Sam Triplett prepares Ruco for a simulated attack.
Eighty pounds of dog muscle hurls itself through the air, white teeth flashing as they latch on to Stefan Herceg’s bicep.
The whole time, the dog’s tail – a bushy red and black affair – never stops wagging. To people driving down Gulfport Boulevard, it looks like the dog is attacking. And, in a way, he is – but only because he’s been told to attack.
When she was little, Sam Triplett convinced her parents to buy a kennel. They did.
At 14, she certified as a pet dog training.
At 15, she learned about Schutzhund, a dog sport she describes as “bite work, sport obedience, and tracking.” From there, she focused on training working dogs, getting certified as a master trainer. She has training certifications in professional obedience, behavior modification, tracking and trailing, patrol, and bomb and narcotic detection. She now competes in PSA, or the Protection Sport Association.
Now, the 21-year-old USF-St. Petersburg college student has a serious animal training job.
What does she do? She trains dogs to attack, but only for the right reasons and, as she explains, there’s a lot more to it.
Sam trains police dogs. She trains customs dogs. She trains search and rescue dogs.
“There is a lot that goes into training a dog to attack. You start when the dog is very young, and you work on the dog’s prey drive with a hand towel,” she explains. She works with the dog’s grip and reactions, working up to using an arm sleeve the dog will attack. Professional trainers like Sam train dogs to bite extremities like arms, starting with forearms and working the dog up to the bicep.
“[The] bicep is that last target area taught because it is the most confrontational for the dog since it is right next to the decoys face,” Sam says.
Even though she trains attack dogs, she doesn’t train them to kill.
“K-9’s are considered non- lethal weapons,” she explains. “They are used simply for pain compliance.”
That’s why, she says, trainers take a lot of time training the dog to attack arms and legs.
“If you do not know where your dog is going to bite, they tend to hit center mass, which has nothing for them to grip, which leads for the dog to scale up the body to the neck,” she says. “That is, if your dog doesn’t jam his/ her neck trying to bite center mass.”
In addition to making sure Ruco and other dogs she trains know exactly how to do their job, Sam’s pursuing a degree in criminology. Dog training remains her passion.
“The best part of this work is helping every dog succeed. No matter what training the dog is going through, the most rewarding part of the job is knowing that the dog is succeeding with your help,” she says, adding:
“This is a forever job for me.”