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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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.