Teaching the Grip and Counter

Author: John Lockett|Print|Return

It's time to take your pup to the next level in bite development, The Grip and Counter, but remember we never want to stop building prey drive… I don't believe a dog can have too much prey drive. In my article, Building Prey Drive in Working Puppies I tried to give everyone my tools and the way I apply them in building prey drive in puppies. In this article I'm going to assume your pups prey drive is where you'd like to see it.

The Grip and Counter

Let me start by saying I'm a Personal Protection and Police Patrol Dog trainer first. All my foundation work, be it in protection or obedience, is geared for personal protection and patrol dogs. But like most trainers I enjoy competing in protection sports like SDA, PSA, Ring Sports and so on. To be clear, my method of teaching the grip and counter may be very different from most trainers with a background in sport dog training.

The Grip

The grip is how the puppy takes hold of an object be it a rag, bottle, tug or sleeve. There are three types of grips and they may stem from genetics and or training. I will describe them from the most desirable to the lest desirable.

  1. The Full Mouth Grip - This is when the dog bites an object and pulls it all the way to the back of it's mouth, holding on to it by his/her molars. If you where to see this type of grip from the side you would not see any gap between the object and the back of the dogs mouth. The full mouth grip is a sign that the dog is engaged and wanting to be in the fight.
  2. The Half to Three Quarter Grip - This grip is about 1 inch to 1-1/2 inches from the dogs molars. Dogs take this type of bite for three basic reasons.
    1. First and foremost is do to poor bite presentation. Be it on the suit, a sleeve or a rag; if the dog take a half or three quarter grip and is not made to correct it by countering in fuller before the fight starts, the dog is being taught that this is the correct bite and has no reason to make the grip any better. I've found that many problems stem from the foundational bite work. If the presentation is correct the dog/pup has a chance to start off with a full bite and does not learn to bite any other way. Do not reward a dog for a grip you don't like.
    2. The second is stress… The more stress that a dog will display during bite work, the shallower most grips will become. Stress in the bite work is not something to back away from. The dog should be taught to overcome stress though the counter. e.g. - After stressing a dog during bite work I give them ample opportunity to counter. Once they counter I reward and encourage the them.
    3. Last is genetics. Some of the bully and mastiff breeds that breath through there mouths tend to take a half or three quarter grip more than other breeds. It's common for these breeds to start taking a full mouth grip and slide down the bite surface so it can breathe better.  Before I put a dog in this category I like to judge how hard the bite is and the dogs commitment to say in the fight and not let go.
  3. The Frontal Grip - This grip can also come from poor bite presentation. Sometimes the frontal grip can be traced back to foundation training, but not always. 90% of the time a frontal grip is due to bad nerves from a dog's stress level and lack of self confidence. We never want to reward a dog for this bite. Always improve the bite before give any type of reward for this grip!

The Counter

There are three types of counters, these are all inherent techniques used to control and kill prey.

  1. The dog will drive deeper into the bite in and attempt to improve to a fuller grip.
  2. Shaking its head from side to side in an attempt to tear flesh and control the prey.
  3. Jerking backward in an attempt to control the fight by putting itself in a position to do the most damage before adjusting to one of the above counters.

Getting Started

Up to this point in the training we've not been concerned with how full the pups bite has been. Now its time to bring the grip and counter into the bite training. This training will also teach the puppy to be alert and proactive before, during, and after the bite. How? Lets back up. Remember, the pup should be working on the tie-out as I tease him/her with the flirt pole. Once the pup barks and shows it wants to engage the prey (proactive action) I give hem/her a bite. Now the pup is on the bite I tighten the line and move down the flirt pole, grabbing the prey object and hold it still. When holding the prey object still it dies and dead prey is no fun to your pup. So the pup must again be proactive by countering into the prey in an attempt to bring it back to life. And I do just that by a set pattern of movements with the prey: side to side, up and down and into my body then I allow the pup to pull it away from my body but not my hands and I freeze awaiting another counter. When the pup counter this time I release the object as a form of reward. As the pup gets stronger in it's work I will make him/her counter and improve it's grip to a harder and fuller bite before I release the prey from my hands. I also like to change the environment when working over multiple sessions. This way the pup is less likely to develop a comfort zone for doing bite work.

These are some basic techniques I use when teaching the grip and counter. If you are not a dog trainer, you should never attempt to train a dog in this manner without first consulting with a professional. Improper training can teach your dog bad habits, and at the very worst, cause you and/or your dog injury. Please call or contact me if you have any questions or comments.