Dogs that search by scent

The air scent dog works off lead, ranging back and forth in an area to pick up the human scent left by the subject. Ranging often takes the dog out of sight for several minutes at a time, so the handler must trust his dog and listen for an alert. Once the dog gets the subject's scent, he moves in to its source. The dog must then "alert" by either barking while staying with the subject or by returning to the handler and "indicating" her in some way that the handler should follow. The dog then "re-finds" the subject and leads the handler to the subject. To train an air scent dog to issue a bark alert, start training the dog to bark on command as young and as soon as possible. The bark alert is usually the hardest area of the search sequence to get the dog to do reliably, so start early on this behavior. New handlers usually want to progress quickly through the steps, but have found that if the foundational steps are not solid and reliable; the whole process will eventually fall apart. Stress a very slow, steady training sequence for the new dog to assure a solid foundation.

Step one: Team members start with runaway searches for the new dog. A person the dog is familiar with holds the dog while the handler excites the dog and then runs away (into the wind) and hides. All this is done in full view of the dog with the reward, preferably a toy, in the runaway subject's hand. The handler then gives a command such as "search" or "go find" and releases the dog. When the dog reaches the handler it is "party time" with lots of playing and praise for the successful search. A search, no matter how short or long, is a big game to the dog, so it is always a fun and exciting occasion when the dog finds the subject. Continue with the runaway searches increasing either distance or adding terrain variations. In general, keep the searches in a straight line and always into the wind during this step.

Step two: For those dogs that the handler wants to give a bark alert, now add the requirement that the dog barks when he reaches the subject. Usually the subject has to give the "speak" command. Once the dog barks the handler comes in and helps reward the dog with play and praise. For dogs that alert with a refind, the training varies. Once the dog reaches the subject, the handler calls the dog back to her and gives a new command to tell the dog to return to the subject, such as "show me" or "refind." In the beginning of this training, the subject will most likely have to call the dog back, then the handler and subject reward the dog enthusiastically. Continue with short, straight searches but add variations in terrain, location and subjects. Begin using people familiar to the dog as subjects with the handler working the dog.

Step three: Now the dog is ready for "blind searches" where the subject hides without the dog watching. It is essential to work into the wind so that the dog has the best chance to catch the human scent. As the dog becomes more accomplished at this, make the searches longer and vary the terrain. If the dog fails to bark or do a refind, return to Step two because the dog does not have the solid foundation needed to continue.

Step four: Next use subjects unfamiliar to the dog and add variables such as length (distance and time) and new terrain. Also begin starting the search in another place than where the subject started.

Step five: The team needs to be ready to search for long periods with short rest breaks, covering a wide variety of terrain in all kinds of weather. In spite of all the work, ensure that the dog finds searching fun by doing a variety of searches, from short, fun runaways to the 1 - 3 hour search. Wonderful rewards and praise always follow each successful exercise.

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