a down position.  Now the canine’s ears were up and partially forward and the canine was visibly sizing the handler up out of the corner of his eye.    

Thirty seconds prior to the handler aggression the canine was showing his frustration during the search and was removed while receiving verbal frustration and disapproval from the handler.  Ten seconds prior to the aggression the canine had increased his physical signs of frustration which when the handler attempted to correct, triggered a quick bite.  Ten seconds afterwards, the canine was still under stress from the physical and verbal corrections and showed aggressive signals by the  placement of his ears and watching the handler. Thirty seconds after, this behavior was still present and went unnoticed.   

The signs of aggressive behavior displayed by the canine initially were either missed or misunderstood by the handler.  Had the handler removed the canine from the immediate area and focused his attention on a small area search or some light obedience, that activity  would quickly earn the canine his toy thereby relieving stress.  By doing that he may have been able to  prevent the handler aggression, settle the canine and had him back in the building to continue his training.  

By not reading the canine correctly and redirecting his growing frustration at that critical moment he missed the opportunity for a positive outcome. Now the canine believes when it reaches it’s stress level that behavior will be tolerated with little to no consequences.    


Success in canine training is all about timing.  Many handlers get by not because of their own ability to train but because of the trainers they are associated with.  These trainers approach  training from the canine’s perspective with a plan in place. These are the trainers who have developed a great sense of timing and when presented with subtle or obvious signs of aggressive behavior are able to quickly change the canines state of mind so the training continues to move forward with a positive outcome.  Having this ability is what separates a great trainer from a good one.    






Roger Abrantes (1997). Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behaviour. Illinois:

Published by  Wakan Tanka Publishers


 Chris R. Aycock M.A., M.S. (2009) ASCT Survival Tactics Training North Bend Oregon

 Chris R. Aycock M.A., M.S. (2013) ASCT K9 Handlers School

 Chris R. Aycock M.A., M.S. (2014) Canidology 216 Week 4 Supplemental Handout


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