Utilizing Behavior Indicators & Rote Rehearsal

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By Adam C. Slater

 Effectively Reading and Managing Canine Aggression by

Utilizing Behavior Indicators and Implementing Rote - Rehearsal



In training canines a situation we have all dealt with at one time or another is behavior issues leading up to and sometimes including aggression towards the trainer/handler.  This paper discusses canine behavior as it relates to the signs which, if read correctly, will offer a clear insight into the canines thought process.  By effectively reading the signs the canine is continually giving the trainer/handler, it will allow them to learn, use and interpret the signs with proper timing measures.  In addition, understanding their importance as it relates to canine training. 

The focus will be on timing measures used immediately prior to and after canine aggression events.  This paper also examines the importance and need for rote – rehearsal and augmented timing to be included and mastered in training.  Rote – rehearsal is the mental and physical procedures required for on-the-spot decisions and relates closely with effective timing in general, but is more detailed in its approach and application.  Rote – rehearsal will be examined in three instances; 30 seconds prior to the event, 10 seconds prior to the event, and 10 seconds after the event.  Augmented timing is when the trainer or handler is making decisions affecting the canine training away from the canine.  This is the planning stage but is far more involved than just planning.  It involves the comparative predictions and responses to events that either has already occurred or is predicted to occur.  These training aspects will be applied in detail to fully understand how a canines behavior, rote – rehearsal, and augmented timing determine the outcome when attempting to effectively read manage canine aggression. 


A canine’s behavior coupled with the human response to that behavior, implemented with the proper timing, can be the difference of a great trainer/handler or a very bad trainer/handler.  A canine’s behavior is the very core of a canine’s language when they interact with any living thing.  Ears forward and standing erect, a smooth forehead accompanied by a low fast tail wag, or even a deep growl while the animal’s center of gravity is low to the ground all give excellent clues to the mindset of the canine if interpreted correctly.  Other things which need to be examined for effectively reading the canine involve the location, event (what was the canine doing at the time), time of day, and if other animals are present to name a few.   Thinking like the dog and using the above thought process will allow the trainer/handler to set up effective training though augmented timing, while minimizing the likelihood of an unwanted aggression event.

As Roger Abrantes states in Dog Language An Encyclopedia of Canine Behaviour. There is no behavior without motivation.  Most of the dog’s facial expressions and body postures are motivated by fear, aggression, dominance/superiority and/or submission/inferiority.  This is also important because the presence of motivation and the actions of the amygdala are what precipitate drive flip. (Flipping the canine from pray drive to defensive drive)  The amygdala is located in the canines brain and controls fear and aggression by strengthening the electrical signal the brain passes to it based on previously stored memory.  The behavior, or the actions of a canine is the result of a much greater limbic process involving several components of the brain all working together to create autonomic nervous system or muscle memory, which is then visible to the handler/trainer through the behavior the canine exhibits.   

Effectively understanding the following and explained by Abrantes is essential when reading and understanding canine behavior. Sign stimuli or releasers are  signals that enable an animal to recognize a vital item, or another living creature, when it discovers them for the first time.  Motor programs and a canines instinct also account for behaviors where are present at birth.  Learned patterns and behaviors occurring from these have been taught over time or in essence, the memory in the cortex of the brain has been added to or altered.

Dealing with canines, especially when discussing aggression, it is important to understand the law of casualty.  Simply stated every cause has an effect.  For an example if you are frustrated and correct a canine too hard along with a loud verbal command, you may get bit.  The cause being an overly aggressive correction, the effect is getting bit.  Training a canine is highly focused on this concept and it is important to keep the canine motivated for the desired cause and effect outcome.  

When talking solely about behavior related to aggression in canines it is important to understand there are several categories of aggression demonstrated by canines on a regular basis.  Aggression is broke down by the following; attack, competition, conflict resolution, and aggression in training.  Effectively reading the canines facial expressions, body position, head markings, eyes, ears, and lips will give further insight if the canine is being aggressive, submissive, dominate, in fear or a combination of these. I.E aggression/submission or aggression/dominance.

