10 Tips for an effective K9 Training Session

  1. Have a Goal
    Have a clear, describable goal - body movement, gait, focus, speed

    Have a clear, describable goal – body movement, gait, focus, speed

    Don’t train a whole routine all at once if you still have kinks to work out. Go into training with a clear, identifiable goal. Work specifics like leash handling, speed, alert, converging odors or that perfect heel. Be clear what your expectations are, even write them down. Have a realistic outcome in mind.

  2. Have a Gameplan
    Once you know, what exactly you want to work on, have a plan on how to achieve your set goal. Don’t go on the field or in your search area just ‘winging it’ – that will lead to frustration and is not very effective. Don’t hesitate to deviate from your start plan though, if you see a new (or old) issue arise. For example, if your goal is to work on your leash handling and your dog all of a sudden shows issues with distractions, change plan. Concentrate on one issue, don’t try to tackle two or three problems in the same training run – most of the time, that is not only less effective, it can also create a whole other set of issues.

  3. Tailor the length of training to your dog’s abilities
    This should hardly come as a surprise, but we often tend to forget and train longer than we should, because we ‘set aside this amount of time’ or we ‘paid for an hour with a trainer’. But training is can be more effective when we cut it short, depending on the circumstance. A puppy or young dog has a different attention span than an adult dog. A dog, who recently was sick or injured may also not be able to concentrate as long as a healthy dog. Hot weather might call for a shorter training and so does a new environment, if your dog is easily distracted. Know your dog and know your dog’s attention span.

  4. Stop while you are still having fun and don’t train, when you’re emotional
    Still having fun...

    Still having fun…

    This ties into the above issue. Don’t train until you don’t have your dog’s attention anymore. If you have to ask yourself: ‘Should I do one more?’ – the answer is ‘No!’ more often than not. End on a high note. Don’t get frustrated. If you don’t feel up for training, if you’re angry at something or someone, if you are already frustrated – don’t start training. Instead relax and play or just cuddle with your dog. Pick up training when you feel calm. This doesn’t only lead to a more reliable and stable dog, but it also improves your bond and keeps the trust between the two of you.

     

  5. Take care of your training aids
    Your training aids are important. Leashes, collars, toys, food, odor/scent articles, whatever you need for your training, needs to be in tip top shape. The best game plan won’t help you, if your training odor is off or you have the wrong reward toy/food. This is especially important for scent detection training. Know what you are training with, know your aids and know your tools.

    Bed bug vials are used for scent detection dogs

    Bed bug vials are used for scent detection dogs

  6. Maintain a training log
    A training log can help you identify issues, help troubleshoot and solving those issues and re-create training scenarios. It can also help in developing a good strategy for your next training. It is your ‘black-on-white’ memory.

  7. Variety is your friend
    Train in many different environments

    Train in many different environments

    Once your dog shows you the behavior you are asking for, change the environment. Change the reward. Change the odor amount, if you are doing scent detection. You never know, what you will encounter at a trial, competition or work place. Train with distractions, outside, inside, day time, night time, shiny floors, dark corners, spectators. Change the containers you use to keep the odor for your scent detection. Use different leashes. Vary the amount of food for reward or time you play with your dog. Use your training log to record the environment you trained in.

  8. Wear proper training attire
    Closed-toed shoes are a must, unless you don’t mind your dog pushing himself off on your bare foot, leaving behind painful scratches and bruises. Make sure, you have everything on you that is needed for your training, such as reward and leash. Be prepared and have a first aid kit nearby.

  9. Give your dog a break
    Dogs need breaks to process what they learned. There are numerous studies, not only on rats and humans, but also on dogs, showing, that given some downtime, the individuals outperformed others, who did not get a break. Additional to the increase in performance, downtime provides opportunity for a quick canine first aid check (temperature, scratches, etc.) and hydration.

  10. The Power of Videotaping your training
    Make sure, your dog is used to the video camera

    Make sure, your dog is used to the video camera

    When you are working your dog, there are lots of things going through your mind. Leash handling, environment, controlling/not controlling your dog, anticipating… Nuances and subtleties are quickly overlooked – yet that’s what makes us progress. If you have video of your training, you can sit back after working (give your dog a break) and study each aspect of the run. How did you move that leash? What was your body language telling the dog? What was the dog’s behavior telling you? We all get set in repetition and with repetitions come handler errors. The dog alerts away from source, because you don’t reward at source. The dog anticipates a recall because of your leg movement. Nothing will show your mistakes as honestly as a video.

