I have been learning to train detection dogs and/or training detection dogs since 1992 when I joined my first canine search and rescue team. Given the number of years I have been involved in this venue, I have been fortunate to watch thousands of dogs hunt, find and indicate and, now that I have been teaching K9 Nose Work for over ten years, I have been fortunate to work with well over a thousand dogs at this point. As a result of that number of dogs and the number of hours I have invested in this venue, I have “seen” dogs perform certain behaviors that had never been previously pointed out to me and I have “coined” various terms to describe these behaviors. And, in order to efficiently train a detection dog, I have promoted certain “training concepts” and I have “invented” certain pieces of equipment. The expressions which I “coined,” as well as the “training concepts” that I have promoted and the “equipment” that I have invented, have been much copied over the years and, in some cases, have become “mainstream” dog training descriptions, concepts and equipment. And, while it is said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” I thought I would go on record as the original “inventor” of the following “coined phrases,” “training concepts” and “unpatented training equipment.”
- “Following the Line” – Beginning in 2015, I noticed an uptick in handlers in my area talking about allowing the dog an opportunity to “work the edges of the scent plume.” In one off-site training where I had placed hides in a room, one handler allowed her dog to move down a hallway approximately thirty feet from where the hide was located. As her dog had showed a response to odor closer to the hide, I asked the handler why she was allowing her dog to move so far away from the location of the hide because, at that distance, her dog had stopped working the odor at all!! In response, she stated that her trainer had told her that she had to “allow the dog to move away from the hide location so that the dog could work the “edge of the scent plume” back to source. Therefore, she said she would follow her dog wherever he went as she did not want to interfere with her dog’s attempt to find “the edge of the scent plume.” Hmmmmm…. Given my experience as a search and rescue dog handler, I was well-acquainted with the fact that dogs will work the edges of a scent cone when working scent back to a victim. I was, in fact, imprinted for life on the first night I ever hid for a SAR dog when I watched a wonderfully focused and driven German Shepherd named Buddie, wearing a green glow stick in his SAR vest, range along the top-edge of a depression in which I was hiding and, then, suddenly do a right hand turn down the slope toward me. In fascination, I watched as Buddie worked a zig-zag pattern down the slope until, at one point, Buddie began to run a straight-line right down the center of the scent plume to where I was hiding, just like a homing-pidgeon coming in to roost. Later in my SAR career, I learned that Buddie’s zig-zap pattern was when he had been bouncing off the edges of my scent plume, and using that edge to triangulate my location by adjusting the direction of each zig-zag whenever the scent got weaker, and following the new line whenever the odor got more intense. I had never, however, heard of handlers being asked to work the downwind-edge of a scent cone. While I knew from experience that there is always a “scent intensity” that a dog is more comfortable in working, and which may have an impact on how far downwind a dog working the odor would be willing to respond to odor, I attempted to explain to the handler that the dog could never really find the “far downwind edge of a scent plume” because the odor flowing downwind of a scent plume could be hundreds of yards away before the dog could no longer detect (or respond to) the odor. And, we could never “know” where that point was – but, it was certainly well-known that it could be at some distance away. SAR dogs in Colorado had been known to pick up the scent plume of a missing hunter over three miles upwind of where a rescue team first saw a behavioral change in their SAR dog. But, over the course of the next year or so, I continually watched handlers back up ten, fifteen, even twenty feet or more, away from where they first noticed their dog showing a behavioral change to odor, and each such handler when asked told me that they were doing that “so that their dog could find the edge of the scent plume in order to work back to source.” I, for sure, did not agree with that training and, being an analytical