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Book Review
Decoys and Aggression
by Stephen A. Mackenzie

Review by: Kate Connick, August 2005

Stephen Mackenzie's Decoys and Aggression is a handy primer aimed at the novice interested in learning how to become an agitator for police K-9s. Those are the folks who serve as bait during attack exercises, although as the author points out, their job is more complicated and crucial than merely offering themselves up to be bitten.

Emphasizing the importance of physical fitness, cooperativeness, humility and self-discipline, Mackenzie characterizes a good decoy as follows:

"In a nutshell... the good decoy - reads dogs well - is in excellent shape physically and skillful enough to speak the dog's language - knowledgeable enough to use that physical skill to trigger or develop different forms of aggression at the proper times and can avoid stimulating aggression when it is not appropriate."

Mackenzie presents exercises to develop timing, footwork, and basic skills prior to introducing the presence of a live dog. He also examines how to grow confidence and competence in the decoy while building up to more challenging tasks like civil agitation or muzzle work. Safety consciousness is paramount throughout.

Most useful for the novice - whether involved in some form of protection training or not - are the author's very simple but clear comments on how to interpret and react to the dog. A novice dog trainer or animal shelter employee would find Mackenzie's discussion of the "seven steps of reading a dog" invaluable and would benefit from understanding how distance-increasing and distance-decreasing signals of their own can affect different types of aggressive display on the dog's part. Mackenzie communicates this concisely and clearly.

The author is an excellent writer - very clear, palatable, and succinct. The text is illustrated with many diagrams and photos for further clarification of important concepts. Always grounded more in the practical than the theoretical, Mackenzie often notes where some tactics work better for ring sport than actual street work or where they have the potential to create undesirable habits or liabilities in the working police dog.

To his credit, the author is conversationally readable without being excessively informal or unprofessional. This book lacks the swaggering bravado of some literature in the same genre. It is pricey for the size, but all in all, this 88-page hardcover is a useful guidebook.

I'd recommend this for the novice interested in learning more about protection training, decoy work, or reading and responding to aggressive canine displays in general. I'd like to see Mackenzie write more books. He has a lot to offer, in both content and presentation.

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Decoys and Aggression by Stephen A. Mackenzie.
Published by Detselig Enterprises, 1996. ISBN: 1550591320

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