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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Scent In A Bottle Tracking

For those who follow us on Twitter, you will know we've done lots of SIAB (Scent In A Bottle) tracking with our dogs. Many people have asked me a.) what SIAB actually means? and b.) what does it involve?

There's also lots of different names for Scent In A Bottle Tracking & some have a few subtle variations on the method.

Those who have seen our YouTube channel will know Sear's developing an amazing nose - his property searching is really coming on. However we’re still at the early stages of his tracking, but he’s progressing really well and certainly understands what he needs to do.




We’ll keep updating his YouTube channel, to keep you all updated with his progress and all of the new things he’s learning & developing. 

So here it is folks – hopefully to give you a bit of information about how we will teach all of our pups to track & follow a human scent. It’s a long one so bear with us . . .

Scent In A Bottle Tracking


We've tried various forms of tracking training, ranging from some very old school techniques to now only using scent in a bottle tracking (SIAB).

The very first method I used was 'pull outs' - where you hold the dog on a lead, whilst someone walked out in a straight line with a ball, put the ball down, then send the dog off to ‘track’ to it.

Having researched lots of articles, & experimented with different methods, we're now solely using a SIAB method – and the results are extremely good. That said, sometimes dogs learn differently, so sometimes we may have to revert back, modify & alter our methods to match the dog.

Now, if you asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which is the best tracking training method - they would tell you differently. 

Again I’d never say SIAB tracking is the ‘best’ way or the ‘only’ way, I certainly wouldn’t say that the way I train the dog in SIAB tracking is the ‘only’ or ‘best’ way - however I’ve started using SIAB in the way described below and to me the results are very clear.

The SIAB method works by creating a water based human scent, which by the very name ‘Scent In A Bottle’ - indicates that this scent is bottled. In order to do this we need to create & bottle human scent.

The Water


Having spoken to various people & read various articles, it is absolutely clear that you cannot simply use tap water. Because of the way tap water is treated for us to drink, it contains certain ions & chemicals which can interfere and distort the human scent in that bottle. 

So we use distilled/deionised water – there is some scientific difference between the 2 but either works absolutely fine.

The de-ionised water is just under £1 per litre – I buy 5 litres for £4.50 ish. It was an interesting conversation when I first dropped into our local car accessories shop to ask for deionised water – especially when they asked what we needed it for!!! 

Because we use it so much, we now manage to get 25 litres for just under £15.

One tip someone (@HoppyK9) gave us was to get a water butt & to collect rain water, then filter it through a sock to remove any bits/leaves etc.


The Scent


The next part is to create the human scent, & again through researching various articles, having lots of conversations & being on seminars, you have to be very aware of what you are using to create it. 

To create the scent you need to submerse something which carries human scent into the deionised water. However, it cannot be anything which has been in contact with things like deodorants etc becuase of the chemicals which distorts the scent. 

I tend to shower before going to the gym & then use the clothes I wear at the gym.

I empty about 1-2 litres of the water into a stainless steel bowl, & then soak the items of clothing in there overnight. Some written articles I’ve read suggest using a whole bucket of water to soak a T-shirt. However I use less water to make sure the scent is very strong initially. As the dogs get better/older I’ll dilute the scent a little more.

The Bottle



This is where the beauty of talking to people, going on seminars, visiting & watching other trainers comes in.

I used to use a little hand held garden spray bottle to distribute the scent. However after going on an initial licensing course, the instructor was using pressurised sprayers. So I've now moved up in the world!!! Thanks Your Honour!


This means that you don't have the painstaking task of crouching down to spray the scent onto the ground!!

Once you've soaked your article overnight. Squeeze out the item & pour the water into the sprayer.

You're now ready to get out & start tracking!!

The Tracking Training


I always used to teach all of our tracking training on grass, however I now start the very first introduction to tracking on hard surfaces. A car park with lines on is brilliant for this, as if it's damp or wet you have the white line to let you know where the track is!

Again drawing knowledge from others, reading articles etc, it is apparent that the very best results come from using hard surfaces first.

It is absolutely clear what the dog is tracking – human scent. 

There’s always a question on grass, as to whether the dog is just picking up the disturbance of the ground or the actual scent.

I initially start the pups tracking with meat layed onto the track – simply because I’m doing it with 10 week old puppies & it also helps reward & keep the dog’s nose on the track.