person, I started to think about what a dog DID need to do in order to “follow the scent back to source.” Factoring into my analysis was the fact that I had seen dog after dog after dog work every object around the location of a hide, and often I would see the dog circle around and around and around hitting every object BUT the object where the hide was located, but then, suddenly, the dog would do a 90 degree turn and home straight into the location of the hide. And then, of course, there was the image of Buddie, working the edges of the cone as he zig-zagged down the slope toward me and then running a straight-line right down the center of the scent cone to where I was hiding. Early on, I had no explanation as to “why” a dog was stuck on a circle and would go around and around and around a hide location (and this most often occurred when working containers as dogs can work a full 360 degrees around a hot container). For a while, all I could say was that dogs “just did it,” but then it became clear to me what was happening – each dog was searching for the “line” of odor that would lead the dog out of the odor that had built up around the hide and straight into source. One analysis of what is happening could be as follows: 1) Odor “coming off a hide” is different from the odor of the “source itself;” 2) An area where scent is collecting is always easier for a dog to encounter than the hide itself because there is so much more odor where it is collecting than where it first comes off source; 3) Odor will have an increasing (or decreasing) “scent intensity” based on the distance the odor occurs away from a source and this “scent intensity” also will vary based on environmental conditions that impacts, or disperses, the odor (i.e., wind, temperature, humidity, strength of the hide etc.); 4) Scent dispersal “usually” occurs as a scent plume, or cone, made up of tendrils of odor, flowing downwind away from source; 5) But, odor also “mushrooms” out away from a hide because wind movement is never constant or in one direction only; 6) Dogs do not generalize scent well and a dog has an “intensity of odor” to which they will orient based on their training (although this intensity can be shaped and expanded through additional training so that the dogs generalizes odor); 7) Dogs will stay at this distance away from source until they find a tendril of stronger odor (and I submit the dogs are searching for a tendril of odor that “communicates the location of source” and smells “like source” and is therefore different from just more odor); and 8) Dogs that truly understand the “value of source” as opposed to just “responding to odor” will eagerly follow this one powerful tendril of odor, a tendril of odor that contains the signature makeup indicating “source,” back to source. It is this behavior for which I coined the phrase, “following the line.” And, so I began to instruct my students that they need to allow their dog to move away from source at a distance that will allow that dog to work through the scent plume and/or odor mushrooming away from source so that the dog can detect the “line” of stronger odor and/or “source odor” that will allow the dog move out of the scent plume or mushrooming odor along the line of stronger odor and/or “source odor” that leads the dog straight back to source. What this distance is that will allow the dog to differentiate the “line” of stronger odor and/or “source odor” from that of the scent plume or mushrooming odor is unique to each dog based on training. But, the dog must be given enough space around a hide in order to differentiate and to detect the “line” of stronger odor and/or “source odor” that will lead the dog straight into source. When analyzed in this way, it became very clear “why” a dog got stuck working around and around a hide location until the dog “found that line” of stronger odor and/or “source odor” that led the dog straight back to source. That was what the dog was looking for and what Buddie had found so many years back. And, it became very, very clear to us all when a dog “locked on to the line,” whether that dog encountered the “line” five inches away from source or at distances of fifty, sixty or more, feet away from source. Once I started to teach students to watch for their dogs to “follow the line” or to “find the line,” we all started to joke how long it would take for the description I coined to “become mainstream” in New England. Based on my calculations, it has taken about eighteen months and I now I regularly hear people talk about watching for their dog to “follow the line.”
