Detection dog training is unique 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” that we want 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 order to do that, we need to train in quick short bursts. Also, the primary reward food you use to start your dog in his training 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. Walking into a search area where the odor of primary is “whisper-light,” is the death-knell to developing the “mindset” we want in our detection dogs. We do NOT want our novice detection dogs to “wonder” what the heck he is doing in that search area!! So, we need the odor to hit him in the face as soon as he walks up into the search area. And then, your dog’s only job is to “find something” that he “knows” is there — and, since your dog can find a muffin-crumb if he is motivated to do so, finding a bowl filled with some luscious reward food that the dog really, really wants is easy-peasey!! As such, the sequence of walking into a search area and immediately encountering odor 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 always be something luscious to be found if the dog makes the effort to search for us and, in doing so, empower your dog in his searching!! That’s really what detection dog training is all about. So, please check out my Equipment List here 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 — THE VERY 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 (“nested bowls”). 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 or if for some other reason you do not want to use Al Fresca Roasted Garlic Sausage, it is still possible to use the “smell” of the Al Fresca Roasted Garlic Sausage on your reward food. It is not as good as using the real thing, but it may work for your dog. 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.
Alternatively, you can purchase a grill tray and top, the kind that usually comes with new Toaster Ovens. See photos below. You can use Google to find a grill tray and top that will fit into your white training boxes. Just make sure the grill tray and top you buy is not too wide to fit into your boxes and not too high so that the top of the box will still close when you place your two nested bowls on top of the tray and top. In training, you can fill the bottom of the tray with real, microwaved Al Fresca Roasted Garlic Sausage. Place the top over the tray and use a rubber band to secure the top on the grill tray so that your dog cannot access the sausage. Place the grill tray and top on the bottom of your white training box. Then place your two nested bowls on top of the grill tray and top, filled with whatever good quality reward food your dog is able to eat on top. You will be able to feed your dog out of the two nested bowls but the odor of the Al Fresca Roasted Garlic Sausage will still be swirling around and out of the interior of the hot-box, thereby creating the kind of strong odor we want to use when starting new detections dogs.
Gail McCarthy CNWI