In order to invoke feelings in the dog which will ultimately produce active aggression, controlled conflict must be brought into their world which can elicit Fight, flight or freeze responses. The animal must perceive a real confrontation in order to elicit predatory
reactions to which we can build upon. This is extremely delicate work because we are placing the animal in a very vulnerable state.
In the early stages of Boogie Man, the confrontation is less intrusive and getting the Boogie Man to retreat happens with the slightest offensive behaviors displayed from the dog. A less experienced decoy can participate at this level due to his greater distance away from the dog. As this technique progresses, the Boogie Man becomes much more of a threat and formidable opponent. Having a decoy that has a deep understanding of dog behavior and drive channeling/manipulation is crucial. Flight obviously is the least desirable of the three responses we want to see from the dog. Restricting the option of flight can result in advancing towards the ultimate goal but prolonged duration in this mode would suggest this would be the wrong animal for this task.
The secret behind thesuccess of this technique is how the decoy responds, rewards and alleviates the conflict at precisely the right moment. This decoy’s role and responsibility is discussed at length in the next chapter. Environmental factors play a crucial role in taking dog out of their comfort zone and producing uncertainty. The uncertainty and insecurity is what forces the dog to switch gears into predatory aggression mode, tapping into “survival” feelings. This technique is ideally done in darker, low-light areas such as alley ways, business parks, and industrial plazas. Wooded areas can also be utilized but generally speaking, most dogs feel more “at home” in the woods. In the beginning, you do not want any connections to a training field. Many IPO/Ring/PSA dogs have the genetic potential for this type of work, but it will never be revealed in a sport setting. In the presence of a prey stimulus or other equipment cues (suit, sleeves, jumps, blinds etc..) the dogs are programmed, comfortable and imprinted for a “sparring match” not real world aggression. It is essential we remove the animal from its comfort zone and eliminate equipment cues in order to get them out of balance. Selecting a location the dog has never been is a priority to achieve the aforementioned. This will avoid any territorial reactions through familiarization.
This exercise takes a few seconds, there is no equipment needed by the decoy and it pays tremendous dividends for such a small investment. I have my handlers take all equipment off of the dog except a choke chain or fur
saver. I don’t want to activate the dog with equipment cues for working. I want the dog to believe they are just getting let out of the car for a bathroom break. The leash must be secure but the handler must convey a very relaxed, nonchalant picture to the dog. I
recommend using a six foot leash and allowing the dog to have the entire leash to roam and explore in a casual manner. Reeling in and letting out leash in an abstract manner can affect the dog’s behavior and choices. The dog must visually acquire the decoy with no influence from the handler and at this point in the process, I don’t want the wind in the dogs face to make any scent associations. Pairing the scent of the Boogie Man happens later in the game.
This mission is self-discovery on the dog’s part. The decoy is pre-set at a location so the dog cannot acquire his scent, upwind. This exercise is set up as only a visual one in the begging, later we attach a scent picture to the encounter. The decoy is dressed in attire which is non- training specific. In contrast, the decoy is wearing the most bizarre clothing or costume they can find. Halloween masks are always a solid choice for changing the “picture” for the dog and also injecting some humor into the training environment for the handlers. It makes for great training and great camaraderie amongst the troops. The decoy is in low-light, mostly concealed and lying in a low or prone position, always maintaining eye contact with the dog. This is crucial not only for the decoy to analyze the animal’s behavior to add and subtract pressure in order to create a reward but also for safety reasons should there be an equipment failure or human error. You want to be hidden under debris, brush, boxes, pallets, darker shadows, wearing ghillie suit or any item(s) which provide concealment but also allow the decoy to maneuver without too much limitation. Ideally we want the dog to first become aware of the decoys presence from a good distance away. Close enough for the dog to realize something “odd” is in his environment, to which he must pay attention, but not too close to cause avoidance. Too far is always manageable and can be corrected as opposed to being too close and causing a serious avoidance. Always err on the side of caution. Taking baby steps towards advancing to your goals is always advisable in any phase of training. Handlers Perspective & Responsibilities.
During the first few repetitions, there will come a moment when the dog has recognized the decoy and a clear and defined behavior change will occur. There a myriad of physical characteristics and behavior traits a dog can exhibit when confronted by a real world conflict in which they perceive as a potential threat. They are categorized in three common traits which can be juxtaposed with one another as the threat escalates and deescalates. They are fight, flight and freeze. When applying this technique to brand new dogs, freeze is probably the most common behavior the dog will demonstrate.
This gives the appearance of the dog being momentarily suspended in time, balancing on a tight rope of nerve and self- preservation as they are processing their environment. In this moment, he has choices and is is where we see the raw character of the dog. At the point of recognition, the handler should take in whatever slack may be in the line. It should not be done in a way which is a quick pull simulating a correction, but a slow, methodical retracting. This will tap into some opposition-reflex, giving a greater likelihood of forward activation and aggression. This will also give the dog an enhanced sensation of pack drive being solidified, making them more confidence as the handler has gotten closer to the dog.
The handler is to remain silent, giving no verbal or physical praise. This is a conflict the dog must resolve through his own
aggression, not handler induced. Once the dog realizes the decoy is a risk factor, he may give a low growl, lean into the collar, bark, spin, sniff the ground, look for an escape route, try backing out of the collar…etc. The handler must try to keep the dog’s focal point towards the decoy if there is avoidance. You might have to trap the dog between your legs and apply
pressure with your inner thighs in order to maintain them in this position.
You may have to employ this handling technique for over animated dogs or ones who like to spin. You cannot accurately predict how a dog will behave. I have seen dogs who are very strong in other forms of training have issues, in contrast, I’ve seen dogs who lack drive in some areas of training show very strong in this game. You won’t know until you’ve placed the dog into this position.
The low growl, lean into the collar, barking and any other form of forward aggression should be immediately rewarded by the decoy by getting up from his lowered position and takeoff running in a 45 degree angle away from the dog. Some screaming from the decoy can add to the effect of fear being induced and cracking a whip can enhance the dogs drive and frustration associated with the moment. The understanding we want to create in the dogs mind is when placed in a confrontation, active aggression will result in the threat becoming prey. A process known as “drive channeling”.
As the decoy is running away from the dog at a great distance, I allow the dog to conduct a short pursuit or “push” towards the decoy, with tension on the leash. This continues only for a short distance and once the decoy is out of sight, I disengage the “push” and I allow the dog to investigate the area where the decoy was originally hiding. This is where we create a scent association to the exercise. The dog will switch gears from a visual game to a nose game and deep learning will take place. The dog will begin to sniff the ground, vegetation, or whatever material the decoy came in contact with. This is the key to building strong dogs in Boogie Man work and in the real world; the dog has caused great fear in its opponent through their active aggression.
This will soon empower the animal to display active aggression faster and faster as a form of conflict resolution every time the opportunity presents itself. The team training the dog must collectively conclude the dog is ready to handle more pressure from the Boogie Man. A telltale sign the dog is ready for more is evident in the way the dog comes out of the car. He comes out of the car with a greater purpose, looking to pick a fight. The feedback I get from handlers new to this technique is “I can’t even get him to take a bathroom break when I get him out of the car….all he (the dog) wants to do is find the Boogie Man. The dogs get addicted to the game. As a handler, the process doesn’t change much. They are to provide safe handling, paired with solid timing when the dog is rewarded and the pursuit takes place.