As a decoy for over 10 years, there are a few things that I would like for handlers to know. This will not only aid in progressing your team, retaining your decoy, but quite possibly build a friendship that withstands the test of time.
I remember the first time I ever decoyed. I was new to the department, new to the shift, and finally on my own. I had completed my FTO shadow phase and I was excited to start my career as a police officer. It was night shift and the call volume was low. I met up with a couple of the officers from my shift. One of them just happened to be the K9 assigned to us. Little did I know that the direction of my motivations was about to change. I was asked if I was interested in taking a bite from the dog. Trying to impress my new colleagues, I agreed. I was given a coat, some simple instructions (like run), and was sent into the dark. Out of nowhere, I was thrown to the ground with near overwhelming pain and pressure on the back of my arm. Of course, the peanut gallery couldn’t stop laughing at the new guy that had just been plowed by the seasoned Shep. I was then asked if I wanted to do it again. I said yes. I had found my new passion.
However, I needed work. A lot of work! My passion for decoying needed development, instruction, and practice. I liken passion to a fire. Fire is good. It offers warmth, light, and comfort, but if left on its own it will either die out or become out of control. It takes tending. Passion is good but without the proper tools, it can be dangerous. Handlers, this is where you step up to the plate.
Make opportunities happen.
Just like my first time in the suit it took a handler to give me a shot. After that I was given more opportunities to decoy. These opportunities were made both on shift and off. As much as I wanted, the opportunity was there. It takes you to set these opportunities in motion. Quite often new decoys know they lack the skills necessary to perform well, and they risk becoming a spectacle of criticism. The most productive suit time I ever had was a call from the handler to come train. It was one on one time. I was instructed on technique before ever learning to read the dog. Timing and presentation, over and over until I got it. Then opportunities were made for me to read the dog. Having a hand in progressive training was a thrill. Opportunity after opportunity. Furthering my training, I was asked to go to K9 seminars to decoy for numerous dogs at different levels. Eventually, after I was comfortable in having impute of my own, I began set up training on my own for our k9 team. Laying tracks, mock K9 calls, setting training aids, and building clearings. The calls started to shift from the handler calling me to me calling the handler. All of this because time after time I was given a chance.
Like anything else, a new skill takes time to develop. Through many given opportunities you will see a decoy succeed and fail. Your patience is your decoys shortcomings is needed. As you promote excellence through your own training it should be reciprocated by your decoy. As you raise your expectations, they should strive to meet it. In the end, patience pays off big and will give you a long-lasting decoy. Expect them to do great things and push them to excellence. Patience pays off.
When your decoy has experience and is becoming successful in your training hand them responsibilities. Share the load with them. In doing this you will develop trust. When it comes to the bite work on your dog, give them the floor to address issues, work on problem-solving, and promote behavior without your direction. Allow your decoy to put his/her stamp on that dog since you’ve allowed your dog to put their stamp on them. This, of course, does not happen overnight.
Keep your decoy healthy.