By Certified Trainer Sgt. Adam Slater
Simplistic Training + Consistency = Great Success
When I attended my first basic handler school I was new to the canine world. I worked as a decoy only a handful of times and had never been on the other end of the leash. I had developed my own preconceptions about what the world of canine would be like with no valid information or training to back these thoughts up. I was a bit apprehensive about going all the way across the nation to train with a dog I didn’t know and I trainer I had only spoke to on the phone.
The first day of school my instructor started me on a training regime I still use today. My instructor gave me several tools for my “tool box”, if you will. He told me, “If you don’t deviate from these you will be successful.” He was right!
The purpose of this article is to share with you a few of these training tools. They have been extremely valuable to me and my K-9 partners and have given us great success. If I can assist even one person by sharing the simplistic training knowledge I have gained, and utilized, it will totally be worth the effort placed into writing this! I will share these with you one at a time, understanding they are all interconnected. Obviously the things I will discuss here are not the only things needed to be successful, but is a solid foundation in which to start a K-9 program or create improvements.
This seems like an appropriate place to start. Motivation should be one of the biggest tools in your tool box! Have fun! Have fun with training, have fun with live tracks, have fun with obedience, have fun when you and your canine take a potty break.
One of the first things I read in the ASCT basic handler training manual advised to always conduct motivational training! Motivational is defined by Dictionary.com as: Designed to promote the desire or willingness to do or achieve something. Doesn’t that sound like what we are trying to do with our canines? Keep in mind, motivation is several things occurring at once to make the experience awesome for you and your canine and get that dopamine flowing! Some of these things are: having fun, praising your dog, being energetic, using modeling behavior (search with your dog), adding high value to the reward by being involved, and being happy for your dog. This creates rewarding experiences between you and your canine, cementing these positive memories, while greatly enhancing your canine’s desire to play this game in the future.
When we do a good job at work, how do we feel when our boss tells us, “Great Job”? It makes my day! Give your canine that feeling. Talk to him, let him know you are proud of him, tell him when he does a good job. Be excited to work! If you are excited your partner will be excited. Understand if you are not motivated your canine will not be motivated.
Simply said, be consistent! Train like you’re going to a live deployment, every time. No matter what Odin and I are doing, building search, training track, or a live track I treat the experience the same.
If you watch any professional sport, the athlete has a routine they go through before the event. A batter has the same number of practice swings. A basketball player has the same number of dribbles prior to the free-throw. The reason an athlete establishes a routine is not any different from the reason we should have a consistent routine in the canine world. Routines make the probability of a successful outcome higher. In addition, think of the canine as one of your teammates on the team. If your teammates know your routine, they know what to expect or what is coming next.
Where this is important for a canine is, it allows your canine to remain in high prey drive without adding in too much defensiveness. If your normal training routine is pretty mellow and then you get a live call out and suddenly the routine changes to extremely excited or overly loud, this could add defensiveness to your canine. The equivalent would be the canine asking, “Dad what’s wrong? What’s going on?” If you do things in the same order, with the same demeanor, it will not only create a rhythm for you, it will create consistency in your canine. If we can prepare for each track in a way that revitalizes those memories from previous experiences, where the encounter was enjoyable and rewarding, it will ultimately cause the canine to be extremely excited about what is to come in the near future.
HANDLER LAID TRACKS
Handler Laid Tracks has been the corner stone for my partner and my successes. Don’t forget the basics! I was taught by my trainer to use a ratio of 1:1. Meaning if you do one unknown track (You don’t know the route of the decoy), you do one handler laid track the next time to tighten the canine back up. This is extremely important when you conduct an unknown live track where the canine does not get a capture (reward). The same is true in the detection world. What happens to your canine if you do, say five, live searches without an alert? The canine wants his toy, you need to do training and set him up for a success.
Think of it this way, say you work for a month and when payday comes the boss says, “Sorry guys no paycheck this month.” How motivated are you going to be to come to work tomorrow? You’re not! However, let’s say you come to work anyway, hoping the money will be on the way soon. Do you think that employee’s work output will be at a high level or noticeably diminished? Sure it would be diminished, because there has been no paycheck or reward. A canine is no different in this concept.
The canine wants its paycheck (Reward, ball, towel, tug). Not only does this keep the canine wanting to work, it adds to the value of the reward. In essence, if your training is consistent and done in this manner of a 1:1 ratio, you will see your canine engaging more, and adding a high amount of value to getting, and possessing, the reward. Almost like receiving a pay raise!
Conducting a handler laid track after an unknown track, is also important because canines can be like children. If you allow the canine to walk off the track for ten feet this time, it turns to twenty, then fifty and so on until you are not even in the same zip code of the person you are looking for. The handler laid track is a known track, where the turns and rewards are known. This allows the handler to give corrections if needed, keeping the canine engaged and honest. In other words, the canine is not going to be allowed to force a track and take the handler for a “walk”, where no scent or decoy is located.
Handler laid tracks are also a great tool to work on or trouble shoot issues you may be having with your canine. For instance, my first canine, Neeko had a find where he visually saw the suspect approximately fifty yards away after air scenting him, due to heavy wind. After this live track, I followed my training and placed a handler laid track for him the very next day. I noticed Neeko’s head was primarily in the air. After all, this had worked for him the day prior. I used handler laid tracks ONLY for the next week and placed several intermediate rewards (rewards along the track prior to the end) along the track in short increments. This pulled Neeko’s head back to the ground because he would not find the rewards if he was not searching the ground scent. I also made sure I aged the tracks for a longer time period to ensure the ground scent had time to release its gases. After the week of doing specifically handler laid tracks Neeko had his head back down and was tracking again with great success.
Lastly, handler laid tracks will allow a handler to learn the canine’s negatives and work on timing. If you don’t know what your canine’s negatives look like, how will you know when to begin processing on a live track? These training tracks will allow you to read your canine and know when the negative is coming prior to receiving it. By reading you canine, you can work on your timing and act as if you are “looking” for the correct track prior to the negative being provided. Inevitably, your canine will see you are looking for the track and assist you in this task. You will be looking where the track is, because you laid it! (Don’t go Dummy on Dummy) The canine will then re-acquire and you will continue on your way. This is a great skill to be practiced on handler laid tracks and since I have mastered this single skill, Odin and I have recorded several captures from it alone. Handler laid tracks are extremely simple, however offer an unbelievable amount of success if done property.
The last tool I will talk about today, is something I have adopted and it WORKS! Train every day! I train with Odin every workday. It goes back to us talking about the paycheck. Do we get paid every day for our efforts? Sure we do. A canine is no different. He doesn’t want to get up, get in the car, and only ride around all day without receiving his reward. If you train your canine every day you will see his excitement level increase and notice he is happy to be at work.
This is probably where most of us fail. If it’s raining, snowing, or really hot we say…. I’ll just do a really good job with him tomorrow. Then tomorrow turns to next week and so on. This is not the answer. Your canine does not understand that. Do you remember where I said it’s not always a glamorous world being a canine officer? If you want to have a highly successfully canine, train him every day. It doesn’t have to be long or hard, but you need to ensure you are keeping your canines eternal fire stoked. If you simply train, you will accomplish everything we have talked about above and have success.
Obviously there are several other things you can, and should do, to have a highly successfully canine program and training program. This article is solely to show you some of my main building blocks which have allowed us to experience some awesome success. I have learned not to overthink things, but to work with my canine and interpret the things he is telling me. This comes easily from working hard on the tools above. I believe these will greatly assist you and add to your team’s success! I hope this information = success for you and your partner in the near future!