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Simon Prins

Book K9 Line-up Training

Book K9 Line-up Training

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Detector dogs can be trained to detect more than one specific odor. While it is possible to train multiple odors simultaneously—and while this is certainly an efficient approach to training—we prefer to introduce our dogs to different odors one at a time. Only when our dog does well with one odor do we begin to train another. When we begin training another odor, we continue working with the first odor while simultaneously introducing the second. We find that this step-by-step method is more effective than the all-at-once method. The all-at-once method risks training a dog to recognize a mixed odor profile rather than multiple individual odor profiles. A dog trained this way may have difficulty detecting its trained odors when they are present individually. While it takes longer, the step-by-step method guarantees that your dog can recognize each trained odor individually.

IMPRINTING ODORS

When imprinting odors, the basic principles of detection training—incentive and association—must be front of mind. We’ve already learned different methods of incentivization, and we’ve seen how to associate incentives with a bridge signal (Chapter 8). Now, we will learn how to incentivize your dog to be interested in the specific odors you want him to find. Dogs generally aren’t naturally interested in the odors we want them to detect, so as handlers, we must stimulate their emotional desire to achieve this search work. As a training method, we first help the dog learn an odor and develop an interest in it through reinforcement. This can be done by giving the dog food or play in return for his interest. Later, we turn this interest into a duty to find the trained odor (or odors).

To create the all-important association between an odor and a reward, ensure that every time you reward your dog during training, it is closely related to the odor you are training him on. One of the best ways to do this, in our view, is to ensure the dog perceives the odor alongside the reward at an early stage of training. For example, begin by hiding your dog’s favorite tennis ball alongside a cache of the target odor so your dog can immediately take his reward upon finding the odor he is searching for. Later on, only hide the odor. If your dog finds the odor, throw the tennis ball from behind your dog over him so that he can fetch it.

Learning to find caches this way will also help your dog focus his passion for searching and retrieving his toy, which is now strongly associated with the odor. This process can also be adapted to food rewards and bridge signaling. It is not, however, the only way to imprint an odor, and it may not be the right way for your dog. Throwing balls over a dog can be risky; if the dog is very enthusiastic, it may increase the chance of injury. Some dogs may also lose focus on the target odor when they notice the trainer is about to throw a toy—they begin to focus backward (toward the trainer) instead of forward (toward the target odor). Always pay attention to your dog’s character and choose the best method.

IMPRINTING MULTIPLE ODORS

Detector dogs can be trained to detect more than one specific odor. While it is possible to train multiple odors simultaneously—and while this is certainly an efficient approach to training—we prefer to introduce our dogs to different odors one at a time. Only when our dog does well with one odor do we begin to train another. When we begin training another odor, we continue working with the first odor while simultaneously introducing the second.

We find that this step-by-step method is more effective than the all-at-once method. The all-at-once method risks training a dog to recognize a mixed odor profile rather than multiple individual odor profiles. A dog trained this way may have difficulty detecting its trained odors when they are present individually. While it takes longer, the step-by-step method guarantees that your dog can recognize each trained odor individually.

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