     

There is a number 11, a simple step, which is so often overlooked: use common sense. If your gut tells you, that something doesn’t feel right, stop, take a step back and think. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. A responsible trainer will discuss your feelings with you and make necessary changes to the training plan.

 

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America’s Rescue Dogs Got Talent!

Search and Rescue dog Frida at a training after finding a live ‘victim’

Watching one of the recent ‘America’s Got Talent’ and seeing the group of rescue dogs performing amazing tricks, reminded me of all the working rescue dogs out there. While we appreciate dogs, who were bred to relentlessly work on finding those roadside explosive devices or flushing out terrorists and criminals, there are more dogs coming out of a rescue situation, proving that they are just as excellent in doing their job. The National Search Dog Foundationis a non-profit organization, founded in 1996 by Wilma Melville, after she worked with her dog at the terrorist-bombed Federal Building in Oklahoma City and realized, that there are not enough search and rescue dog teams in the Nation. The organization has volunteers and staff members combing through shelters throughout the country to find canines who fulfill the extraordinary skills it takes for them to become a search dog. They train the dogs, once rescued and now to become rescuers, and their handlers. Some of their dog teams have been at the 9/11 grounds, searched areas after Hurricane Katrina, went to Haiti and Japan, working hour after hour to find any living survivors. However dire the situation, when the search dogs appear, everything just seems a little bit better and a glimpse of hope returns.

Searching for bed bugs

But the Search Dog Foundation is not the only organization who employs former shelter dogs. Many groups turn to shelters in order to find those unadoptable high drive and toy crazy dogs. Often these dogs have been turned in by their owners, because they were not able to handle them, in some cases, they may have turned aggressive over their toys. Sometimes, the dogs would jump the fence over and over again, because they were just too bored. Dogs, who need a job, cannot be tired out by a brisk walk in the morning. They need a lot of mental exercise, high drive play, strenuous physical exercise and obedience training – not necessarily something, a typical pet dog owner knows how to do.

Finding a dog at the shelter and train it for work is as rewarding as winning the lottery for me, but it is also very hard to turn away a dog, who almost has the potential and may be too much for a pet, but is not quite there. For most sad stories, there are successes though. My own personal dog, Frida, who got rescued from a shelter in Los Angeles, is a Search and Rescue dog and I have been fortunate to since find and train dogs for many other jobs, such as cellphone, explosive, narcotics and contraband detection, even e.coli and bed bug detection. With the right dog, any K9 job can be done – there are many talents and hidden treasures in our shelters!

If you are toying with the idea of rescuing a dog, here is a starter on how to find the right companion for you. And how to select a dog from a breeder vs. a rescue. Most shelters and rescue organizations are looking for volunteers to walk or foster their dogs. This may be a good idea to get started and find out more about the responsibility of what it means to own a dog!

Contraband detection K9 during a break

K9 Nose Work (R) – A Fun and Competitive Sport for Everybody!

When I first started K9 Nose Work (R) with my old Shar Pei mix, I did it because I wanted to give my dog an outlet, a job, where we could spend time together aside from the all working dog environment I’m in most of the time. I had no expectations and was pleasantly surprised at how this sport was already well defined and professional, while still keeping it fun.

Exterior Search


Simba, my old male dog, does not like close contact with other male dogs and Nose Work was ideal for him. Although he still likes to goof around, he takes his sniffing seriously and soon got the hang of the game. He has surprised me many times, working and finding the target odor and showing it to me, when I thought, he was just playing around. And yes, he even managed to give me condescending look, waiting for his reward, while I was still scrambling to open the pouch with his hot dogs inside.

K9 Nose Work (R) is a nation wide competitive sport for all kind of dogs. No breed is excluded and I’ve seen everything from Havanese  and Bernese Mountain Dogs to Great Danes. And of course the Shepherds and Labradors. There’s always the Shepherds and the Labradors. Goal of the sport is for the dog to ultimately find three odors: Birch, Anise and Clove. The odors are hidden anywhere, really, some of the founders are known to be very tricky with their hides. In a trial, several situations have to be passed, among them an inside room search, an exterior search and a vehicle search. You’ll feel like in a thriller, handling your dog like a pro bomb detection dog handler, even if your dog is a 12 pound Chihuahua! While the training does not compare to real life K9 detection, it focuses on the dog’s natural instinct of hunting behaviors. This is the sport, where we the dog teaches us, instead of the other way around. Maybe that is why it is so perfect for dogs with fear issues. I have seen dogs, too afraid to enter a room, to enthusiastically search that same room 2 weeks later!

