Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Shaping the Bark Indication for Search Dogs

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Transfer to a Helper

When the dog transfers the bark alert training to another person other than the handler, the dog should start with someone it knows and is comfortable with. The bark alert will began from step one as if the dog had never been trained to bark by the handler. The helper starts with only one bark and builds up to marking strong barks. Do short five minute sessions and document frequency of barks during 1 minute increments. A baseline data collection can be done with the handler to determine the number of barks the handler can get from the dog. The helper should use this criteria as a goal to work towards. When the helper is getting the same number of barks from the dog as the handler did in the baseline data then the next step may be taken.

Use a helper the dog isn’t as familiar with and again drop back to the beginning. Note behavior during these training sessions. If any displacement activity occurs then drop back to just giving the dog treats and develop a comfort level with the dog before going on to the bark training with the new person. The handler stands close to the dog during the sessions but does not say anything. Eventually the handler will increase the distance away from the dog as the comfort level is built and the dog shows complete engagement with the helper. This develops confidence in the dog and the ability to work away from the handler so that handler dependency never becomes an issue.

The helpers are varied before doing different body positions. Once the dog is relaxed with the exercise then positions and expressions of the helpers are varied. The helpers will initially look away when trying to get the bark alert, then they will look directly at the dog. Expressions are changed and unusual noises are made such as high squeals and moaning. The helper can be dressed up to look odd with strange hats, glasses, clothing, coats, etc. Positions are changed to sitting, prone, supine, standing, squatting, and rolling on the ground. This is desensitization training for anything unusual the dog will encounter during its search career.


Short quick runaways (RA’s) may be done either before the desensitization training or at the same time. Initially the RA is only several feet. A series of quick drops are done with the handler running up to retrieve the dog during reward from the helper. The first series of RA’s is rewarded on arrival to the helper without a bark. The dog should understand the game after the first trial of quick successive runaways and immediate reward. Then change to quick successive runaways with three to five barks on arrival. This is a fun training game for the dog and can be done as a motivational tool throughout the dog’s training career.

Eventually the RA will lead to an out of sight problem. Remember the new variable is the RA so lower the criteria for the bark response to only a few barks. If the bark training has been built correctly, there should not be any sign of displacement behavior with this step. The criteria is a quick direct line to the helper without stopping to sniff the ground. If the dog stops to sniff, then stop the trial immediately without reward. DO NOT allow the dog to engage in a long repertoire of unwanted behaviors . This is sloppy training and will carry over in the future. The dog does not have to end on a high note each and every time. If this becomes the issue then the handler will allow the dog to engage in this activity which then becomes a long chain of sniffing, messing around, then bark alert. Be very concise in the final picture and be very clear to the dog about your expectations. Do not correct for these behaviors by giving a verbal “no”, rather take the dog and restart the trial. The correction is not getting to the toy reward. Ongoing verbal corrections drop the confidence level of the dog during early phases of training.

©Susan Martinez All Rights Reserved

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