Most Valuable Concept in Training Your Dog by Karen M. Haller

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The Most Valuable Concept in Training Your Canine 

The most valuable concept gained throughout my courses, and especially in the Human Remains Detection Course, has been Relationship Value. Aycock mentions that when he instructs handlers at his training school in Virginia, that he issues classroom instruction in intervals inside the classroom, then he proceeds to the field for the hands-on work where the student watches as he works their dog (London Hanover University. (2014). Week 1 Application. Retrieved from LHU, Cani 234). Not only is the student- handler learning “the terms and structure and seeing it happen by strong example” the handler is learning how to have a relationship with his or her canine. A strong relationship with your canine through demonstration, motivation, encouragement and quick response of the primary and secondary reward are key components of any type of training  whether training the canine or teaching the handler to train the animal. Without Relationship Value, the other steps for training a canine in narcotics, wilderness, trailing and HRD will not develop.

            My son recently relayed a story to me about a family he knows that constantly wants to hit their dog when it does something wrong in the household. He became irate and told the parent of his friend “Is this the way you discipline an animal, by beating it? Take some obedience classes; there are better ways to train a dog.” Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training mentioned in our text immediately came to my mind when my son relayed the story to me. Whether at home or on the field, teaching obedience, or training a discipline, such as HRD, the teacher-handler must model good behavior and technique desired, must praise and reward immediately and must be an encouraging and positive person in order for their canine to be confident and strong at his or her job.

I was proud of my son, because he has learned these principles from me since he was nine years old how to train a canine in obedience. Now he trains his wilderness canine with me beautifully in such a quiet, flowing manner that one really thinks a choreographed dance is being demonstrated on the field. He has a solid relationship of trust based on training principles that demonstrate concepts to be learned in small steps. He has learned to model each new concept for his dog. He has learned to motivate and encourage so that his dog can gain confidence in the field and work independently however, be obedient as well. He knows to offer a quick and efficient reward (her toy immediately upon a find) to elicit that motivation and drive for the next session and subsequent find. Training in small steps as Aycock states in our Application Week1, (or scaffolding), modeling the behavior you desire your canine to elicit, and being positive and encouraging create that Relationship Value necessary for a strong and accurate HRD canine.

Our class text for HRD training has a section entitled, “Patience, Perseverance, and Praise” which adds to the Relationship Value concept delineated by Aycock. Rebman, David and Sorg emphasize constant and quick reward at or as close to the HRD source in order to strengthen the dog’s commitment to odor. They mention to mark the desired behavior and that to time it properly is critical. Like Aycock, handlers should teach in small steps and spiral concepts back, or drop down a level. When training, the sessions should be varied in length, with repetitions and difficulty level incorporated as when doing interval work to maintain the high drive and motivation in the canine and the handler as well. The authors state that the location of the scent sources should be varied and the amount of scent sources or negatives added and varied as well, again to maintain high interest and drive for the canine. (Rebman, A., David, E., Sorg, M. (2000).Cadaver Dog Handbook.CRC Press). Once again, Aycock, Rebman, David, Sorg, as well as my son above, demonstrate the base for creating a strong HRD dog: a very strong Relationship Value developed from the beginning of training.

According to Rebman, David and Sorg, (2000) canine teams that have already had scent training perform better in HRD. Why? The handler can already read the dog’s body language. I have been training my own Bloodhound and German Shepherd for almost five years in trailing for Search and Rescue. I have taught my son and a friend how to work their Border Collies successfully in Wilderness Search and Rescue as well.  I have learned by watching carefully how each canine moves while searching. I know each canine’s tells, or signs, when indicating a negative, when getting closer to the find, when losing the trail or scent, when finding it again, when having difficulty at the start, when restarting, and how they quickly snap the head, turn the body, raise the ears, wag the tail and bounce or circle upon the final find. As a result of intense training in the field over the years, I know our dogs. Transferring the skills they and I have learned to a new discipline such as HRD is exciting. The techniques are the same, the environment and type of find is different. However, as my instructor just reminded me last week, “The really cool thing about HRD is that there are no rules. Death and crime do not have rules. Therefore, you can get really creative with your training: materials, ages, location, how you set, how you approach, how you have helpers assist, etc.” (Aycock).

 Just like when I am teaching my students graphing in math, they find that graphs are found in science and social studies as well. The graph may show a different statistic, but finding out how to interpret the graph is the same. I trail with my Bloodhound and Shepherd, or my son sends out his Border Collie out in a 180 arc. We are finding live people who are lost or injured. The techniques we use to “Find,” and the cues we use to mark, “Good, Go” and the timing of the reward with great, enthusiastic praise, the way in which we use interval training with scaffolding or modeling in small steps and varying up the intensity, number of sources and negatives incorporate procedures that can be adapted and modified in HRD training. Once you have developed creativity in your training and teaching, as a handler, you can keep your canine motivated and encouraged; to maintain that drive to work for a very long time, as long as you and your canine have the energy and desire to continue.

“Motivational education is the strength of the relationship between human and canine” (Aycock). Aycock mentions that humans and canines are not the same species; we are very different, but we have a relationship with each other that we both function on two overall behaviors, which are play and fear (LHU. (2014). Week 1 Application. Retrieved from London Hanover University, Cani 234).

Relationship Value therefore is the most important concept to be taught when teaching a handler how to train their canine in HRD and in any canine discipline. In our class application for Week 5, I had to make a plan. I entitled it, “So, You Want to Train in HRD: Let’s Get Started.” In order to develop a solid relationship with your canine, you have to know how to play. We teach our children play before they enter school or formal academic studies. We teach puppies to play with tug toys, rags and balls as a precursor to protection exercises for patrol dogs. Why should we stop just because we get older? Play is essential for relationship building and to instill confidence and strength in your dog, just as it is for a child. Therefore, I begin my training with play, regardless of the age of my canine. The two-ball game mentioned by Aycock in our Week 2 application is a great way to begin and end a training session. Throwing one ball, while the other is hidden under your arm, then throwing it when your canine returns with the first, is essential for building drive and motivation in your canine. When your canine has completed his or her HRD repetitions, making finds or indicating negatives, the two-ball game should be played immediately after, like a cool down for the dog. Again, the game builds motivation and increases drive for the next session, but most importantly, play also builds the long-term memory in the brain that a session of finds equates to play, a high value reward at the end whether it follows the next day or two days after. The stage is set for the canine to remember that when he or she goes out with the handler to find an odor in a specific environment, it does not matter where, play and reward follow every time in addition to much well-earned praise. Just as modeling how to search for odor using point-to-point technique, crawling under and climbing over, moving your body forward, especially keeping your feet moving is Relationship Value, incorporating play into the HRD training sessions is part of relationship building, modeling drive and motivation for your canine.

It is also very important to train in many realistic environments when training your canine to detect odor in HRD, as in trailing, wilderness and narcotics. I believe the more varied experiences your canine has encountered, the more confident he or she will be when searching for odor in HRD. Therefore, I train in various weather conditions and in different locations. I would not tell a student that a canine cannot differentiate between a truck, van or VW Bug. When I pull up in my Trailblazer after work, I receive the normal greeting of recognition and happiness from my dogs. When a visitor pulls up our long drive however, my dogs know the vehicle is not one of ours. Aycock states in Cani 234 Week 5 Application (2014) that, “There are more vehicle searches for HRD evidence that end up in court testimony for the handler than any other area of searches.” It makes sense therefore, to train on vehicles. Rebman, David and Sorg (2000) recommend taking your canine to junkyards. We have trained our canines on farm equipment in farm fields and in the storage area on the farm. Our canines have searched the exterior and interior of tractors, backhoes, trucks, as well as outside of and the interior of small cars and larger SUVs. It is necessary to have your canine used to the different surfaces of the exterior and interior of the vehicles. Trainers forget that a tractor has  criss-crossed metal steps, maybe rusty floorboards and oily interior around the gears. Leather has a different texture than vinyl. Texture training is very important, so we train on many surfaces. Expose the canines to every vehicle environment possible.

Rebman, David and Sorg (2000) detail the procedure for line ups. In the section titled “Procedure for Scent Line-up,” the authors mention that when using vehicles, number the vehicles, use similar types of vehicles, and do not simply place the source at the front or end of the line-up (2000). This makes sense because the canine may associate a certain type of vehicle with the odor. If the handler inadvertently places odor with reward in the same make, model, color and size of vehicle two or three times in a row, the canine may make an association that the reward will be found in that particular type of vehicle. Instead, using the same model vehicle, place the sources all around the exterior in different locations and be sure the find is not always in the same spot. The mixed placement of the source teaches the canine to search all over the exterior then later the interior of the vehicle for odor, not just to search for a specific vehicle.

The main point is to vary the location of the scent when creating lessons for HRD finds. The canine will learn to search for the odor where ever the handler takes him or her and gives the “Find” command. The dog has it engrained in the long-term memory pathway that “Find” means look for an odor and tell me, or give me a negative indication that nothing is present. The size, shape, position of the area being searched is not important; searching for odor however, is the goal. Aycock believes that handlers should teach the canine to search the exterior of the vehicle before the interior (LHU Cani 234, Week 5 Application). His approach makes perfect sense because the handler and canine will arrive at the scene and work odor from around the vehicle’s exterior moving in towards the interior.

Using the play at the beginning of each training session, incorporating the point-to-point method, modeling with Relationship Value, and training in many varied environments with vehicles as the main focus, the canine should be able to approach a vehicle with confidence and alert to the exterior. If negatives are present and indicated but then the canine indicates on a door entry point, the canine with the same drive and motivation learned through play and practice is able to enter the vehicle to alert and find or give a negative indication to say not here, move on. The point is: Relationship Value, Play and training sessions in various settings are where I would begin when training a canine handler/dog team in HRD.  

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