The benefit of laying the meat is that you are using a 'classical conditioning' technique in the dog's learning. The dog is connecting the scent to the reward of the food.

Simply spray a fine line of the scent from the garden sprayer, & lay the meat over the top of the line of scent. Some articles say to start off with a large spray area, however I’ve kept the track line/water pretty narrow, to concentrate the nose more. You can twist the nozzle of the sprayer to get different ground coverage – I always use one which has a very thin line rather than spraying like a mist.

Initially the meat is laid over the track, a tiny piece of hot dog sausage every 6-8 inches initially.

Clicker training has been invaluable in letting the dog know his behaviour is correct – for all kinds of exercises. The very first thing I ever teach the pups is all around the clicker. It is such a valuable tool.

Whenever I’m teaching the dog to track I always use a tracking line & harness, so the dog recognises that when the tracking line & harness comes out - he’s in track mode.

I start by stroking the pup's head & tell him to TRACK as soon as he picks up the track at the very start I’ll click & tell him he's good. As he walks down the track, I reinforce the command TRACK & then periodically click & tell him he's good, as he progresses along the track. Just to let him know this is the right behaviour & to reinforce the track command.

Again some would say not to give the dog a command at the start, like I said, this is just my way - I don't claim it to be the only way to do this.


Initially I restrict the tracks to just little short 1 meter tracks, which have lots of meat on. As the dog progresses, I lengthen the track & space out the meat - . I only ever use the tinniest of pieces of hot dog sausage.

As things progress, I’ll alternate tracks some with & some without meat. At the moment Sear is 12 weeks old, and I’ll lay 6-8 tracks, aprox 3-4 meters long. Half with meat, half without. I’ll take him down a track with meat, then one without etc etc. 

Naturally the tracks will also get longer. Eventually, I completely remove the meat from the track, & at that point, when he knows what he is doing, I’ll introduce a turn in to the track. 

Again I’ll follow the same process, one with meat, one without.

Once the dog has managed tracks with turns in, on hard surfaces, I’ll move onto the grass and follow exactly the same process as before – except this time the transition away from any meat will be much quicker.

Once he’s got the hang of it, I start using other people to create the scent & then lay the track, so he’s not just tracking the same scent all of the time.

Happy Tracking!!

Sear with Warwickshire Police's PD Cooper
 




Friday, 24 February 2012

And we'll have fun, fun, fun

I went to a business seminar last week, run by an ex NFL coach – an American by the name of Steve Moore. He truly is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met, & to go with it an absolutely genuinely nice bloke.

As a ‘coach’ he is all about fun, positivity & enjoyment – & as I sat listening to him talk, it made me realise just how much that type of approach is needed in dog training. He talked about a study done in 1968 – the Rosenthal-Jacobson study & Pygmalion Effect.
In this experiment, Rosenthal predicted that teachers, when given the information that certain students had higher IQs than others, the teachers may subconsciously behave in ways that facilitate & encourage the students' success.
I think the very same thing could apply to dogs & training. If you think you have this unruly, un-trainable dog, then most likely I would argue that you would not be as motivated to teach it new things; compared to your approach if you thought the dog was wonderful with no faults and really intelligent. 

So everything I do is always positive, fun & encouraging. I truly believe that each puppy I get has the potential to be a top class working Police dog. It starts off as a completely blank canvas, other than knowing he’s got fantastic genetic genes inside him – these dogs are literally born to work.However, we cannot rely purely on their genetics, the development & input into their early lives is absolutely crucial.
Whilst we’re on the subject of articles and studies, something completely irrelevant to dogs but equally fascinating is the Marshmallow Study – definitely worth a look! (Another one of Steve Moore’s recommendations!)