This fun and educational sport started about 6 years ago, in 2006 and exploded in popularity almost immediately. There are now classes and competitions all over the Nation as pet dog owners finally have a competitive sport, that does not require a specific breed or an athlete handler. I not only recommend it to all my clients who want to do ‘something’ with their dogs, but also to those, who’s dogs are reactive when seeing other dogs, as there are never two dogs in the same room. I have seen amazing turnarounds in dogs – and in owners! But most of all, it is an exciting team work and something, you can work on at home or even incorporate in your daily walks.

For more information about K9 Nose Work visit www.funnosework.com or Rock Solid K9’s website.

Picking The Right Breed For Your Perfect Companion

Whether you are looking to add a four legged companion to your family, you want an active dog that helps you shed those extra pounds or a K9 with a job, the first step is always planning ahead to avoid as many surprises as possible. Here are a couple of steps that will help you to start out as a responsible dog owner.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) divides its 173 different recognized dogs into seven breed groups:

  • Sporting Group
  • Hound Group
  • Working Group
  • Terrier Group
  • Toy Group
  • Non-Sporting Group
  • Herding Group

Ask yourself a couple of question before you consider a specific breed:

Long Haired vs. Short Hair

– Do I prefer short or long hair?
Long haired fur does not necessarily mean more shedding. Some short haired dogs, like the Shar Pei, have hair which will stick to everything. Shedding sometimes is a sign of bad nutrition, but there are definitely breeds who tend to shed more than others. Dogs like poodles do not shed at all – and there are dogs who do not have fur at all, like the hairless Chinese Crested or the Xoloitzcuintli, the Mexican Hairless. A non-shedding dog does not necessarily mean, that a person who is allergic to dogs, will not react. Most people are allergic to a dog’s saliva, not the fur.
– How big of a dog do I want and am I prepared for the size?
Having a small apartment does not necessarily mean that you can only consider a chihuahua sized dog. Giant dogs like Great Danes may take up a lot of space, but they are generally also less active. If you provide enough exercise for them outside of the apartment, some bigger sized dogs are fantastic in a smaller indoor space. However, typically, bigger sized dogs tend to live a shorter life than smaller dogs. For example Great Danes or Bernese Mountain Dogs only have an average life span of about eight years. Additionally, medical attention may be more expensive as they require a bigger amount of medication. Last but not least: they most definitely take up more space on your bed!

Belgian Malinois are very active and not recommended as pet dogs

– Am I looking for a dog who is active and will require exercise and training?
Having an active dog can be both extremely fun and a curse at the same time. There are breeds who are not for the everyday pet owner. Working dogs like the Malinois or the Australian Shepherd need a lot of attention, training and exercise, physically and mentally. If you are looking for a dog who runs with you or accompanies you while  you are riding your bike, there are many active breeds who are also great pets like Dalmatians or Labradors. Maybe you are already set on a specific dog sport and are looking for a competing K9 partner. Depending on how serious you are about this sport, you might want to consider breeds who are already active in this particular sport. Some breeds are allrounders and fit many different sports or life styles like the German Shepherd or the Labrador.

– Is the dog mostly going to stay outside or in the house?
If a dog gets enough exercise and human interaction, there is nothing wrong with having a dog in the backyard, provided the climate allows it. Always make sure, your dog has shade, water (not frozen) and protection from harsh environment, like an isolated dog house. Some dogs prefer the outside to the inside. This is a good point to decide beforehand as it is more difficult to train a dog who was allowed to stay in the house, to stay outside. If you leave your dog outside, whether over night or just for short times during the day, make sure that your fences are high enough. Many dogs can jump way over 6 feet and if they are not exercised properly, they will. Some dogs are more likely to jump fences than others. Unfortunately, in today’s times, another thing to consider is how easy it is for neighbors or strangers to reach your dogs. Usually a kennel or a double fenced backyard is much safer.

– How much time can I comfortably spend with the dog every day?
Dogs should not be left alone for more than 8 hours at a time regularly. They are pack animals, bred to be human companions for thousands of years and need the human interaction. If you think, you will be out of the house longer, find out if your work place allows you to bring your new four legged friend or get a dog walker once a day.

