“Forging ahead”

If you’re a handler, you’re probably familiar with the term “forging ahead” and it’s primarily associated with obedience work.  We usually aim to prevent our dogs from forging ahead of us when moving with the dog off-leash or on-leash during a normal walk, crowd interaction, obedience, trials and certifications – keeping the dog close, tight, easily within arm’s reach.  It looks good when your dog doesn’t forge ahead and it also demonstrates control.  The result is a purposeful product of training.  If your dog forges ahead unnecessarily or on its own, trouble can sometimes occur.

Forging ahead:

  1. To move ahead slowly; progress steadily.  “To forge through dense underbrush.”
  2. To move ahead with increased speed and effectiveness.  “To forge ahead and finish the work in a burst of energy.”

Unfortunately, there are many handlers today who are “forging ahead” of their backup officers and support personnel when searching, tracking, trailing or pursuing wanted persons or proceeding solo as a K9 team.  You’ve heard the stories.  You’ve read about the tragic results.  So, why has the deployment practice continued?  Do you forge ahead?  If you do – then why do you do it?

“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.” -Winston Churchill

One of the more common faults of our K9 training is allowing handlers to train alone for deployments or as a single entity for the majority of their time or training for real world searches and apprehensions without backup officers.  When this training occurs, handlers get accustomed to following their dog as it searches, tracks, trails or pursues without giving concern or relevance to the absence of backup officers.  Nothing bad ever happens in training, right? The dog is released, the handler follows.   And, you can probably predict what will happen in the real world – the same as in training.  However, it’s not a safe practice.

“We fight [deploy] like we train.”

I understand the limitations and restrictions – budgets and staffing – that often occur to prevent realistic, practical and safe training.  It’s sometimes an issue of patience – or lack of it.  It’s sometimes due to a lack of supervision and accountability.  It’s sometimes due to poor or inadequate training.  It’s sometimes due to improper mindset. However, as a handler’s training progresses, the handler (and trainer and supervisor) must realize that it’s dangerous to forge ahead of others because anticipated or unanticipated deadly threats might be encountered in an area or along a trail.

Some of you might not have backup readily available – but is your life worth waiting a little longer?  What is the risk versus the reward?  What would your family want you to do?  Some of you might not be able to officially train with others – but can you take the initiative to spend some time training others on your own so you can have better backup? Some of you will continue to forge ahead and be in front regardless – but can you seriously justify this tactic with your life potentially on the line?  Predictable is preventable.

From 2006 to 2014, there were five K9 handlers tragically killed during tracking-type deployments as they led from the front without backup close by or no backup at all.  I’d like to think each of those handlers would offer a piece of advice to other handlers today if they were able to do so that might sound something like “Wait for sufficient backup before proceeding and utilize them properly for cover as you search.”

Take care, be safe and don’t get caught forging ahead….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on April 1, 2015.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?