I wonder how many parents will now give their child a marshmallow. . . .
Anyway back to it . . . . dog training has moved on a great deal over the past decades & years, & I now think most people’s methods of training is all about enjoyment & fun. We've certainly gone a long way to 'Dispelling the Alpha Dog Myths'

I remember growing up, I used to live close to where an old Police Dog handler used to live. We used to see him in our local park ‘training’ his dog – however his methods were slightly different to what you see these days! One image that sticks out is him literally hanging his dog, by his collar & lead, over a gate in the park!! #oldschool Fortunately things have moved on a great deal since those days!
Now something I really believe is that dog training is all about opinions, & I certainly don’t profess to know ‘the right way’ to train dogs. I suppose it’s like football; is there a right and wrong way to play? Is Stoke’s approach to football the right way or is Man City’s approach to football the right way? Ask a Stoke fan this question and then ask a Man City fan the same . . . .
Everything I do with my dogs, is all about excitement & fun. Sometimes I’m sure people in my local park think I’m a bit of nutter! Running around waving my arms, clapping & speaking in a ridiculously high pitched voice – I’m sure you can picture the image....
Whether I’m teaching the dog a simple SIT, to teaching him how to track human scent, it’s always as loud, energetic & stimulating for him as I can make it.

It's so crucial that everything is fun for the dog - it's the best way for them to learn. These pups go on to have great careers & even in their day to day lives everything they do is just one big game to them. They don't see a riot as danger, they see it as one big massive game of chasing, barking & if necessary biting. It's exactly the type of game these dogs love!

When they're out working, the pups will face enough pressure & certainly when they start their initial course they'll be introduced slowly to having pressure put on them. So when they are young everything is all about fun, no pressure, just pure fun & games.

We wouldn't entertain the idea of putting any real pressure on a dog under 7/8 months old & even then it's an extremely light amount of pressure. There's enough time across a dog's 7+ year working life to exposure him to pressure in preparation for his job. There just isn't a need to introduce it early at all.
At the moment we’re working on PD Sear & those on Twitter will have been seeing what he gets upto on a daily basis. He’s out & about around the West Midlands a lot now.
On top of some pallets
One of the most popular questions I always get asked is “when does he start his training then?” My answer is always the same – he already is!
We do lots of ‘environmental’ work, so we’re getting him used to being in the types of places he will end up working. Next to busy roads, bus stations, train stations, factories and brownfield sites – he also is taken on different floor surfaces and different types of staircases, so he’s not uncomfortable when working on these.
He also gets lots of ‘socialisation’ so he’s walking outside schools, getting him used to crowds & different types of people. 

We take him to lots of places where we can also meet other dogs. This works two fold, he gets socialised so he’s friendly with other dogs, but it also teaches him to ignore such distractions when working.

I don't like my dogs running upto other dog 'to play'. They can happily say hello if they happen to cross paths, but then it's back to me & our playing.                   


Socialising with a Satffie - nice dogs

I’ll often put out a few property searches or do a bit of obedience work, whilst it’s really busy with dogs, so that he learns to ignore them & do his job. 

At the moment, PD Sear is 11 weeks old & is coming on really well. 

He’s fully toilet trained and will cry at the door to go out for toilet duties – he now even toilets on command while we are out. 

He’ll sit and stay. He indicates on property articles without interfering & he’s doing 5-10 short ‘scent in a bottle’ tracks a day too.  

Everything we do is both during the day and night, so he’s not scared of working in any environment.

We’re working on his down (lie down) and also his watch (barking) commands at the moment. 

So watch this space!

Rest time is also an important pat!


Friday, 3 February 2012

Crate Training

I must admit that this could be fairly long winded for a Blog, however we wanted to not only bring you doggie stories, but hopefully useful articles & information which may help any current & potential dog owners.


I’ll try & keep this brief, but there is lots to cover, so please bear with me . . . . .



Having had my very first dog when I was a young boy, the very thought of even considering putting him ‘in a cage’ seemed outrageous – cruel even. However, my thoughts on the matter now couldn’t be any different.

I believe a crate is actually one of the most important purchases you can make as a dog owner.

We’ve tried a number of different ways to crate train puppies, but after the success in recent times, we’ve now got the formula that works a treat for us. I’m not professing to have found the ‘correct’ way of crate training, nor is it ‘the only’ way to crate train your puppy. However, I will let you know what has worked so well for us.

The most important thing for dogs is routine & repetition, so everything needs to be done lots of times to instil it into his brain. So for each of these parts below, it needs to become habit for the dog & therefore requires lots of repetition & positive reinforcement. Everything you do when teaching your dog anything, should be fun!

