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.



Mondio National Championship in Costa Mesa, 2012

While I am sure glad to get back a couple of hours of sleep at night, I already miss the excitement and the spectacle at this year’s Mondio Ring Nationals in Costa Mesa, right next to the O.C. Pet Expo that ended last weekend.

It was a great tournament, a difficult course and a hard, but fair judge. All of the teams showed extreme skills and sportsmanship and I hope, you had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the fruits of years of training.

A bigger than life blow-up elephant head marked the field as the biggest item of the playground objects scattered around. Every Mondio Ring tournament has a specific theme – there have been UFOs and aliens, flowers, even ranch themes with blow-up cows and horses. All of these objects are there to make the dog and handler team use their creativity and flexibility to master the different tasks. A level 3 course can take up to 45 minutes per team!

First, the team has to go through the obedience routine, which includes heeling with distractions, retrieving an object, which was a foot-long pen with ballons attached in this tournament, finding a piece of wood with the handler’s scent on it and a send out, where after the handler’s sign, the dog has to run 40 meters (over 131 feet) in a straight line. They also have to go through a food refusal exercise, where the dog is taunted with hot dogs, steaks or other goodies, while the handler is away. These are just some of the obedience routines.

The next phase is jumping – the dog has to jump over a hurdle (between 3.2 and 3.9 feet), a palisade (5.9 to 7.5 feet) and a long jump (9.8 to 13.1 feet). The handler may select the height between the minimum and maximum level and try three times for each jump. They will only score maximum points if the dog jumps the highest level.

The third and final phase is the protection part – it is also the most exciting to watch. Each trial requires at least two decoys, packed in a thick padded suit, so they won’t get hurt by the dog’s bite. During this part of the tournament, the dog has to protect the handler during one exercise and may only bite, if one of the decoy’s attack the handler, requiring utmost restraint and attention by the dog. Another exercise is the object guard, where the dog protects any given object, pointed to by the handler. If a decoy gets too close, the dog is allowed to bite, but needs to let go and return to the object, if the decoy drags him too far away. During one of the exercises, a gun is fired twice, to see, if the dog will let go or continues to hold down the decoy. These exercises are stunning to watch. They require combine courage, control, speed and fun, the training is long and the teams are committed.

Even though these dogs are trained to bite the decoys, they are not aggressive. In fact, if you were there, you were able to admire most of them up close while they took a stroll through all the people watching – maybe you even got to pet and play with them. Most of these dogs are Belgian Malinois, a breed not for the common household. They are high strung and require an enormous dedication to training and exercise. Many of them compete in more than one sport or have an actual job as a detection K9 or other working K9.

There are some other breeds playing this sport, though. That weekend, one of them was an American Bulldog – an unsual but welcome sight! We all enjoyed watching, as this often misunderstood breed displayed outstanding control and looked like having so much fun throughout the course.

If you have missed this event, be sure to check the US Mondio Ring or Rock Solid K9 website for tournaments in your area!