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  • Writer's pictureintegritynoseworx


Luck isn't a criteria and exposure isn't mastery. Far too often handlers and trainers mistake luck for ability. Success, in any endeavor, is a combination of ability and luck.

Who wants to luck their way into success though? Hope your way to understanding?

When you fall in love with the process of training, you understand the quality of your practice makes progress not perfect. What you practice is what you'll see in trial and operational detection.

Far too often I hear people talk about working crazy unrealistic hides. It's great that the dog gets lucky and finds the hide suspended at 15-20ft high. My question is always; did you train for them? Did you see the hide and call it? Did you know where the hide was and "HELP" your dog? These hides are cool but when you hear about people finding these hides you want ask have you mastered finding them or did you get lucky?

Science says; The reliance of some dogs on human cues has been shown to override olfactory or visual cues indicating the location of food (Szetei et al. 2003). This means that if our process builds in the reliance on cues, then later on we have to be aware of those cues impact.

Looking for a suspended hide creates an opportunity for handlers cueing their dogs into indicating. Staring at and overworking an area until a dog finally indicates is not actually training…

Regardless of breed, features/personality types that are attributed to success or failure in detection training, outcomes can likely to be affected or overcome by experience and training. The relative value of genetic selection versus experience management in shaping success in detection teams can’t be overstated. This essentially means we need to deliberately build (teach, train, proof) skills, not hope our way into understanding and indications.

If the stated Goal is; “to build the desire to search.” Then everything we do must be back chained to that objective and goal.

Then we need to ensure that our objectives and goals align with the capabilities of the specific dog and handler.

It seems simple enough but what gets lost in training is what is the goal of each session, and in the broader long term success of our teams.

Then we need to develop assessments aligned with those objectives and goals. What are the benchmarks that indicate the dog and handler have reached mastery?

For example; in this session the task is focused/specified on teaching the dog that odor pays. However, the implied learning is that the handler learns to observe changes of behavior looking for just noticeable differences in sniffing and searching behaviors and uses proper mark move pay techniques to deliver indirect reward. Then the benchmarks here could be;

DOG: goes to work immediately without being distracted, dog works away from handler independently and comfortably, finds target hide location among four total boxes, understands indicating on cold boxes receives no reinforcement, offers a durable “freeze” indication.

HANDLER: has built a “start the search/are you ready” behavior chain, is able to identify changes of behavior in their dog, stays calm and silent if the dog indicates on a non-target box, marks indication when nose is in the box and for the duration they choose, mark move pay technique of delivering indirect reward has improved. After delivering reward, gives the search command as the dog goes back to work.

These are just examples, not prescriptive. But, we need to think about this.

There are some inherent questions that need to be answered about training.

For example, what are our intended results? What will success look like? What challenges might we encounter? What have we learned from similar situations? What will make us successful this time?

They answer the essential question; What are we setting out to achieve?

So when we place a hide (let’s say suspended at 10-15ft, or in a plastic box with water or sand), what are we setting out to TEACH the Dog and Handler? What is the lesson they’re learning? How can they apply this lesson to what they’ll do at trial or operational context? What is the positive transfer of learning from this session to the next?

When we go into a training session we need to answer;

What am I working on?

What obstacles or hurdles am I trying to overcome?

Where is the trial location? What is the weather, temp, wind, humidity, terrain, and how will impact our team?

What potential distraction should I train to overcome?

All the above are the pre-task formative assessment or Before Action Review (BAR). These questions should paint the handlers expectations and they should go into a session expecting to see the hides meet their goals. The trainer and handler should be able answer what are we setting out to achieve.

After this is done we should be able to determine did my training and performance meet my expectations? After training, trial, and operational employment of your detection dog you should go back to your car and take notes.

  • Write down what happened, and diagram search areas and setups.

  • Take note of hide placements, heights, depths.

  • Remember distractions.

  • Flooring, furniture types, and any other environmental factors.

  • Also be mindful of time taken to search the area.

  • Take this to training with you and use it to guide your training plan for the next trial, or deployment.

This is a post employment assessment or After Action Review (AAR). These AARs answer questions; What actually happened? What worked? What didn't work? What should we differently next time?

And the most important question of all; Did my training prepare me for trial/deployment?

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.

Create goals, plan for them, and take nothing for granted. Train for success or hope for it. Just exposing handlers and dogs to odor or hide placements isn't enough. Failing to plan means planning to fail. What are your goals?

“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." - Thomas Jefferson

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