Use of Your Voice in Detection Dog Training

In March 2010, I sent the following post to my students and, as I was asked today about my thoughts about the use of the voice in detection dog training, I thought I would repost this email again:

Good Evening!!

GREAT classes tonight!!  All of your dogs at the various Levels continue to do really well!! And it was a really hard class for all of you!! :):)

If I can, I will try to do a little write-up on one of the topics we briefly scratch over in class.  One of them is the “use of your voice,” something I feel is a very powerful training tool.  The advent of clicker training in to traditional dog training has been a HUGE boon to both handlers….and their lucky dogs, each of whom are now the recipient of “kinder, gentler training.”  But sometimes there is a feeling among positive trainers that you need to keep your mouth shut while rewarding and let the click/treat drive the behavior and, whatever energy the dog naturally puts in to working for that reward is the level of effort with which we have to work.  I disagree.  Especially for working dogs that need to work in complex, every changing environments.  I have seen dogs fall asleep after months of such training, even when handlers continued to incrementally increase the quality of the performance, or they put their dogs on intermittent schedules of reinforcement or they use varying systems of varying rewards.  Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely a trainer that uses markers….but I also believe that you need to make the reward “come alive” because your dog is living, sentient creature that is hardwired with drives and instincts which FEEL GOOD WHEN TAPPED INTO.  Now, while this does not apply to the training you are getting from me right now, one way of making the reward “come alive” is to present the food to the dog as if it is a tug toy.  Make the reward move AWAY from your dog so that he has to move quicker to get it instead of just dropping it at his feet.  But, we sure can’t do that, can we, if the dog is eating right out of the box or (as you soon will be doing if you are not already feeding by hand) if I am instructing you to feed over source!!!   Ha!  So, what to do??  Especially as I have also told that “Intensity to do the work is the criteria that you will monitor throughout your dog’s working career!”

Well, you can use your voice in a way that makes the dog want to move into the box (or into your hand when we get there) to get each sliver of food.  YOU DO THAT BY USING YOUR VOICE AND YOUR BODY LANGUAGE TO COMMUNICATE TO THE DOG THAT YOU ARE PART OF THE HUNT PROCESS AND THAT YOU ARE PROUD OF YOUR DOG’S EFFORTS!   The mindset I have when Lourda makes her find is to communicate with my voice and my body how much I appreciate her finding that scent and how worthwhile I believe her services to be and I might tease a little bit with my hand as I present the food to her, all the while starring at the box and NOT my dog. 

Now, I know that sort of sounds silly….sort of Zen like … but mindset is all important — as I said in class, “a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being tripped over.”  It is all about intent, about you’re your mindset, about your appreciation for your dog.  You know they can read you better than you can read yourself….so why not take advantage of a huge training tool – your mindset communicated by your body language and your voice!!!

So, a couple do’s and don’t’s…..

1)   Do use your voice in a way that communicates appreciation for your dog and that you are proud of your dog’s efforts;

2)   Do not use your voice loud and fast if you have a soft dog — you will end up backing your dog off.  If you watch Lourda and me, a dog that is very quick and always very aroused, I talk softly with her but I am at all times with her in “her hunt” and “in her find.”  But for a slower, less aroused dog, I might talk faster, in a higher pitched voice to communicate energy to my dog.  In others words, calculate the strength of your voice based on the dog you have at the end of the leash.  Communication does not have to be loud to be meaningful.

3)   Your voice should have some effect on your dog!!  There should be some reaction to the first time you use your voice correctly – the stronger dog’s tail may wag harder, they may push harder into the box or into your hand, the dog may simply seem happier, the soft dog more confident in his efforts as he takes the reward.

4)   Do not use your voice as the dog is hunting UNLESS the dog losses focuses and is not hunting.  We want the dog OUT IN FRONT OF US, focused on the boxes.  If you are constantly saying “Find It,” the dog is focused, at least partly, on you – and we do NOT want that at this stage.

5)   Do not use your voice when your helper is agitating the dog on the boxes to bring the dog’s attention to the boxes.

6)   Do not use your voice in a way that pulls the dogs attention OFF the boxes and onto you – even while rewarding, the dog’s focus should be in getting the reward out of the box, and the out of your hand when you get that far.

Well, that’s enough for now….always more to say….

Hope this helps!!  I will continue to share with you the knowledge I have acquired over the years….and I want you to share back!!  So, WRITE if you have any questions or any comments!!!



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1 Comment on “Use of Your Voice in Detection Dog Training

  1. My dog is over 14 yo and I believe is about 99% deaf. Do you have any other ways I can proceed if he’s not hearing me. Thanks for any help!

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