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By Gail McCarthy

I like big ranging dogs.  I always have.  I still vividly remember sitting out, as a brand-new SAR handler, along the flank of an earthen hollow and watching this wonderful German Shepard Dog, Buddy, race far out ahead of his handler, his green glowstick arcing in the night air. That dog flowed along the top edge of that hollow, following my scent plume as he ranged. When directly downwind, Buddy swooped in, gave me a little pop with his nose and then was off again to find his dad, whom he knew would be carrying his favorite squeakie-reward toy.

Talk about "imprinting!" I was "imprinted" for life on the beauty and grace and power of the far-ranging refind SARdog! So, being the lover of SARdogs who are able to work independent of handler support YET interact and work WITH the handler, I wrote the following email to a fellow handler whose dog ranged much further than she was comfortable.  This especially was a problem for her because her dog's refind was not holding up............


      Subject:  Ranging and Reinforcing the Behaviorial Unit
      Reply From:  mccarthy @ macrt org

I know that everyone will (or should) have something to say but I thought I would ramble on a bit about two "Laws of Search Training" that I try to follow. I will put in caps those things that I think are very important...

1) PROTECT AT ALL COSTS THE DRIVE TO HUNT. One of the things I admire so VERY much in our Dobermans is their zest for ranging. It is a wonderful gift they give us handlers. BUT, as you wisely recognize, ranging without (1) control, or (2) some instinctive "feel" of where she is and where she's been, combined with (3) no confirmed "search ethic" in your dog......makes young dogs unreliable and of no value to IC. So, you need to build in some extrinsic AND intrinsic control into your dog -- but you need to do this SEPARATE from the act of searching. The drive to hunt is a precious drive and one should rarely add in a negative or a restriction when the dog is in this mode. So, you need to figure out how to get her to focus in on you WITHOUT losing that zest and love of ranging. You can create EXTRINSIC control by teaching a rock solid come on command and other directional commands. INTRINSIC control is created by always keeping her within YOUR comfort zone (which is clearly smaller than her's LOL!!!) when you take her for walks in the woods (and NEVER let her critter!!!). You decide whether this comfort zone is 50', 30' or 100+ yards but, whatever it is, call her back to your "general area" every time she goes beyond that distance and then send her back out. Eventually she will begin to pattern herself on the distance you have set and she will zip zip zip around you, checking in on you, at that distance. But do keep these two tasks separate until she has internalized a bit more what you want. Until she is conditioned to that distance, you may have to restrict a bit in order to gain control and you don't want to ever call her back IF SHE IS WORKING SCENT -- in fact, she should be encouraged to follow scent from whatever distance she can. So that is why you should work on control separate from searching IN THE EARLY STAGES OF BOTH BEHAVIORS so that the "teaching of control" does not adversely spill into the search mode. In the words of Lou Castle, ya never want to "knock the dog out of hunt drive and into obedience drive" by unartful handling -- when searching, communicate what you want the dog to do in a manner that allows the dog to work WITH you. But, to install "distance," you will have to add in a bit of control and obedience on this wonderful dog, Sue, so keep this control training initially separate from the search.

2) IF THE BEHAVIOR FAILS TO HAPPEN, THEN BACK UP. I will always try to troubleshoot and try to resolve whatever the dog is not doing properly but, my cardinal rule is that "if the behavior fails to happen in the face of distractions, then that behavior is not conditioned sufficiently" and one needs to go back to whatever the dog CAN do properly in the distracting environment. For example, if my dog performs strong, solid refinds in a wooded area behind my house with a visual runaway prompt BUT the refind falls apart when I try to do a cold shot in that same area, then I know that the I need to back up and fade the runaway prompt more gradually -- maybe my dog needs to watch the subject run off for 20', or maybe the dog just needs to see the subject run into the wood line (a known victim blind problem). Regardless of what I decide to do, if the refind falls apart, I will need to go back until the dog performs solidly because I don't want my dog racing around for 20 minutes before finally performing a problem that would have taken 1 minute to work properly. If you allow that to happen, you have taught your dog nothing -- for starters, there is no connection between the "go find" prompt and the search. At the very least, you are rewarding mediocrity. So, if I set UP TO A 20 MINUTE problem, then I want my dog SEARCHING that whole time for HUMAN SCENT, not chipmunk pee. If the dog's level of training is such that the dog can only hold the "thought of why s/he is out there" for 30 seconds or less, then that is how long the problem is. By pingponging the length of time I expect the dog to work I do not lock the dog into expecting the subject to be found within any one set time period -- but whatever the time period, I don't want the dog DINKING (and those that know me know WHY I hate dinking). I follow an 80% rule.

