Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Shaping the Bark Indication for Search Dogs

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An easy recipe is to take 1 pound of ground chicken, 1 cup of bread crumbs or flour or cornmeal, 2 Tablespoons of grated cheese, 1 Tablespoon of garlic, mix together and roll out on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Let cool and cut into small pieces. Other meats may be substituted for the chicken such as a can of tuna or salmon…the consistency of the treats will change depending on bread crumbs or cornmeal and meats used.

If developing a toy reward system try placing meals in a kong or other toy device that will encourage the dog to be more interested in the toy. Even if the dog is already focused on the toy, this training will develop an even greater interest in the toy. When using a toy as a reward in training, do not create a struggle with the dog over releasing the toy. Exchange it with food and make sure to train the release separately so it is rewarding for the dog to give up the toy. Many breeds are very possessive over their toy and handlers make this too big of an issue. The dog often runs away with the toy knowing the handler will fight for it. Put the toy on a line and pull the dog back in to re-engage in play. The toy is released and the dog wins but the trainer has the end of the line and reels the dog back in to play again. When the play session is over and the trials are finished then allow the dog to go back to the kennel with the toy.

Be creative with how you reward the animal. Food may be used during the training session and a jackpot with the toy reward may end a session. The flow of training must be kept constant as that allows for more behaviors in a timed trial. More repetition of the target behavior develops the dog’s memory for that response. If playing with a toy or fighting to get the dog to release a toy stops the flow in any way, then reward with the toy at the end of the training session. Once the dog is easily releasing the toy on command then the toy may be used as a primary reinforcer during trials and varied with food rewards.

The primary reinforcer may be varied at any point in training. Use several different types of foods and toys so the dog never knows what to expect. Training is all about keeping the focus of the animal and if the trainer is unpredictable with the reward system, then the animal is more interested.

Conditioning to People

Next the dog must be conditioned to people. Start by having everyone give treats to the dog at training. Watch the behavior of the dog and make sure it is comfortable with people. During the week away from search training, the handler should take the dog to parks, schools, airports and other public places to develop good social skills with strangers by asking everyone to give treats to the dog. The dog soon realizes that everyone in its world loves him and will have good treats to give. Below is a list of displacement behaviors to watch for during this phase of training:

Diverted eye gaze
Sniffing the ground
Submissive urination or licking
Pulling away from the stranger

If any of the above behaviors occur, then continue socializing the dog until it becomes more focused on people. Starting bark alert training at this point would shut the dog down as it would not be comfortable enough to bark in the face of a stranger. This would place the dog in conflict and create more displacement behavior eventually leading to a dog that is unreliable with the bark alert in the field.

Once the criteria is met with focus on people with food, then have the dog play toys with people it feels comfortable with. At training sessions the dog can play with several people by passing off the toy (if tug is the game) to another person. The handler stands close by but does not engage with the dog at this time. All play comes from the helpers. The handler is the dog’s security system so watch to see if the dog acknowledges the handler’s presence or lack of.

©Susan Martinez All Rights Reserved

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