- “Lizard Brain Response” – In my Introduction Classes, I explain that handlers should learn what their dog looks like when their dog is searching for odor, when their dog first encounters odor, when their dog is working the odor back to source and when their dog is at source. (And, to be accurate, there are many “subparts” to each of these four response-behaviors, such as “chasing behaviors” versus “sourcing behaviors, etc.). How dogs respond to odor in each of these four stages is unique to the dog but there are certain “common denominators” of responses that most dogs display. However, each of these four “changes of behavior” (“COBs”) that I instruct my students to watch for are “intentional” COBs, in that the dog is “intentionally” responding to odor. Over the years, however, I began to see behaviors that I did not believe were “intentional” but, because the dog was classically conditioned to respond to odor, the dog’s “primitive brain” responded to odor whenever it was encountered and would produce COBs before the dog’s forebrain recognized that odor was present. Some of these behaviors were a “quick, backward change of movement,” as if the dog had run into a tripwire. Or, a quick stutter-step. Or, a slight dip of the head in the direction of the odor. I likened these unintentional COBs to that of an involuntary, “mental knee-jerk behavior” to odor. And, while these same COBs were also “intentionally” displayed by a dog when a dog actually recognized that it had encountered odor, the difference between such “intentional COBs,” and that for which I coined the term “Lizard Brain Response,” was that dogs displaying “intentional COBs” made intentional changes in direction and orientation to the odor while dogs displaying “Lizard Brain Responses did not. The latter dogs just kept going on whatever line they were moving. I don’t believe that the dog even recognized that they had encountered odor or that they had produced “unintentional, knee-jerk COBs.” And, so I began to instruct my students to watch for “Lizard Brain Responses” as they could help narrow down an area where odor may be present before the dog actually recognized the presence of odor and displayed “intentional COBs.”
- “Two Decisions” — I believe that a dog makes Two Decisions at source: 1) The first Decision (“Decision 1”) is that the dog decides it has found source and you can see when this happens — the dog’s ears perk up, he may do a stutter-step, his eyes may dilate, etc., all because he is having a powerful visceral response to finding source; and 2) The dog makes a Decision (“Decision 2”) to demand to be paid for finding the source. (I will write more about how Decision 2, being a demand to be paid, is not the same as a dog performing an indication).
- “Repetition builds confidence, confidence develops assertiveness, and assertiveness leads to independence.”
- “The behavior we want to monitor at all times is the dog’s intensity and desire to do the work.”
- “We want to condition the dog’s neural pathways to fire the way we want.”
- “We do not train a dog to search because a dog is born knowing how to search. Rather, we want to the dog to willingly hunt for us on our terms.”
- “Always, always protect a dog’s willingness to hunt for you.” — According to one article written by Bob Bailey, the majority of an animal’s training should consist of easy problems and problems of medium difficulty. But then, every now and then, you want to throw in a “bounce trial,” where you just really push the animal out and see where they are!! Be ready to support them though, before they crash and burn!! 🙂 🙂
UNPATENTED TRAINING EQUIPMENT
- Bowl Sandwich – I invented the use of what I call the “Bowl Sandwich” when developing value in odor for the dog. You will need to buy two bowls that like these ones: http://www.petco.com/product/105768/Petco-Stainless-Steel-Non-Tip-Bowls.aspx I typically use the 16 oz. size. Take a hammer and good-size nail and hammer in holes in the bowl section of one of the bowls. I typically hammer in 15-20 holes in the belly of the bowl. Make sure you hammer into the bowl so that the burrs made when the holes are hammered in are on the outside of the bowl and not sticking up into the inside of the bowl. For this reason, do NOT use a drill to make the holes because you end up with burrs on both sides of the bowl!! Once you have the holes punched into one of the bowls, layer your scented q-tips into the bowl section of the other bowl. Place the bowl with the holes on top of the bowl containing the scented q-tips. You now have created my “bowl-sandwich” out of the two nested bowls. When using the bowls to “pair,” simply sprinkle 5-6 pieces of the stinky reward-food (or the toy) into the “bowl-sandwich” and place the “bowl-sandwich” into a box (“hot-box”) and shut the lid. When the dog finds the “hot-box,” immediately open the lid and allow the dog to self-reward on the food. When the dog has finished self-rewarding, drop anywhere from 5 to 40 pieces of food in the top bowl, one piece at a time (i.e., “supplementally-reward”). Keep the amount unpredictable but the reinforcement over odor should be more, not less, in this early stage. You are imprinting value on the odor, so make it a super strong association with heavy reinforcement. Also, make sure that the hand that is dropping the food into the bowl does not move further away from the top bowl than 2 inches because you want the dog’s nose to stay in the top bowl and not swivel back and forth following the hand that is dropping in the food. The dog must learn that he gets the food in the bowl and not from your hand and start to orient to the bowl more and more. Each time you repeat this training, the dog will be inhaling the odor of birch (or anise or clove) as the dog is self-rewarding and then being supplementally-rewarded. The longer you have the dog inhaling the odor while he is being rewarded the stronger the association between the odor of birch and the salient reward will become. In time, by doing this, the dog associates the odor of birch (or anise or clove) with that salient reward-food (or toy) and the dog learns to love the odor just as if it were the reward-food. This is pure classical – i.e., Pavlovian – conditioning at its best. And we condition in this concept that “odor is important” (i.e., “odor obedience”) in the context of HUNTING for the odor right from the beginning. Thus, I believe that K9 Nose Work Training is “hunting-based” as opposed to “obedience-based” from the start of our training. If done correctly, you should end up with a dog that eagerly hunts for the odor of birch and pushes toward source when the find is made.
