Just as an recap of some key concepts, I typed up the following email. The reason that I say that detection dog training is unique is because you can’t “drill” a detection dog. Rather, the training needs to empower the dog and must be designed to leave the dog wanting more. Increment by increment, we condition the dog to search “on our terms,” for an odor we can’t see or smell, for longer and longer. To get a dog to search at the “quality” and “intensity” we want will take more than just two 6-week sessions, but it is all about the dog….and in getting the dog in the right mindset so he wants “to try for us,” so that he wants “to take risks for us,” and so that he wants “to problem-solve for us as his partner.” In doing that, we need to train in quick short bursts. But, as a student, since you can’t work your own dog other than in quick bursts, then it is wonderful if you are able to watch other dogs work so that you begin to educate “your eye” as to when a dog is hunting and when that dog is not. Each dog is unique but there are common denominators that one can start to see if you have enough dogs to watch. So, starting out with 6 dogs in a class is wonderful!!
Also, 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. So, please check out my Equipment List on my website www.scentinelnosework.com to see what kinds of foods work best. You will see that I list several different types of 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!!!
If your dog has a sensitive tummy, it is still possible to use the “smell” of the Al Fresca Roasted Garlic Sausage on your reward food. Fill a large glass jar with 4-5 cups of kibble that your dog is able to eat. Microwave and slice lengthwise four garlic sausages and place inside a plastic container that will fit inside the glass jar along with the kibble. (A long narrow plastic container shaped like a Pringle Potato Chip container works best). Punch small holes along the sides of the plastic container to allow the odor to seep out. Alternately, you can place the sliced sausages on top of the kibble on a piece of plastic (but there may be some seepage of oil into the kibble if you do it this way). Shut the glass jar up for 24 hours and let the odor of the sausage stink up the kibble. Use the stinky kibble instead of the sausage as your primary reward food.
Gail McCarthy CNWI