What is Bitework?

December 19, 2019

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.

Training Gear

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!

Dog Breeds

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
  • Bulldog
  • Rottweiler
  • 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 40-80lbs.

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 a ball.

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.

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