BUILDING FLUSHING BEHAVIOR
Play Drive vs. Prey Drive
Over the years it has become painfully obvious that many detector dog handlers have lost sight of the fact that their dog is bored with training or simply is not as focused as they should be. I’ve noticed that in a “prey monster deluxe” seldom do issues arise, however there are dogs that do not have as much drive and require careful handling and training to stay on top of the game of scent detection. There have been cases where even a “prey monster deluxe” has encountered problems due to poor training and handling. The problem arises when handlers begin training like “everybody else” and do not make the necessary adjustments to fix the problem. Dog training is all about making the necessary adjustments. This separates a good handler or trainer from a bad one. In almost every case, the success or failures of a canine team stem from the initial training, but there are many variables that affect the success of a K9 program. The initial training is the foundation for everything else to build on.
When we look at the qualities of a good detector dog, we look at the following:
1. High energy level
2. High prey drive
3. Strong hunt drive
4. Extremely focused!
When I look at essential elements of a detector dog team I look for:
More often than not, these are qualities and elements that comprise a good handler as well. Detection work truly is a team effort. The primary purpose of this training message is to discuss methods that have been very instrumental in building focus and very successful canine teams through the years. I do not believe a handler will ever trust their dog unless the dog conveys to the handler that they are focused, correct, and confident in their mission.
For a long time I knew that primary rewards were the way to go in terms of building independence from the handler and building more intensity. Primary rewards are not always practical so most handlers deliver the prey object (their toy) directly from their hand which is known as a secondary reward. Through years of observing lazy searches, missed hides, and poor alerts, it dawned on me that a lot of these dogs are bored and needed a fire lit under them to motivate them to perform better. It appeared that even though the prey object was delivered by their handler, they were not deriving the same satisfaction as a dog who encountered a rabbit in a field. The dog encountering the rabbit was having fun and true prey drive was exhibited.
We all have been told the prey object is the rabbit. I have found this is not always the case and have sought methods to better extract true prey drive in the detection dog. There are dogs who only like tennis balls, some who only like Kongs, tugtoys, or PVC pipe. There is no doubt another level exists which is between a rabbit and a prey object. It may be a form of play drive which is not anywhere near as intense as prey drive. I do not profess to be an expert in dog drives, but I believe there is some merit to this. When I watch handlers delivering their ball from their pocket, usually in plain view of the dog, I see a dog who is basically playing fetch with their handler. They can become bored with this and this is where most of the problems arise. The intensity of chasing a rabbit is not there and to prove this I’d like you to play fetch with your dog in a field and see whether your dog would rather flush and chase a rabbit than catch your ball. Maybe through obedience training you have your dog disciplined enough to resist the rabbit, but I would bet the dog’s ears are perked and the dog would much rather chase the rabbit. This all sounds very simple minded, but so many handlers take it for granted. I’m not saying we need to train with rabbits, but I am saying we need to make the prey object come alive and as independent of the handler as possible. The handler in most cases should be completely out of the picture and behind the dog when the time comes to deliver the prey object.
Flushing Behavior Definition: The extremely focused, obsessive state of an animal to cause or wait for smaller prey to rush out of hiding and escape.
There are certain elements that build the flushing behavior similar to that of the flushing of the rabbit when performing detection work. These elements are the following:
1. Proper odor recognition and alert
2. Suspense that prey object is jumping from source
3. Appearance that the prey object came from source
4. Independence of the handler
Primary rewards coupled with remote sound boxes or delivery systems have been very instrumental in building focus and flushing behavior. The timing of these devices is vital to the success of the exercise. There are very expensive remote controlled devices used to shape the behavior of the dog, but sometimes a little creativity is all that is needed. Gravity fed devices, string activated mechanisms, and careful 3rd party delivery can be used. At the very least, a handler can deliver the prey object by sleight of hand as long as the final response is maintained and the object is delivered from the source. Never allow the dog to break its final response and walk to the handler to receive the prey object! This is sloppy and causes serious problems!
Not only are we wanting to create strong flushing behavior, but we are also wanting to create enough confidence in the dog to perform their task without being dependant of the handler in any way. Too many handlers cue their dogs by doing something the dog recognizes and triggers a certain response. It could be enticing chatter, stopping our feet and lingering in an area, or moving too slow or too fast.
Dog training is not always easy and there are so many things to be mindful of. A good handler should always strive to make the necessary adjustments, have an open mind and broaden their base of knowledge, and always be pushing the envelope and make training more and more challenging and intense.