Sometimes you know something, but it takes a new situation to remind you of it, and to reinforce it.
I forgot a critical element when I started my new dog Rocco on the detection of human remains. I started out rewarding Rocco with the same toy Ruger likes because, well, it was in my pack. But Ruger’s toy is rubber and sometimes hard to pull out of a pocket quicky. With a beginning dog, you want to reward behavior instantly. So for no other reason than to avoid ripping my pants I switched to a toy that was similar, but made of canvas not rubber. It simply came out of my pocket easier.
Ho-Lee-Cow. I couldn’t believe the difference in Rocco.
His play has become much more animated. He’s much more reluctant to give me back the toy. He’s a complete bull-in-a-china-shop when I toss it someplace, and he’s even nipped my fingers a couple times trying to get it back from me. (Just part of being a dog handler.)
My point is that if you’re not getting the behavior you want from your dog, part of the problem might be the reward. Virtually every dog owner is trying to get certain behaviors from their companion. You first need to make sure the dog knows what’s expected, but the other half is making it worth their while.
Consider the following:
Bigger version of the same toy (yes, it works).
Let the dog choose from a sack of toys.
Longer praise and play.
Really yummier treats (if food is your reward).
The little twerps are actually capitalists who would put Rockefeller to shame. They’ll do what you want, but the price has to be right.
I’m asked a lot by dog owners whether their dog could be a search dog. Many times they seem genuinely interested in the process, until they learn the training requires about 300 hours per year for two years to get that first dog mission-ready.
The American Kennel Club has an outstanding option for those whose dog needs a job, or in this case, a hobby. K9 Scent work (sometimes called Nosework) is an AKC competitive dog sport that very closely replicates the world of cadaver dogs (or drug or bomb dogs). Instead of finding dead humans, the dogs are trained to find the odors of three different essential oils.
You can also find instructors in your area by Googling “Scent Work” or “Nosework.”
Can your dog do this? Of course. Some of the pug-nosed dogs might struggle, but pretty much every other breed can handle this. Some individual dogs won’t enjoy the game, just like some people don’t like tennis or Monopoly.
So get out there and have a good time with your dog, and Stay Found!
There are lots of good reasons to avoid leaving your dog in your car, but there are lots of good reasons why it happens. In SAR, we get our dogs used to being in the car because we might be given a task that doesn’t require the use of a dog. For example, helping to carry an injured subject out of the woods is an all-hands drill, but you don’t want a dog running around underfoot.
So if your dog is going to be in the car for an extended period, it’ll need potty breaks. Will you be around to do that?
Some dogs consider a car their “territory” and will defend it even if they’d welcome burglars into the family home. If yours is one of those dogs you should desensitize it to having strangers get it in and out of the car.
Start out by having a friend with whom the dog is familiar get it in and out, with you present. Have them (not you!) provide lots of treats as they go. Then move up to a stranger, but again with you present. Finally, have a stranger go up to the car with you nearby but out of sight.
If your dog just won’t accept a potty break from a stranger, that’s OK. At least you know. And if it will, all the better. It’ll put your mind at ease in situations where you might have some bigger issue going on.