Bitework training means teaching a dog to bite on command. This type of
training is useful for police dogs, as well as guard dogs, and dogs that compete
in sports like Schutzhund, French Ring, or Mondio.
Not all dogs are suitable for bitework training. This type of training can be
seen by some dogs as very stressful and scary, and most dogs that do it
successfully have been bred for it and trained from a young age. Dogs that don’t
enjoy bitework will struggle to advance through certain parts of the training,
because they lack the confidence and have no real desire to train.
When to Start
Believe it or not, bitework training can start as young as 8 weeks old — where
it is often called “ragwork” — because the puppy is taught to first bite and
chase a piece of leather or even an old towel, or “rag.” However, bitework
training can begin at virtually any age, depending on factors like your dogs
personality, confidence level, natural “drive” to chase, and his breed.
- What is Drive?
Drive refers to a dogs natural, inborn desire to chase things, defend territory, or engage with something they perceive threatening. Drive can be ranked from low to high, meaning a dog can have a low natural desire to do bitework, or a very high one from a young age, without any special training.
Some breeds are bred to excel at bitework, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your
individual dog will. Every dog is different, and even pups from the same litter
can vary greatly in terms of temperament. A professional trainer will be able to
evaluate how you should start your dog, and what you need to work on.
How to Start
Arguably the most important rule when teaching your dog to bite on command is
that he can never bite you, or the people in your household. If you’re
interested in bitework training, finding a qualified trainer or working dog club
is essential, because you need someone else to help your dog bite, while you
control your dog with a leash, or verbal commands.
Owners that are considering bitework training for their dog should focus on
providing plenty of socialization with people and other dogs, as well as
teaching obedience commands like sit, down, come, and stay. Your dog should be
social, friendly, and well-rounded before starting bitework training. Dogs that
growl or bark at new people might seem like good candidates for bitework
training, but they generally lack confidence, and this type of training can
stress them out and make their undesirable behavior even worse.
Unlike basic obedience training, bitework training can get expensive very quickly,
as you will need special tools to support your dog throughout his training. For example,
when your dog is young, he may need an agitation harness
to help encourage him to bite, by letting him pull against the leash without
accidentally correcting him. As he gets older, you may switch to an
agitation collar to challenge your dog to pull
against his collar, even though it is much less comfortable.
Popular reward toys, like hard rubber balls on a string and bite bars are not
typically sold at your local pet store, nor are common training collars such as
fur saver collars, so be prepared to have to search
online if you're interested in getting started with this type of training. When
getting started, most people need:
- 6' leash
- 12' or 20' long line
- Agitation harness (or collar)
- Toy to reward your dog with, such as a ball or tug
- Fur saver collar, (or other mild collar)
While you don't have to invest in your own bite sleeves or bite suits, some people
choose to. Most of the time, the purchase of this gear is left to trainers or dog
professionals, as it's very expensive ($200-$2,000) and impractical to own yourself,
since you can't use it!
Many breeds of dogs (even chihuahua's
and french bulldogs)
can do bitework. However, the most common breeds of dogs descend from long
bloodlines of dogs that have done this type of training in the past, making it
much more likely that they will excel. These breeds include:
- German Shepherd Dog
- Belgian Malinois
- Doberman Pinscher
The most common requirement in a dog that is trained in bitework is that the dog
is big enough to stop an oncoming threat. So although little dogs often enjoy
the training, they're impractical to compete with or for use in military & police
work because of their small size. On the other hand, dogs that are too big can
pose a hazard to themselves during training, because it is so rigorous that giant
dogs can easily get hurt or prematurely develop joint conditions. Most dogs that
compete, work as personal protection dogs, or have military jobs are between
Does Bitework Make Dogs Vicious?
Bitework training takes the natural desire an individual dog has to chase, bark,
or bite things (instincts which all dogs evolved with, to some degree) and provides
a controlled outlet for them. Bitework can make a dog who is otherwise bored and
aggressive more tolerant of stressful situations, and less likely to be triggered
by events around the house or in public. Bitework teaches dogs impulse control,
patience, and focus, and allows your dog a rigorous workout unlike simply throwing
However, bitework training is not something to be dabbled with. Teaching any dog
that it's OK to bite a person requires serious management of the dogs training,
and day to day activities. If your dog is already displaying aggressive behavior,
he may not be suitable for bitework training because the training could make his
reactivity in certain situations worse.
As with anything, it all depends on the dog, your specific goals, and your ability
to dedicate time to training. For many dogs, bitework can be compared to a game of
tug of war, where the dog is just getting rewarded and having fun and there's very
little stress involved at all. In these situations, your dog is not seriously
defending you and may never draw the connection between biting a sleeve, and
biting a real person.
If your goals are to do personal protection training or compete in a dog sport like
Schutzhund the best thing you can do is find a working dog club or professional
trainer in your area who can help guide you. Bitework training is often a long, multi-year
journey, and can take as much of a time commitment as any other hobby. Having
people around to support you, spot you (watch as you train, to see if your
dog makes mistakes), and help you train your dog will be essential as your dog
learns and graduates to progressively more difficult exercises.