- Car Key Magnet Boxes – I first began to use “Car Key Magnet Boxes” that I have modified to use as Reward Food or Scent Containers. You can buy the particular Key Boxes at Lowes. I use these Key Boxes to introduce Vehicle Searching on Primary. When using these Key Boxes to introduce Vehicle Searching to your dog, I upwards of 8 Key Boxes along the front, one side and the rear of a vehicle. This heavy-loading of source material creates dogs that really learn to “hoover” along the side of a vehicle. I also use these Key Boxes in my Level V classes when I introduce the other various Scenting Venues on Odor. So, I personally buy 8 of the Key Boxes at a time, but folks only need to buy the number they feel comfortable buying. As you can see, I have modified the lids of each Key Box by drilling 8-10 holes in each lid. I drill up to 4 lids at the same time. I also purchase 8 small screw bolts and 8 matching screw nuts which I insert into one of the drill holes in each lid. This make a little handle that I can use to open the lids, which can get very difficult to open when dogs drool over each box or when the boxes get slimed with reward food. Alternately, if you are not handy, you can buy one of the metal tins that is photographed below from All Good Dogs!!
- Scent Channeling Sticks — Originally, I invented “The Sticks” to assist dogs in learning to work through scent that is flowing along the underside of a table, or along a pipe, or beside a concrete curbing, or along any other number of things where the odor of a hide moves away from a source like a river flows along its bank. Teaching a dog to “go to source” when the dog encounters channeling scent is a “learned skill” in a dog. “Learned,” not because the dog cannot do it automatically (because a dog is born knowing how to work through channeling odor), but “learned” because now they have “to work to source” for you and not for themselves!! Remember, “going to source” is a gray area for your dog. They can easily do it but you need to educate the dog that it is important to ignore all that channeling odor and to “pinpoint” source. These “Scent Channeling Sticks” help your dog learn to ignore channeling odor but, in addition, the sticks help a dog to learn to “pinpoint” the location of the source, for you, with specificity!! And, so long as a dog is at the point in his training that he is independently hunting, these sticks can help educate that dog as to the value of “going to source.” Finally, those folks that train with me know that I am staunch proponent of something I call “Repetitive Drill Training.” As “repetition is the Mother of all good dog training,” these sticks offer a form of “Repetitive Drill Training” which tends to build drive and enthusiasm in a dog. And, one can do many “repetitions” in a training session with equipment such as these “Scent Channeling Sticks” without burning the dog out.
- Wooden Boxes – I built my first Wooden Box when I began teaching K9 Nose Work back in 2009. I have a three-inch hole cut into the top of each box that I cover with an electrical outlet plate that can swivel on a bolt so that I can gradually reduce the size of the hole as training progresses.
