There are a lot of things to know for a search and rescue dog. Agility, obedience, playing, using your nose, endurance, and indication are just a few. I am in the midst of really working on my dog’s indication. This is the thing that a search dog does when he finds a person and is possibly the most important thing to train. The last thing you need is for your dog to find the person and just stand there and stare at them. Grom is being taught to run back to me and bark his head off after finding someone. Often he stares at me and give me a lame series of weak barks before looking for his reward. He could be bored, confused, or trying to be a smarty pants. In any case, it’s never the dog’s fault.
I went searching for a bit of help. Why not go to the source, Karen Pryor. She has a fantastic article on the 10 rules of shaping. A few rules I never had even thought about. Most notably for me:
“During shaping, put the current level of response on a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement before adding or raising the criteria.”
I never have thought of this one. This means he does not get a reward every time he correctly does the behavior. For some reason I figured I needed to wait until he had the whole kit and kaboodle learned before starting on a variable treat schedule. This just might do the trick if my pup is bored.
Another rule of note is:
“When introducing a new criterion, or aspect of the behavioral skill, temporarily relax the old ones.”
Every time I make the task a bit harder by increasing the distance between me and the subject (lost person) or ask for more barks, I have to let already learned behaviors slide a bit. If the dog has been trained to bark five times when running back from a subject at 10 feet away from me, he can get rewarded for barking only three times if the distance is increased to 15 feet. If he is confused or he is trying to over think the problem (smarty pants) this may help him understand that its the same deal even though the scenery may have changed.
The rules for shaping helped me think about a few things I may be doing incorrectly during training. Check them out for yourself.