dog training, dog behavior, dog health

The First Steps in Search Dog Training

The working dog breeds such as Border Collies, Labradors, Golden Labradors and German Shepherds are the most usual dogs chosen for search dog training. Their inbred characteristics and abilities make them perfect for searching. This can mean mountain or countryside tracking search and rescue, or police detection sniffer dogs.

Search dogs are trained to pick up a trail – a scent on the ground or on surfaces; they will later be trained to follow a scent in the air. Because dogs have naturally very sensitive noses it is necessary to train them first in picking up a ground scent since this is less natural to them. Once they have learned proper tracking and trailing they can then be taught to pick up and follow scents in the air, but if they start by doing this then it is far more difficult to make them adjust to following a ground scent.

As in all dog training procedure the basis of the training is to praise and reward for correct behaviour. To begin teaching a dog to search, it is necessary to bring his attention to the ground by laying a trail of treats over a short distance ending in a lightly hidden person. Before setting your dog the task, give the dog a good smell of a ‘scent pad’ which is an article of clothing or other object which will smell of the person to be found. Then allow your dog to follow the trail of rewards to find the hidden person and be amply rewarded. What this does is bring your dog’s attention to the main elements of search: a hidden person (or object), a trail, and a scent pad to start him off.

As this routine is repeated your dog will get used to the pattern and understand what is required of him. As he becomes more adept, then it is time to slowly lengthen the distance over which he must follow a trail, add obstacles, and leave less and less treats until he is just following the scent of the hidden person. At a more advanced stage then ‘broken’ trails will be introduced and other difficulties which the dog will have to learn to deal with as well as teaching the dog to bark on discovery.

For some people this might prove and interesting and entertaining exercise to engage with their pet and both dog and owner would enjoy the process; but our mountain rescue and wilderness tracking teams base their most advanced techniques for search dog training upon these simple building blocks.