The Crate Set Up


We now have a few crates in varying sizes for the dogs, & I understand that because of what we do, we are perhaps lucky to own a range of different items we use for dog training. We have a 30” crate, 42” crate & a 48” crate – the latter being more than big enough to eventually house a fully grown GSD.
Varying sizes of crates now available

We initially just used the 48” crate right from day one with our puppies.  We set up a little section covered in newspaper, a water dish, & then the other half of the crate had a plastic bed in there. Almost like his very own puppy house – bathroom, kitchen and bedroom! 

Whilst the results were OK, they were no one near a good as what we are now achieving, in addition we no longer have to get up to dirty newspaper which needs removing & the crate disinfecting constantly.

So, we now use the smallest crate we have, which is the 30” & an ideal size for a puppy. I would argue that with sites like Ebay, it’s relatively cost effective to buy a small cage, resell it & buy a larger cage as your dog grows.

The aim of the crate is to create a safe ‘den’ for the puppy – somewhere he feels secure & comfortable, & somewhere which is away from the hustle & bustle of everyday homes. We put our crate into the dining room area, so that it’s slightly out of the way but also still in the vicinity of people. You don’t want the crate completely isolated, but somewhere in between.

We’ve found that because the 30” is a lot smaller, compared to the 48” crate, the ‘den’ is now a lot cosier & feels more secure for the puppy. Hence the better results.

We cover the crate with a crate cover so that it is dark, & inside we have a nice 'mattress' for the pup. The other benefit of covering the crate is to make it slightly more pleasing on the eye! 

There’s nothing more unwelcoming than seeing a metal barred crate in the corner of your room.

Crate Cover


We use a pet mattress in the bottom, with a fleece blanket covering the mattress – making it as cosy, warm & secure as possible. I also put in an old T shirt or jumper that I have worn, so that your scent is also in the crate.

An absolutely vital inclusion into the crate is something which has come from your puppy’s breeder & carries the scent of his litter mates & mum. Every single reputable breeder will happily do this for, without question & they won’t think that you are mad for asking.



Introducing the Crate

The most important thing for everyone to understand is that the crate is not cruel. It is not used as a punishment per say. Everything associated with the crate should be fun, exiting & happy for the puppy to be around. You want the dog to feel safe, secure & cosy in the crate – not like he’s in prison!

We set the crate up & introduce the puppy to it slowly. One thing which makes a huge difference, is getting your puppy home as early in the morning as possible. That way, you have a completely full day to get the puppy used to his new surroundings.

For the very first few times, I encourage the puppy into the cage with food whilst giving the command (IN YOUR BED). As soon as he steps foot inside the cage, give him a treat!

leave the door open & let him wonder in & out freely. Let him explore the cage in his own free time & of his own free will. Every time he goes into his crate say IN YOUR BED & give him the food.
Cage set up prior to the nice cage cover

Now & again while he’s in there I’ll shut the door & feed him a few treats through the bars in the door. It’s all positive & nice experiences for the puppy whilst he’s in the crate.
Every time you feed the puppy at meal times, do so inside of the crate. Put his dish of food in the crate & shut the door whilst he is eating. Always stand next to the crate for added security & comfort for your puppy. As soon as he is finished eating, let him out of the crate – always before he whines to get out.

Every time he enters his crate, he should get lots of fuss, tell him he's a good boy & give him little treats.

The crate then becomes fully integrated in his new surroundings & is somewhere where the dog learns that he gets nice positive rewards for being in there.

Toilet Training

A key benefit to a crate is the ability it has to help you toilet train. After introducing the puppy to the crate, the next step is to create a feeding schedule for him - each time feeding him in his crate. We tend to feed our puppies 3 times per day.

After feeding, keep the puppy occupied for 10-15 minutes – don’t let him stop or wonder around the house. Some gentle interaction - nothing too excited or playful as he's just eaten. But some stimulation to keep him occupied.

You need to create a ’toilet area’ for your puppy – somewhere the dog will use for his toilet duties forever. Dogs tend to toilet in the same area, so once the scent is down keep reinforcing the area. 

For this reason it’s also good to chose an area, where the smell of urine won’t affect too much i.e it’s not a good idea to create the toilet area right outside your back door. Every time you open the door you’ll get a waft of (well you can guess what!) coming inside your house!

15/30 minutes or so after eating, take your puppy outside to the chosen ‘toilet area’, & wait there until he toilets. I always use the words WEE WEE whilst waiting for him to go. As soon as he relieves himself, reward him with lots of praise & a treat. This teaches the dog 2 things – where the ‘toilet area’ is & also the command WEE WEE. Eventually your dog will be trained to toilet on command! 

