K9 Behavior Basics

Gerritsen_Haak_Prins K9 Behavior BasicsPUBLISHING YEAR: 2013

SUMMARY: Introduction to the essentials of dog ethology and operant conditioning aimed specifically at an audience of police dog trainers/handlers.

AUDIENCE: The book was written for trainers and handlers of dogs for special operations and search-and-rescue missions who have a background in traditional, coercive training.

02 Professional
Resi Gerritsen has a PhD in psychology and is an experienced operational service dog trainer. The method she has co-authored for operational service dogs with her husband, Ruud Haak, is followed by search-and-rescue teams all over the world.

As a retired social therapist for criminal psychopaths, Ruud Haak’s background lies at the crossroads of law enforcement and psychology. Many of the dogs that he trained won the most sought after search-and-rescue prizes. Ruud Haak and his wife and co-author also advise many NGO’s and governmental agencies on operational service dog protocols. Ruud Haak is also the chief editor of Onze Hond, The Netherlands’ most popular dog magazine.

Simon Prins’ background is law enforcement: military diver, then operational service dog foster carer, then operational service dog trainer, and finally government advisor on operational service dog training protocols for special operations. Since the first operational service dog mission he designed and completed, he has successfully trained countless special ops dogs for the Dutch government. Simon Prins’ innovative approach has enabled many technological and training advances in the normally traditional world of Dutch police dog training, including a focus on reward-based methods.

Style and contents

At just about 200-pages long, the book is sizable but manageable. Not one of your giant encyclopaedias, but you’ll still need to invest a bit of time to see it through.

It is well written: precise, concise and smooth. Particularly when you consider that none of the authors is a native English speaker (I believe all three are Dutch). Not only does the book not make use of jargon, but its sections on ethics, among others, show an incredible grasp of the English language.

This is perhaps a small thing but I appreciated the dual units of measures (metric and imperial) in the relevant passages.

The gems

I particularly enjoyed the anecdotes about police operations using service dogs. Simon Prins’ experience with police dog training also offered a rare insider’s view of this often secretive world. I also enjoyed the passages covering the history of service dogs in Europe.

The chapter on physical punishment was particularly note-worthy as police dog training in The Netherlands has traditionally been coercive, whereas K9 Behavior Basics discourages the use of coercion and harsh punishment. The chapter offered good arguments against the use of harsh methods – some completely new to me and eminently usable outside of the service dog world.

The detailed protocol sheets can be very useful templates for any kind of trainer wanting to plan and track their student’s progress, not just operational service dog trainers.

Possible points for optimization

I was bothered by the absence of in-text citations, particularly in sentences like “Most research…” [p. 83], or passages making surprising claims.

The theoretical framework on points of ethology (including the pack theory) and psychology was internally inconsistent; and some concepts were so simplified that they lost their original meaning.

The verdict 

If you are already versed in operant conditioning and dog ethology, your main interest will likely be limited to the few passages focusing on operational training. If you are a service dog trainer, though, and you have always trained using traditional methods, this one is a must-have.

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Author: Gerritsen Resi, Haak Ruud, Prins Simon
Genre: professional manual
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