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Dr. Ps Dog Training

A Decoy Rant
by Shirley Greene (
initially appeared in Dog Sports Magazine
Copyright 2000

I'm pissed. I have no political agenda and trust me, there is no monetary gain in my being upset. I am not a trainer, a breeder or a working trial decoy. I am not president of a dog club and I don't make my living from dogs. H o w e v e r - - - I own dogs. I own personal protection and sport dogs. I believe that private citizens can own, train and responsibly handle dogs that bite - in the home or on the field. If you don't agree, you can stop reading right here.

I buy a dog and am defrauded. I sell another and make a profit. I've picked up dogs abandoned in a back yard for 3 days in 115-degree heat. I've drug a 93 pound Shepherd out of a wilderness area, stopping every quarter mile to make sure he's still alive and continue first aid. I've celebrated K9 victories with Jose Cuervo. I've missed work because I put a dog down the night before.

I am a doer. My butt is on that field. I have experience - less than some, more than others. I work in a training group. I work alone. I travel to competitions. I sweat. I bruise. I curse. I fall down and get back up. I listen. I make mistakes. I ask for help and start over.

I am pretty much just like you. But, I've recently done field triage on decoys. The next time I scream "ice", I want it to cool down the beer, not stop bleeding or treat heat prostration. And when a guy collapses at my feet, I want it to be 'cause I look good - not because he's injured.

Don't try pointing fingers at a scapegoat. The chain of blame leads right to you, and to me. It encircles everyone who works with decoys.

What's happening with decoys? What's up with decoy certification? Are decoys really wearing lacrosse facemasks on the training field to teach dogs to target the face? Are we utilizing pre-teens to work bite dogs when a trainer isn't on the field and when competitors don't know that decoy is under legal-age? Are credentials for sale to the highest bidder? What's up, people?

I don't know. And, I wish I didn't have to care. But, I've seen a lot. I've been in the trenches. I've been bled on and I've waited in the ER to see if a decoy would be admitted. From my perspective, we're ignoring common safety issues and that stinks. And, we better figure out how to fix it. Not next year, not next month - - but now.

Catching dogs is not about being macho. It is not about being a woman who can do a man's job - - or a woman's job. It has nothing to do with your social status in the dog community. And, buster, it sure ain't about showing up and showin' off. It is about work. Catching dogs in a trial is very hard work. And, not every training decoy can be a trial decoy. It is about being an athlete. It is about entertainment for the spectators - profit for the vendors - and camaraderie for the hosting club. It is about using every opportunity to educate the public, in a positive way, about our dogs. And, it is about safety. Hello out there. What a concept: safety for the audience, the handlers, the decoys and - - yes, our dogs.

Did your club or organization hold a match this year? You did; that's terrific. Do you have checklists for setting up a match? Do any of them concern safety issues? Do you have someone with bottom line responsibility to inspect what you expect will be done before the first dog goes off the line? Did you think to yourself that the audience should have at least a visual deterrent to keep them from wandering onto the field while dogs are working? But, did the venue just not turn out quite like you planned. Are you in a hurry to start on time and are you going to ignore that little voice inside your head? That's fine. But what are you going to do when that 10-year old kid, trailing a kite, crosses right in front of a dog being sent on the call off? And, what about the dog that jumped the rope and went into the audience, only to return immediately to the handler's side when called? What if it had been a different handler and a different dog? Do you have a plan of action for that scenario?

Speaking of handlers, should they be concerned with safety? Should they have to do more than pay a fee, fill out a form and bring a dog? Should a handler need to inform the trial steward that their dog has been targeting a lacrosse facemask worn by a training decoy? Well, maybe; or then again, maybe not. All I know is that we better talk about it.

What about decoys? News flash: decoys - you do have rights. It isn't sissy to ask for and expect to see the insurance certificate for the match. You also have the right to make certain the First Aid Kit is on the field - - and somebody there knows who to call and what to do. Excuse me - it is your life on the line. I believe decoys also have the right to expect cold water, shade and a bench where they can sit down without having to remove their pants. Am I a radical?

And, decoys, as with any rights there comes a boatload of responsibilities: Act like an adult, please. Assume the responsibility to show up - - sober. Bring a suit that fits - you. If your wrists are hanging out, don't expect the handlers to notice. They just may have other priorities on trial day. Carry a bag that actually has items you may need - such as tape, gauntlets, gloves and systemic antibiotics - - just "in case". And, while you are at it, would you please fill out a 3 X 5 card with the name and phone number of your family doctor? Are you allergic to penicillin or use insulin to control blood sugar? Please - write it down. Hey, if you take medications on a daily basis, put down the name and the dose, too. And, pin that card to the inside of your bag where I can find it if you are passed out.

Club presidents and training directors, don't you look righteous. Where were you when the decoys were checking in? Have you met these people before? Have you seen them work dogs and just how many years ago was it? These decoys may have credentials but just what do those credentials mean? And, do you always have a signed liability release from every decoy before every match? And, to those of you who have signed these credentials - - sit down. I want to get in your face. If you have personally tested decoys in any bite sport within the last three years, call me. Collect. I want to know just exactly what you are testing. Did you ask 25 questions about the rules and regulations of your sport? Good. But, did your test end there? Did you actually ask a decoy to work a dog - one that he didn't know? Did you ask him to work it in prey? In defense? Did you ask how he was trained and by whom? Did you watch him problem solve? Better. Did you ask the decoy to run in his suit? Walk steps? Did you knock him down a few times and ask him to get up? Did you play "what if?" That's the best. Did you see a medical release or physical exam documentation? Should that even be your concern? I don't have the answers, but I am going to raise the issues.

If you, as a club, want to hold a trial where the safety of the paying public is in question - well, I can't stop you. And if you, as a decoy, have a need to catch competition dogs when you don't have the physical ability, I can't prevent you from becoming quadriplegic or brain damaged when the wrong dog hits you the right way. But, if you are using decoys that just don't know that they just don't know, and those decoys kill or injure my dog, well you better duck.

I saw things for years and kept quiet. I kept quiet on my own field and I shut up out of town. It wasn't any of my business, I said. Well, I was wrong. When I was trying to put Humpty-Dumpty together again, it became my business, my fault and my responsibility. And, it's yours, too. Do we wait until our next match is showcased on 20/20? Do we wait until a bureaucracy rears its ugly head and decides to regulate our sports?

I hope not. Get a grip. Get involved. Get your club together. Get active. Be proactive. Talk to your national or international organization. And please, be safe.

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