Fine readers this week we are trying something new. This week we have a guest writer. Joan a follow teammate and our team Sergeant from McLean County EMA, Search and Rescue, K-9 Operations wanted to help and try her hand writing a post. We introduced, Jesse her new K-9 partner and few months ago. Let us not forget her current partner K-9 Buzz. I thought this just might be fun. So below is Joan’s blog post discussing how to choose a training protocol.
Training Protocols….How to Choose
About the only thing two dog trainers can agree on, is that the third one is doing it all wrong. There are many protocols and approaches for training a SAR dog and we are always learning new techniques and advancing our skills. This is a great thing, but it can also create confusion and often stress when a trainer tries to determine what will be the best protocol for their new K9 partner. When I got my newest partner, Jessie, back in August I knew I wanted to train her for Human Remains Detection (HRD) work and I also knew I wanted to utilize a protocol that was new to me. Over the years I had seen some amazing results with a lot of dogs using this approach. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to work with the trainer that had developed this approach shortly after I brought Jessie home. This protocol involved imprinting puppies on the HRD odor as early as five weeks and then continuing that training so that within 3-4 weeks these puppies were ignoring all sorts of distractions, had tremendous commitment to odor, and were already shaping their trained final response. I started this protocol with Jessie at 9 weeks old but she did not progress in the same fashion as most of the other puppies. The trainer told me “she is too social” (which was really not a surprise given her breed: Golden Retriever) and that maybe I should consider doing live find/area search with her. I continued the odor imprinting work for about a eek after I returned home, but did not really see any significant improvements. So I began to question if this was the right work for her. I was now faced with making some choices. I opted to follow a different protocol, which basically does not start any real HRD detection training until the pup is at least 6 months old. In the meantime, training focuses on developing a reward system (drive for the toy) and playing “hunting” games to build the hunt drive. Other training focuses on engagement and basic control skills. Basically, those first six months allow the puppy to just be a puppy, play, develop, and build confidence. Jessie turned six months old a few weeks ago, so I decided to re-introduce the HRD detection work. Within a matter of only a few sessions she was hunting with tremendous focus, locating the target odor, and even offering an indication (a down) without any prompting or cueing from me. She is now CRAZY for her ball, so that has become her reward for her work. Now when I get her out of the crate to train she is dragging me to the training area with such enthusiasm and is so eager to work to get that ball reward. So even though this was not the protocol/training approach I wanted to use at the start, this has clearly been the best approach for THIS dog. The lesson here is that there are many protocols that will produce the end results we want in our SAR dog partner, but the key is finding the approach that is best suited to YOUR dog.