- Modified Coffin Box — The original Coffin Box is approximately two feet wide by four feet long and has 24 drilled holes in the top. Each drilled hole is about 1/4 inch in diameter. The rim of a small jelly jar is nailed to the underside of the Coffin Box and placed around each hole. This allows the handler to screw a jelly jar containing target odor under one of the holes. In doing so, the odor comes up through that hole only. The dog is then asked to find the hole under which the source is located. Asking a dog to pinpoint with such precision puts a lot of pressure on a dog and they often throw out a lot of behaviors out of frustration. The only thing a handler can do in this situation is to educate the dog as to what option is rewardable by rewarding right over source (i.e., the hole). One of my dogs figured out the correct behavior right away but my other dog simply could not figure out what to do when faced with so many holes. This often happens with quick-twitch dogs. So, I designed the Modified Coffin Box with only one hole to reduce the complexity of the equipment.
- Wall Hides —
- My Over-All Training Program, especially my Level 1 and Level 2 Foundation Classes, which I designed and many other Instructors now use. My six-week session for Level 1 typically consists of the following: Class 1 – Straight Line Box Work Class 2 – Straight Line Box Work with Chairs; Free Search Class 3 – Free Search on Stuff Class 4 – Thresholds, Corners and Walls Class 5 – Free Search on Stuff Class 6 — Free Search on Stuff. My six week session for Level 2 typically consists of the following: Class 1 – Scent Dispersal Training Class 2 – New Exteriors Class 3 – New Interiors Class 4 – Wall Hides Class 5 – Vehicles Class 6 — Barrier Work.
- Use of Al Fresca Sausage as a Training Aid – I have always believed that, in order to get the dog in the right mindset, the primary reward food you use is of great importance. In the beginning, we don’t want the dog to enter a search area and wonder if there is a primary hide to be found. We want the odor to hit him in the face as soon as he walks up to a search area. And, your dog’s only job then is to find something that he knows is there. And that sequence is empowering to a dog. Dog training is all about conditioning in expectations . . . so take the time to really condition in an expectation in your dog that there will be something luscious to be found if the dog makes the effort to search for us. That’s really what detection dog training is all about. Trainers use all kinds of different reward foods but THE BEST reward food to use is Al Fresca Roasted Garlic Sausage. It comes in packages of four sausages and is sold by Stop and Shop, Roche Brothers, Sudbury Farms and all the other major grocery store chains. Just ask the Store Manager if you can’t find where they offer it. Prepare the food by microwaving all four sausages for 3 ½ minutes. When cool, slice each sausage into four long lengths of equal size and then slice each long length into thin pieces. Put all of the small pieces into one container and bring that container with you to class. Also, bring two small metal bowls that nest one into the other. Make sure that your dog KNOWS how wonderful this reward is before using it in class is by using it as a reward for some other behavior your dog knows well at home. For example, ask your dog to sit and then use the sausage to reward a great response. This is a powerful reward food….so you should see your dog light up!!!
- Scent Distribution Training –
- Wall Hide Training –
- Barrier Work —
- Targeting —
- Repetitive Drills – I have long been a proponent of “Repetitive Drills.” “Repetitive Drill” Training is great to do with your dog and it can be of great help in educating the dog as to when they get rewarded (i.e., finding source), in developing those “fine-motor skills” so that the dog can work closer and closer to that “pin-point precision” that we want in K9NW, and in fostering that assertive attitude that comes when the dog learns he can “control” the delivery of the reward. Finally, “Repetitive Drill” Training typically helps maintain a positive, engaged, focused hunting attitude because the dog learns what he is expected to search and that he is not being asked to search ROW (Rest of the World) which can just burn a dog out if not balanced with a steady amount of “Repetitive Drills.” Dogs often “fire up” after running a few repetitions as they realized this training is very easy and they are provided with a very high rate of reinforcement when the dog runs each repetition. Another plus for “repetitive training” is that you can get a lot more repetitions in than you can if you are doing ROW problems. Finally, the dogs get to use their problem-solving skills.