Once he’s done his toilet duties, bring him back inside & carry on his stimulation.

In the early days your puppy will usually need to toilet every 30-45 minutes, so you need to repeat this process at these intervals whilst the puppy is out of his crate. Puppies don’t have very good bladder control at a young age, so it’s important to remember to put your puppy in the toilet area regularly.

In addition, every time your puppy has been in his crate, immediately after letting him out take him to his toilet area. Having been in his crate for a while, he will need to go to the toilet. Again, the benefit of the crate is your ability to manage his bladder for him – until he’s old enough to control it himself.

Toilet Accidents

You will always experience the odd accident here & there with toilet training. If this does happen, try to remain calm, but quickly pick the puppy up and tell him NO firmly. Take him immediately outside to his ‘toilet area’ and repeat the WEE WEE command until he goes. Again plenty of praise & a treat once he does go - you may need to wait a while before he goes this time.

Be sure to thoroughly clean & disinfect the area he has just toileted on inside the house. As with your toilet area outside, by toileting inside he has inadvertently created a toilet area INSIDE. So be sure to clean it quickly & thoroughly to remove the odour. If not, he will regularly use this newly created toilet area inside the house.

Trust me, old fashion wives tales of ‘rubbing the dog’s nose in it’ do not really work. The dog really doesn't understand what you’re doing. So a short, sharp & firm NO will suffice.

Sleeping

This is the bit everyone (well I certainly do!) dreads with puppies – the potential lack of sleep!!

Unfortunately there is no quick fix & a lot depends on the characteristics of the puppy as to how quickly they ‘get it’. However since changing our crate down to the smaller size, we’ve noticed a remarkable improvement in the puppy’s sleeping. I’m sure our neighbours have too! In fact our latest puppy Sear has slept all through the night from day 1!
Sear in his crate fast asleep
Throughout the day your puppy will naturally go to sleep. Each time he curls up & sleeps, pick him up gently & place him in his crate. Shut the door & cover the crate. I tend to stand or sit by the crate & comfort him if he starts whining. Once he’s settled down & gone to sleep I walk away. I always leave an item of my clothing or my slippers etc next to the crate. This way he still thinks I’m there due to the scent from my clothes/slippers.

Under no circumstances do I ever let him out if he is whining immediately after going into the crate.

Once he’s been in there asleep he will naturally wake up, this could be after 10 minutes or an hour. As soon as he wakes up, open the cage with lots of praise, fussing, excitement & a treat. He’s been a good boy! Try to build up the picture of how long he sleeps for etc so that you are prepared for his awakening.

You’ll then need to immediately take him out to his toilet area.

Bed Time

When it comes to bed time I always try & keep the puppy as active as possible for a few hours before we go to bed. I try to go to bed as late as possible (within reason!). I don’t really let the puppy sleep in the last few hours before bed, so that he is tired.

After keeping him active, when we’re ready for bed I take the puppy out to his toilet area, wait for him to do his business & then bring him back inside. I’ll play with him for 5-10 minutes, take him out to the toilet area again, then come inside & put him in his crate for the night. Again I always wait for a few minutes next to the crate until he settles down & goes to sleep.

Now here’s the part which requires patience!

After a few hours the puppy is likely to wake up – as he’ll need the toilet. As soon as you hear him whine you’ll need to go & let him out. However, this time, instead of lots of praise & excitement when he gets out, simply open the cage – pick him up – & take him to his toilet area. No words, no stimulation, nothing.

Once he’s toileted, praise him like you would do before & treat him, before taking him back into his crate. Again just as you did when you went to bed, wait a while comforting him until he stops whining & he settles back down to sleep & then get yourself back into bed.

Depending on the dog you may have to do this a couple of times throughout the night.


Summary

Eventually all of the above actions will become the natural instinct for the dog, & your involvement as owners will be removed. The dog will learn to control his bladder, toilet in the right place & sleep through the night. He will also feel like the crate is his safe place, so you should never let children play or mess inside his crate. 

Most importantly, if you’ve just brought a puppy home or you're thinking of having a new addition . . . . . . GOOD LUCK!!



Sear 9 weeks old
Sear 7 weeks old