Building Search Part I
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Suspect Building Search

Part One - Prey Conditioning

By SMI Aycock

We will begin our new edition of the four-part monthly column with a primer for conducting suspect building searches. Now, it is assumed here that your K9 is already biting a hard sleeve. A hidden sleeve is not required to progress through this process, nor is a suit necessary. But, if your dog is not solid on the hard sleeve, I strongly recommend that you hold off on any building work until the dog is ready: Otherwise, you could easily find yourself conducting remedial training just to keep from ruining your dog. Dog on a sleeve? Let’s go…

A common misnomer of bite work, in general, is that it should bring out defensiveness in a dog. Thus, whips, sticks and such equipment are regularly used in a very early stage of some bite work. But this is wrong. Bite work is always to be established with pure prey drive. The dog’s desire to tug and win should be the weighted portion of training that will allow for the dog to become happy about any bite situation. So then, how does the dog learn to bite confidently? It happens chiefly through growth and maturity. It takes time and development to condition a dog to respond properly and in full prey drive to a bite situation that involves a dangerously violent suspect. Typically, the dog will be introduced to weapons (sticks, guns, Etc.) only after he is completely confident and unnerved by any quarry or suspect portrayal. And when the weapon is introduced, it must be from a distant noise gape - never on top of the dog.

NOTE: Hitting a dog with a stick is not only illegal, animal abuse but will also ruin the dog.

Eventually, the dog is subjected to weapons at a close proximity, issued a clear and present danger, making him think he will be hit, but instead gently rubbing the stick on the side of the legs of the dog. What does he learn through this? He learns that his prey drive is warranted. The dog figures out quickly that when he ignores the threat he not only wins but also wins big.

With the dog operating in full prey drive, the defensiveness can be introduced in small increments. It is important to keep a ratio of defense / prey calculations in mind when setting up building searches. These calculations are percentages that reflect the weight of defensiveness to prey for the dog.

As a general rule, patrol dogs should be kept at no less than 75% prey drive. To figure the calculations, follow the chart below:

Defensiveness is calculated in 10% increments. For example: a dog with a new handler will be in about 90% prey drive because he loses 10% prey drive through the defensiveness that he feels in the hands of a near stranger. Another example is a dog working at night. All dogs have a slighted increase in defensiveness during darkness. Some dogs have more than others. An average trained dog will still have a 10% loss of prey drive. Only an experienced, highly developed dog will remain in prey with these threats.

100% the properly trained dog should begin in full prey drive.

- 10% for each of the following:

New handler

Aggressive handler

Night work


Unfamiliar buildings


Aggressive suspects

So you can clearly see that a well trained dog who is placed into a suspect building search with all of the above situations present, will suffer a 70% prey drive loss and conduct the search at only 30% prey drive.

It is for this reason alone that I started this article with the requirements about prey drive. If your dog starts out in 70% prey drive - he will be at 0% by the time he is needed to bite.

Any dog who is placed into a suspect building search encounter at less that 75% will not benefit from the training. A dog that is thrown in with less than 50% will be ruined for building searches for suspect.

How do you make your dog hit the 100% prey mark?

Make sure the bite work outside of building search training is completed in full prey drive and that the dog always wins and wins big.

How do you reduce the chances of the prey drive diminishing during the building search and try and keep the dog above 75%?

Take the dog into clear buildings, lots of them. Expose the dog to people, again lots of them. Expose the dog to weapons and noises that are non-threatening. Work the dog at night so he becomes used to the shadows and shapes without being nervous. Be positive with your dog. If you are hard on him, stop. If you don’t know how to stop - call me and I’ll tell you. If you are a new handler, spend a lot of time working and bonding with your dog.

In the next thirty days, you should be capable of taking a good biting dog and conditioning him to be ready for suspect building searches. Don’t rush it…take your time…allow the dog to take his.

Next time we’ll begin the actual search process. I’ll see you then.

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