Trained to Protect

by Natalia Radcliffe

Ever wonder how dogs gain the skill to realistically “bite” the bad guy in the movies, or work with the police or military?
One avenue dogs can take is joining the Protection Sports Association, also known as the PSA.

According to the Protection Sports Association website, the organization’s mission is to provide a competitive athletic outlet for dog obedience and protection training. In other words, dogs learn skills necessary to defend and protect, while at the same time having fun through competitions.

Redemption Road K9, a local dog training facility in Agua Dulce, is home to the Los Angeles PSA club, and recently held its first annual LA PSA Family BBQ and Battle Royale, giving PSA members and their dogs the chance to show off skills they have been learning, while at the same time practicing these skills in front of people to prepare for competitions.

Anyone from your average dog owner to those of the police force or military can join.

According to John Anthony, a co-founder of Redemption Road K9, director of training and president of the LA PSA club, the idea of the sport is that it is challenging and pushing the breed standards. He mentioned that dogs who graduate from PSA can end up working with the military, police, or private security organizations.

Anthony himself is a certified decoy. It is not a job for the faint of heart.

In the PSA, a decoy is someone who acts as the “threat” in different situations. They are the ones the dogs are trained to “bite.” They are also the ones who try to distract the dog from following through with a command given.

Some of the first dogs Anthony worked with, as a decoy, were canines trained to “eradicate the threat”; in other words, kill. “That kind of helped me in what I do now,” said Anthony, who treats each dog like a military working dog that is trained to take someone down completely. This is both for the safety of the decoy and dog.

In the past two-and-a-half years, he has taken about 1,200 bites.

His first introduction to the world of decoys and PSA was watching a decoy running at a dog with a chainsaw, trying to distract the animal from obeying the command that had been given.

It was two decoys from the Golden State PSA club who motivated Anthony to become one himself and ultimately start the LA PSA club. There were no dog sports in the area, and he wanted to give people the opportunity to be a part of a club that could give their dogs an outlet for higher training if they so chose.
Being a decoy is also helpful fiscally for the club.

“What I have seen as the biggest cost to a protection dog was the decoy,” said Anthony. “That’s about … $6,000-$8,000 worth of value that I save.”
The LA PSA club is in its infancy, only about 30-45 days old, according to Anthony, and it takes care of its members, including the decoys.
“We’re the only club in California that offers health insurance and workers’ compensation for handlers, trainers, dogs and decoys,” said Anthony. Most of the LA PSA members train/work with their dogs at Redemption Road K9.

“It’s a thankless job,” said Anthony, describing the occupation of a decoy. “We incentivize the decoys to come and work at the LA PSA club.”
This includes getting a dog food discount through Redemption Road K9’s partnership with Zignature, in addition to payment.
With regards to the PSA event, Anthony believes it was a success. Twenty-one members from the club participated while spectators watched.
“It’s always a pleasure to work with these high-level dogs,” said Anthony.
The dogs performed skills such as biting a specific decoy from a certain distance away and coming back to the owner, while blocking out all other commands except the owner’s.
The dogs also performed skills that tested their confidence in going through with “biting” a decoy and committing to the bite, even through distractions and spooks, such as the decoy running or making loud noises.
Three different awards were granted that day, one for the best bite (or best grip), decoy of the day, and best entry (or best launch).
The award for the best bite was based on the technique in biting the decoy. The location and depth of the bite contribute to determining the winner. Old Glory, a 9-month-old DDR German shepherd and Redemption Road K9 student, won this award.
The Decoy of the Day award is based on the skill of a decoy being able to deal with anything that comes his or her way. Things that are taken into consideration include being able to catch the dog safely (absorbing most of the impact), then being able to safely transition into running, trying to spook the dog into letting go.
Finally, the Best Entry (or Best Launch) award was based on the dog’s ability to run at a decoy, launch off the ground, and bite the decoy.

As Redemption Road K9 partners with Zignature, a Pets Global brand of dog food, the winners received a 27-pound bag of assorted dog food from this brand, a Zignature Frisbee, cup holder and pin, along with a PSA t-shirt.

Redemption Road K9 is not just home to the LA PSA club, however. They are a multi-faceted company.

It is “a top-rated working dog company … specializing in breeding and training, working bloodline canines for medical service work, police K9, search & rescue, agility, personal protection, obedience and competition,” according to Redemption Road K9.

They have local clients, as well as some around the country and even across the globe.

For example, they worked with A&E and MGM’s Big Fish Entertainment on a new dog competition show called “America’s Top Dog,” where they were brought in as consultants. This included providing dogs to test the course before the competition began.

Anthony also competed in the show himself with his dog, Crixus of Gaul, the youngest competitor and only neutered male on the show.

Redemption Road K9 also has a vocational program called “Job Training for Juveniles” where they take youth from the justice system and pair them with well-established, professional dog trainers from all over the world. The program focuses on leadership and a strong work ethic, according to Anthony.
“This program is geared towards offering training and skills to instill leadership and a strong work ethic to prepare these young people for adulthood, while also delivering top quality canine companions to celebrities, champion athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, and some of the most dynamic police departments in the world,” according to the Redemption Road K9 website.

Recently, some of the children in the program went to Boeing’s private airfield in the state of Washington and were able to board a jet, talk to the pilot and learn what an executive level protection dog does.

“We are a company that is about second chances,” said Anthony. The children that go through the program are “able to reclaim one’s personal salvation through hard work and commitment to the cause.”