Time to start training – well, almost!
After all this talk on theory, I guess it’s time to start putting it all into practice. Before any formal training starts there are a few things to consider first though. No dog will be able to concentrate on learning new skills if it has an injury or illness which is causing it to be uncomfortable.
If your dog is new to you then a trip to the vets for a medical is not a bad idea. Also, being with strange people in strange environments will unsettle most dogs to the extent that you are unlikely to have their undivided attention.Better to spend a few days settling the dog in and becoming acquainted. The time needn’t be wasted time though as this is where you can establish what the dog likes in terms of food, toys and attention from you. You will also get an idea on his general level of socialization and habituation as you take him out and about on walks.Once the dog is settled and you are happy that he is healthy and happy, you need to establish what motivates your dog and what you are going to use as your main reward (positive reinforcer). I am assuming that the dog will have been tested prior to his acquisition and will have a suitable level of prey drive and so some form of ball is most likely. Tennis balls are not good as not only do they get wet and slippery and can get stuck in the dogs throat but the glue used to fix the felt reacts with the dogs saliva and can cause premature tooth decay. Teeth aren’t very important to specialist search dogs so don’t let their handlers convince you of their merit.A good-sized rubber ball on a rope is ideal as it allows the ball to be thrown long distances, can be used to tug with and will provide something to grab should the ball get lodged in the dogs throat. There are many different types and I always find it amusing how different dogs have a preference for different types. Experiment with different sizes, textures etc. and see which type your dog prefers.
If your dog isn’t interested in balls, it is probably because he hasn’t come to associate them with the chasing, fetching and searching that stimulate his prey drive and so this is your first task. Make that ball move and wiggle, snatch it away and throw it. Make it the most exciting thing your dog has ever seen. The aim is to get the dog in a frenzy of excitement for the ball. This may take no time at all or it may take several sessions over several days, but until you have this level of interest there is little point progressing.
Once you have the level of desire for the ball that you need, my advice is to get another one. Two balls are better than one. We will use the second ball to start rewarding the dog for leaving the first. At this very early stage we will be planting the seeds that will eventually result in a perfect “out in one shout ” from the bite.
Each stage of training will have a knock on effect on the next and will build to create generalised rules, principles and routines that will all piece together to form the finished product. It is a very lucky person who manages to train a police dog fit for purpose without having a well thought out plan to follow. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail.