In my own pursuit of learning, practicing, and qualifying to let dogs bite me with intent, it has become clear that the skills can’t be learned from any book. Don’t mistake what I’m saying, because there are a couple of outstanding examples of writing on decoy work, such as anything Gary Patterson has put into print. But this Is a hands on, mentor-necessary, skill set. The biggest problem with that, is there are a lot of”experts” out there claiming to be “qualified” to teach you the art of being a decoy. Finding and understanding what a particular Trainer of Decoys (or “Helpers” if you prefer) can teach you is paramount in “doing it right”. So how do you find someone you can trust to help you?
It seems that finding a club is a start, but then, how do you know the training director and the decoys are really “good” at what they do? My own experience has been that there are fewer skilled decoys than there are guys just dumb enough to let a dog bite them poorly. This group is more about the macho appearance of the act, than actually helping dog and handler. It’s a real-life demonstration of the old joke about the last words of a hillbilly which are generally, “Hey! WATCH THIS Bubba!!!” (No offense intended to proud hill billy’s everywhere. It’s not my joke.) My point is this: Decoy work with dogs that bite, is much more than just letting a dog gnaw on a sleeve or bitesuit borrowed from your cousin that bought it at a flea market. The nuances are myriad, and the details are vital. It’s a more than a skill, it’s an Art requiring MANY skills. Without the necessary education put into the prospective decoy, good dogs can be ruined, and even injured. Human beings can be badly injured as well, or worse. There’s a steep learning curve, and a lot of WORK involved. Granted, it’s FUN work, and aerobically challenging simultaneously, but it IS work. There will bruises, perhaps a bit of blood, (“It’s only a Flesh wound…”) and if you’re inattentive, stitches on your hide. But the adrenaline rush from catching a dog properly, and displaying his power, is more than enough incentive to learn properly. Then there is the important decision of which of the biting sports do you want to pursue? Schutzhund, (IPO), Ringsport, or perhaps PSA(Protection Sports Association)? SDA (Service Dogs of America)? Personal protection? The choices are all different in methodology and philosophy, each with it’s own strength. But no two require the same skills or attitude. It IS possible to perform well at more than one of these sports as a decoy, but it takes time, patience, and effort. There will be bumps, bruises, contusions, and tooth marks on your hide as a result of your training. (I may be risking redundancy on this point, but with good reason)
There are very few books on the subject, with some notable exceptions. But the best way is to seek out a mentor. A flesh and blood person that has been thru it with many dogs. That can be harder than you may find desirable, because most of the really great decoys are booked up until the year 3000 A.D. Even at the local club level, time can be very limited. This is where your ability to network yourself at events will help. Get to know people. Volunteer at any event you can reasonably attend. You will find someone…I have found that people in the biting sports are generally friendly, encouraging, and generous. Maybe I’ve been fortunate, but I’ve met more great people than the onerous, “not so great” types.
In the meanwhile, it occurred to me that I have learned more from my friendships with helpers/decoys than any book you can read. So I began to assemble a series of conversations with various experienced people about their path to becoming skilled in the art of bite sports. The willingness, and generosity of these gentlemen has been unmatched. They give sound advice on how to build the skill set that an effective decoy needs, and they talk freely about the mistakes that they made, and the successes that were born of them. I know that you will enjoy reading their stories, and it might even help you become a better student of the discipline.
I have selected subjects from every bitesport, and from a variety of times. Some of these articles are derived from classic, and sometimes long lost writings from the 1800’s, 1900’s. Most of them are from first hand interviews in contemporary times, with the Decoys themselves. I know that you will find interest in the changes an developments of the sport as the years have passed, and also how some things have remained absolutely the same, and with good reason.
I will begin with the author of a classic and time-tested book called “Training the Behavior”, by Mr. Gary Patterson. Mr. Patterson has been very generous with GSA, supplying me with a wellspring of information including diagrams and graphics. Sorting thru this treasure trove has been interesting and educational personally. Sorting out what I want to communicate to you, my readers, has been a challenge! Gary is quite the prolific writer, and there’s LOTS there…Look for it soon, and enjoy the series to come!!!