Effective training is made up of the previously stated behavior patters but needs to be read correctly to allow the trainer/handler to visually see the precursors of a possible aggression event.   Re-directing the canine through motivation and/or a toy if necessary may be practicable in effort of controlling the drive flip thus allowing the canine to perform as expected.  The following two examples highlight the precursors as we have spoken about and further explain the need for rote-rehearsal and correct timing when dealing with and training canines.

Example #1

Several months ago, I attended a basic canine school out of state.  I had never been a police dog handler and as you will see, and had no understanding of timing as it relates to canines. 

It was my second full day of training and I was working with my trainer, Chris Aycock who was instructing me and giving me lots of information as it pertained to my canine, “Neeko.”  Neeko and I had just completed a track and his reward, in the form of a ball, was located on a high flat platform approximately 4 feet off the ground.  Mr. Aycock was explaining to me how to help Neeko up onto the platform to get the ball by moving him back and getting a running start. 

Neeko was on a leash at the time of me attempting this and my timing was completely off.  Neeko was already excited as he already knew the location of his ball.  Neeko was also aware I was holding him back and I seemed to be unsure of what to do.  I attempted to assist Neeko onto the platform and became wound up in the leash several times.  I actually inadvertently yanked Neeko off the platform twice after he was attempting to get up onto it.  Needless to say I had difficulty applying this maneuver with Neeko. 

Realizing Neeko and I were having problems with this Mr. Aycock had us approach it from a different angle.  I was instructed to move Neeko away from the platform and place him in a down position and give him the stay command.  This placed Neeko under verbal control only as I did not posses his leash.  I was supposed to move forward and place the ball on the platform where it had been previously.  Once completed, I was instructed to allow Neeko to retrieve the ball.  The idea being, this distance Neeko was now back from the platform would allow him the momentum needed to easily jump up onto the platform to retrieve the ball.  This idea and location had obviously been played out by Mr. Aycock in advance for successful training, or in the augmented timing phase. 

Prior to moving forward to place the ball I was reminded not to walk too fast but don’t move too slowly either.  Worried about being bit I began to move forward at a snail’s pace, which, not surprisingly was too slow.  Neeko decided to tell me this by lunging forward and biting me in the back of the leg.  Although not an extremely hard bite he got his message across to me.  Neeko was clearly telling me, “Your timing sucks.”  I realized this and repeated the process.  After some reminders from my trainer I returned Neeko to the original position and placed him back into a down.  I then moved forward at a normal walk, which was much faster.  I placed Neeko’s ball on the platform and allowed him to retrieve it which he did with no problems. 

In later examining the above aggression event I understand with rote – rehearsal and basic timing this situation could have been prevented.  Once I arrived at the end of the track Neeko was already extremely excited and had found the location of his ball but could not get to it.  I was unable to get Neeko onto the platform after several attempts to obtain his reward. 

The last time I attempted to help Neeko onto the platform was approximately 30 seconds prior to the event.  At this time I noticed Neeko’s ears were forward and focused on me.  His forehead was very defined and his eyebrows pronounced.  He was noticeably frustrated by me not being able to assist him. 

Approximately 10 seconds prior to the event, I moved Neeko back and placed him in a down position so I could put his ball in the desired location as I was instructed.  Neeko continued to be notably frustrated which caused me to be timid and unsure with my commands and movements during this event. 

Neeko was completely focused on me and the fact I had his ball.  His ears remained forward and his star was intent.  As I begin to move forward I did so too slowly and held the ball at my side which was near the ground.  This lack of timing and worry of being bit ultimately caused me to be bit in the back of the leg. 

At 10 seconds after the event Neeko had been returned to his original position where he was placed in a down.  I had quickened my timing and placed his ball back on the platform.  Neeko’s focus was now back on the ball and he completed the training without any further issues.  If I had utilized proper timing and rote – rehearsal I would have identified the canine’s demeanor and precursors for a possible aggression event. 