Given how badly the refind falls apart, I may need to back up in to a TOTALLY distraction free area so that the dog has nothing else to do but concentrate on what he is to do. But my preference is to work the dog in the area that s/he is having problems but I set the problem up so that the behavior WILL happen. How do I do that? At a seminar, Bob Bailey described two types of operant conditioning -- I fall squarely within the camp of DIRECTED operant conditioning. This means that I train my dogs by defining exactly what I what my dog to do and I COMMUNICATE what I want him to do by using cues, prompts and lures and whatever else I need to GET THE BEHAVIOR TO HAPPEN. Once I get the behavior to happen, then I reinforce the proper behavior with something the dog really REALLY likes and wants! Whipping out a BIG MAC has been known to make a really make a big impression on a dog. Big Mac's really grab a dog's attention and the dog will start to think, "WHAT can I do to make her give me another one of those Big Macs -- this is much more fun that racing around!!" LOL  I continue using lures, prompts, and cues for however long it takes for the dog to start to offer the behavior WITHOUT the lure. At that point, I begin to FADE one lure at a time and WAIT for the dog to offer the behavior -- and this is where TIMING IS CRITICAL. The handler must have a feel of when to allow the dog to problem-solve BUT be ready to offer handler support if the dog's focus or drive to offer the behavior starts to weaken. But, IT IS HERE THAT hateful DINKING can creep in - so you need to be very mindful of what the dog is doing.  Yet, the "freedom to do right" is a very important step as search dogs must have intrinsic work ethic and, so, one MUST allow the dog to participate in the process by offering the behavior. But, self-rewarding behaviors -- ie, just racing around with no focus -- can creep in here so, timing is critical and you need to be ready to offer handler support when necessary.

So, from what you say, Sue, it sounds like your dog is starting to offer the refind-behavior but then it falls apart on the show me. My advice is simple..........

(1) Back up and perfect the behavior by conditioning the refind longer. Some folks get real complicated here in their thinking and they will say PULL OUT the particular behavior that is not holding up. With the exception of the parlor-trick, I don't like to do that because I think the strength of the refind is its UNITY of three parts -- (1) GO FIND == target on a dead/article/alive/something that you want your dog to find; (2) COME BACK AND TELL ME YOU FOUND BY GIVING ME A TRAINED INDICATION == come back and do your jump up, bark, people bringsel parlor trick); and (3) SHOW ME == take me back to the thing you just found. So, practice all three parts together much, much more. Initially during these sessions, you should present the same BODY PICTURE to your dog every time the dog is coming back to you to indicate -- you always want the dog to indicate to your front but, over time, you can start turn sideways to your dog as he is coming back, or turn so your back is to him, and then finally you can be moving -- each of these is a shaping issue and should be introduced slowly but shifting the body picture helps develop assertiveness in the dog -- the dog has to make an affirmative move to find your front. It also helps the dog generalize so that he does not fall apart if you, on one cold night, or on a real search, don't show him the same "body picture" he has come to expect.

For a training schedule that I use up here for the young dogs: Tuesday nights we practice the refind ONLY -- no search -- with visual, short runways. On Thursday nights, we work short 1-acre or less blind problems -- maybe 3 - 4 of them in a session. Dog knows someone is out there in the field but needs to search -- we do not given them a runaway prompt (but we might support the dog in the beginning with "call-outs"). We started doing this early on in a dog's training because we really feel handlers need to initiate "problem-solving" early on in the training with no runaway prompt. We have found that our dogs start to show independence much quicker and our dogs don't get locked on the runways like some of our earlier dogs did. Then, I try to work rubble on Saturday and wilderness on Sunday, with the young dogs repeating the type of training we did Tues/Thus training. Older dogs can begin to work longer or more complicated problem-solving things.  BUT BUT BUT-- in ALL trainings -- the dog is NOT allowed to race around out-of-control -- the training is set up in a way that allows the dog to stay FOCUSED on the task -- and, in doing so, the bad habit of racing around is avoided from the get-go. And remember -- HANDLERS get bored, dogs do NOT get bored by repetitive behaviors. Studies have shown the opposite -- animals develop INTENSITY as they develop confidence in what they are to do and that's what we want, right?

(2) The other thing I would do is increase the VALUE to your dog in doing the work. Racing around is definitely in a Dobermans' genes but they are not fools, and if you give them a bigger BANG, then that Dobie will be right there with ears perked.  If it is the SHOW ME that is weaker, make sure that the victim has something that the dog REALLY REALLY likes. Make it worth Phoenix's effort to lead you back in. Dogs are manipulative and conniving and they can DEFINITELY remember that they have to do three behaviors to get a reward and they will do this if the reward is important enough to them!!! Just like US!! LOL

Well, that is it. This is just a mind-dump on your question with lots of typos and bad grammar and I'm sure some of what I wanted to say got lost but, in closing, my advice is: (1) Back up and condition the behavior longer in a STRUCTURED fashion; and (2) PROTECT THAT DOBERMAN'S ZEST TO RUN -- it is a PRECIOUS WONDERFUL THING!!!

Best regards,




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