Ronan, an 18-month-old Belgian Malinois, bolted from his owner's grasp and charged across the open field toward a guy waving a stick and screaming, "Get that dog out of here." The dog lunged toward the man, bit into his arm and held on.
"Good grip," said a man with a clipboard.
As a judge for the Protection Sports Association, he made note of it as part of the dog's ability to take commands from his owner, ignore all distractions and hang on to a "decoy," a person outfitted in a thickly padded bite suit. Ronan and his owner, Mike McMahon, competitors in a canine obedience and controlled protection trial Saturday, passed the trial. Ronan earned a Protection Dog Certificate.
McMahon, 23, from New Jersey runs his own dog training business called Total Control Canine. He spends time training his dog in obedience and protection and then traveling to such competitions sanctioned by the association, a national group based in Glen Burnie. Most of the competitions, at local, regional and national levels, are sponsored by local PSA clubs.
"It's a chance to do something with your dog that they enjoy," McMahon said. "It's a sport for you and your dog."
This weekend, some 50 competitors from all along the East Coast gathered for a local, two-day competition sponsored by the Metropolitan K-9 club on the grounds of St. Philip Neri School in Linthicum Heights.
Interest in PSA competitions has grown each year since the association was founded in 2002, participants said. The PSA, which has about 550 members, describes its mission as offering an outlet for civilian competition in canine obedience and controlled protection and recognizing achievement with titles and prizes.
David Pappalardo, from Fort Lee, N.J., has run a club and business for 15 years called K-9 Unlimited that trains and sells police dogs. He came to the Linthicum Heights competition with his German shepherd, Car, and passed the trial he entered.
In the training scenario, the dog was put into an SUV and was approached at the window by a decoy, who rattled a jar of coins. The dog was supposed to ignore the noisy distraction and follow commands to attack.
Training not only helps the dog get better but also improves its owner's relationship and communication with the dog, Pappalardo said.
People often have the idea that protection-sports enthusiasts are merely training attack dogs, said Christopher Smith, a Belgian Malinois owner from Long Island, N.Y., who came to Saturday's event as a spectator.
"These are the friendliest dogs - just don't hit their owner," he said.
Pappalardo agreed that it takes a special dog to do well in the competitions.
"We're not looking for dogs that go out and bite," he said. "We're looking for dogs that have control. It takes a confident dog, and a social dog."