Example #2

Recently I was attending an advanced canine school in Oregon where many handlers are evaluated and instructed.  The intent is on advancing the skills of both the canine / handler and furthering the understanding of their assigned canine.

Neeko and I were conducting an unknown track, where the decoy’s route and location are not known to the dog team.  In the course of this track it was obvious to me Neeko and I had lost the track.  I was noticeably frustrated and my commands were becoming louder and much less motivational to my canine partner.  After several moments of us both becoming more and more frustrated I was called back to an area where the track was located by one of my instructors. 

At approximately 30 seconds prior to the aggression event I walked back to the location as instructed.  Fully frustrated, I was not putting out the appropriate level of effort which was throwing my timing off.  Neeko continued to walk quickly to re-acquire the track as canines do.  I however, was walking slowly causing Neeko to receive many pulls on the lead which could be falsely interpreted by him as corrections.  This is obvious to me now as I distinctly remember his gait slowing rapidly.   

At the 10 second mark before the event, Neeko and I had arrived back to the instructor’s location.  I observed the instructor had placed the decoy’s coat on the ground in front of him in effort to allow Neeko to re-establish a fresh scent picture of the decoy.  When Neeko visually saw the coat he became excited and nasally engaged.  His ears were forward and head was down.  Neeko was driving hard for the coat.  I, still being irritated and blaming him for taking us off the track gave him a hard correction and placed him in a down a short distance away from the coat.  Neeko’s demeanor changed and it flipped his drive from prey to defensive.  The timing and reason for the correction were both invalid and should not have occurred. 

A few seconds later Neeko was allowed to sniff the jacket and he took possession of it in his mouth.  Neeko played with the jacket for a moment as he customarily does.  I then yelled at Neeko to, “out,” or drop the jacket.  Neeko turned and looked at me in defiance, almost daring me to take the jacket.  His ears were still forward and he was standing tall and straight with a very defined forehead, all his attention on me.  I again told Neeko loudly to, “out,” which he did and then subsequently jumped up the leash towards my arm trying to bite it.  I quickly realized the situation I had caused and attempted to re-direct Neeko’s attention to the track. 

Approximately 10 seconds after the event Neeko laid down on his own with no further desire or motivation to track.  I immediately realized because of my errors of lack of timing and frustration to name a few, Neeko had decided it was no longer in his best interest to complete the track.  I immediately began to re-motivate Neeko and soften my voice and demeanor.  After a few seconds of me being re-energized and motivating Neeko re-struck the track and returned to pray drive and completed the track.

If I had used proper timing and motivation Neeko would not have become frustrated during this track.  When I became frustrated I lost focus and the ability to read my canine.  I was then unable to use rote – rehearsal for identifying and dealing with the potential aggression event.  If augmented timing had been instituted in my training I would have been prepared with a proper plan when confronted with similar situations, thus reducing frustration with the canine and leaving ample energy to focus on my canine and the task at hand. 


Learning and mastering rote-rehearsal along with defensive measures and the canines motions, either dominate or submissive, is key in understanding what a canine is thinking.  It is imperative for accomplishing the ultimate goal of safety for you and the canine.  Understanding and applying canine training, through augmented timing can increase the value of the training and assist in eliminating or greatly reducing issues which may be experienced as a result of poor planning and the lack of augmented timing.  

Successful timing and rote – rehearsal implemented when working with canines is also imperative in successful and safe training.  It gives the person having interaction with the canine the ability to read, understand and interpret the signs a canine is giving prior to a potential aggression event.  Although not every aggression event can be completely avoided, understanding these concepts along with the understanding of augmented timing will give trainers and person’s interacting with the canine additional tools for dealing with and effectively reading and managing canine aggression by utilizing behavior indicators and implementing rote –rehearsal.

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