How NOT to teach a dog to find a hidden person
Learn a Lesson from My Mistakes
The Goal: Find a person hidden in a tree stand after a 30 minute problem.
Mistake: Expecting a dog has learned to generalize
I thought the dog would have no problem finding someone in a tree stand. He did it twice before.
Dogs don’t naturally generalize. Grom would need to find several different people in different tree stands in different conditions in different locations on different days before I could say he “got it.”
Mistake: Assuming the dog has learned something from past trainings
Grom was on fire! He dashed down the trail with his nose in the air. He saw the first tree stand and trotted over to it, obviously curious. He even tried to climb up the thing!
The little furball did the same thing to the next two identical tree stands! I was thrilled he was curious to check them all out. I assumed he must have learned that people can hide in tree stands from previous trainings and was checking them out just in case. He might have just been curious of the strange structures and wanted a look at them close up.
” This will be so easy when he gets to the tree stand with the person in it,” I thought.
Mistake: Not knowing when to cue the dog
We reached the field 150 yards from the tree stand with the subject hidden in it. Grom threw his nose in the air and caught scent and began criss-crossing the field in search of the scent’s source. After a small distraction in the discovery of a nice turkey feather, the dog went over to check out this new tree stand.
He circled it a few times. I got closer trying to determine if he was just checking this tree stand out like he had the others or was genuinely trying to find the source of the scent there. I realized I made the mistake of getting too close after seeing the subject’s boot dangling out the entrance.
Grom looked right at me, so I backed up thinking he would give me his tell-tale behavior of “I think I might have found something.” I figured he would not indicate if he thought I saw the subject. What was the need of indicating if mom was standing right next to the guy, right? I expected Grom to trot towards me so I could give him the “Tell Me” command to bark. Instead he trotted past me and began to investigate some grass on the side of the trail. “Greeeaat.” Now what?
Mistake: Not asking the experience handler standing right next to us for feedback.
Later, we got great advice on how to set up the problem so the dog could learn from success. I honestly should have asked this person for advice even before starting the search.
Old standby, put the dog in a down and give him some water while we figure out the next step.
Let’s just start again only 50 meters from the tree stand and restart the dog.
Up the hill we go. Grom checks out the sides of the trail as we get closer to the tree stand. Again, the pup heads right up to the structure and puts a paw up on the supports and looks up. I cue Grom to indicate and he does so beautifully. When I tell him to show me where the person is, he leads me right back to the tree stand. Success!
Mistake: Making the dog wait for play.
Always reward the dog immediately. We were told this over and over again. I told Grom what a great dog he was as the subject came down to play with the dog. Grom got great play, but it did not happen instantly at the source of the find.
So, what should we have done from the beginning to set the dog up for success?
I guess you will have to wait for Thursday’s post.