– What kinds of traits am I looking for in a dog?
We have bred hundreds of different types of breeds for a reason: for their size, fur and looks but most importantly for their temperament and traits which make them suitable for their jobs. This is why we now have breeds with all these different quirks. Some dogs are more apt to jump, some bark more than others (fun tidbit: The Basenji, a hunting dog from central Africa, does not bark at all) and some will retrieve a tennis ball until they drop. When thinking about a dog’s temperament, it is also recommendable to think about your family’s future. Are you traveling a lot? Do you have children or are you expecting children in the near future? Are you thinking about moving soon?

Different climates for different breeds

– Is the climate I live in suitable for the dog I look at?
Having a dog who is native to colder regions may not be a good choice for the Southern California heat. On the other hand, a Mexican Hairless is probably not doing too well in Alaska. Learning about your favorite breed’s history can give you hints of whether or not this dog might be a good fit for where you live.

There are many ways to learn about different breeds. Numerous books have been written on specific or containing references to several breeds, there are TV documentaries and websites. Nothing, however, beats talking to an owner of a dog of your favorite breed, a breeder, or visiting a dog event like a dog show or a sport event where your favorite breed competes. Owners and breeders can give you first hand account on what they like about these dogs and their needs. And they can help you finding your new friend.

If you are thinking about a mix, mutt or heinz76, it is still important to do your homework and find the right breed for you. While there is no guarantee, that the mix containing your favorite breed will also show the traits you like about that breed, it may give you an idea of what’s ahead of you.

My next blog post will talk about getting a dog from a shelter or from a breeder and questions you should ask every rescue organization or breeder before you get your new friend.

Bed Bug Hunting with Dogs

Most people have heard about the steady advancement of bed bugs in our cities. Maybe you have even been a victim of their bites. But did you know that help is on the way in form of our furry, four-legged friends?

Dogs have been trained to detect everything from explosives and narcotics, live human scent in disasters, even sea turtle eggs or e.coli and certain forms of cancer. Now they are being trained for finding live bed bugs – and they come with a powerful weapon! A dog’s mighty sniffer boasts over 200 million olfactory receptors, while ours has a modest 5 million. But that’s not all: the part of a dog’s brain that analyzes scents is roughly 40 times larger than ours. This makes dogs perfect for helping us finding the literal needle in the haystack.

Bed bugs produce a distinctive scent that even we can smell, if the infestation is large enough. Once you have an infestation that big though, it is very difficult to get rid of it. That is why it is so important to catch the creepy crawlies before they multiply. Bed bugs are about as big as an apple seed and do not necessarily stick to your bed area. Dogs can be very effective and find a single bed bug – or even live eggs in a room within minutes. While they certainly are not always 100% spot-on, they are far more effective than any alternative. They are trained to give a specific cue, mostly a passive sit, once they found the requested scent. It’s quite a sight to watch a dog catch a faint whiff and work its way towards the source of the smell. Once found, the dog sits and waits excitedly for the reward – in most cases a toy or food.

It takes special dogs to work day by day, hunting for that specific critter. Typically they are overly active and very focused on either their toy or food – so much so, that they would do anything for it. They can not be fearful or frightened by dark rooms, shiny floors or confined spaces. They should be social, as they will encounter many people during work. Although many people believe, that beagles are the ideal breed for this particular detection, there are many breeds and mixes that work at least as well. The training typically takes 4 – 8 weeks, depending on the dog.

Here are a couple of common bed bug myths:

  • Bed bugs are so small, they cannot be seen by the naked eye.
    This is probably the one line we hear the most. It seems, many people mistake bed bugs for mites. Depending on when their last meal was, they are 3mm to 5mm in size and dark to a lighter brown. They are flat if they haven’t eaten for a while and blow up after a meal. Freshly hatched babies and eggs are more difficult to spot. Bed bugs are not clean and evidence can often be found: shed skins, blood and empty eggs.
  • Throwing cloths and pillows into the freezer for 24 hours will kill bed bugs.
    You may have a chance to freeze the bugs to death if you keep the clothing and pillows in the freezer for several days. A better chance, however, is your dryer – put everything in there and dry it at high temperature. Don’t forget the shoes!
  • Washing the bed sheets will get rid of bed bugs.
    Although this may get rid of the bugs that are on the bed sheets, it is likely, that you have more of the nasty buggers crawling around.

For more information about bed bugs and bed bug detection dogs, visit  rocksolidk9.com.