Rehoming Laboratory Dogs in Finland

The Finland program to rehome laboratory Beagles has generally been a success. The program consisted of giving the dogs socialization and training for approximately six months. However, this was not enough time for some dogs who remained timid and suffered from separation anxiety.

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The dogs were used to study animal cognition and the basic workings of the canine mind. The dogs lived in packs of eight from two to eight years.

While this program is to be commended for rehoming the dogs, the question that comes up in my mind is how can researchers study the workings of the canine mind when these dogs are not living in a normal environment without normal experiences? This is food for thought about the research that makes claims about what dogs feel and how they interpret their world.

Detector Dogs and Scent Movement

Detector Dogs and Scent Movement: How Weather, Terrain, and Vegetation Influence Search Strategies by Tom Osterkamp, published by CRC Press: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISBN:13: 978-0-367-07429-6, 236 pgs. $64.95 USA, £47.99 (GBP), $101.00 (AUS), $113.00 (NZD)

When Mr. Osterkamp asked me to review his book, based on the title I thought it would be just another run-of-the-mill book about scent for SAR dog handlers. I was very wrong. This book is by far the most meticulously researched book that I have read in a long time. It is a collection of scientific material that covers in depth, all search situations regarding scent detection dogs. Each chapter has sub chapters making it easy to find the exact information you need. There is a detailed index, and three appendices, Abbreviations, Acronyms and Questions and Needs for SD (Scent Detection) Training and Deployment.

In his Preface, Mr. Osterkamp says, “This book reviews the scientific literature on scent and scent movement with emphasis on scent movement in outdoor environments. . . . Throughout the book, comments and suggestions are made to show how handlers can use the information in training and deploying search dogs. Several new hypotheses are made about scent and scent movement.”

Although no book can explain how to handle every situation that a SAR dog handler will encounter, Detector Dogs and Scent Movement gives the handler in-depth details that will help the handler make decisions in the field. Mr. Osterkamp has lived up to his statements in the Preface.   

I liked the fact that he included cause and effect situations, for example: “When a dog or handler works harder and longer during a search than during training, the dog is more likely to give a false alert and the handler is more likely to make mistakes.” (pg.46)

Mr. Osterkamp’s writing style is direct and unbiased, presenting scientific studies in a manner that is easy to read and understand. However, this book is not a how to train your dog guide. The material in this book will help the handler understand how scent affects his dog on a search, in training and how to better utilize his dog for the maximum results. The chapters outline potential problems and a summary of the chapter.

There are seven major chapters:

1. Introduction

2. The Dog’s Nose and Scent

3. Scent and Wind

4. Above Ground Searches

5. Buried Sources

6. Water Searches

7. Trails and Trailing

I have to strongly recommend that every scent dog handler and trainer, SAR or other working scent detection K9’s as well as those who use dogs in sports that involve scent work, study this book.

How reward-based training can mask intelligence in animals

In a study with rodents and ferrets’ researchers found that using treats could mask an animal’s true intelligence. They found a difference between performance and knowledge and that there are two processes, one for

Embroidered JRT pup by S.B.

Content and one for environment. The study was conducted by Kishore Kuchibhotla, an assistant professor in The Johns Hopkins University’s department of psychological and brain sciences.

The study wanted to explore how reward-based training affects learning verses performance or behavior. Their research showed that reward-based training improved learning in steps or stages but can mask an animal’s knowledge, especially what the animal learned early in life.

The researchers hope that the results of this study and future studies will help people with Alzheimer’s Disease maintain lucidity as well as improve testing environments for children.

Reward-based training is the most humane way to train a pet, but the pet owner must recognize that the pet is more intelligent than the training demonstrates. This is evident when a pet uses the lessons he has been taught in new ways.

Non-social fear in dogs

According to a recent study at the University of Helsinki there are a number of factors that cause a dog to have non-social fears.

The researchers studied 14,000 dogs of various breeds and found that those who were fearful of novel situations, noise sensitivity, slippery surfaces, heights and transparent stairs, for example, benefited from physical activity. Some dog owners avoid doing things with their dogs because they do not want to put them into situations that cause fear.

Lily and Jib

Lack of proper socialization is also a contributing factor that causes a dog to develop fear. They found that urban dogs are more fearful than rural dogs and fear is more common in spayed females and smaller dogs.

The article goes into more detail about the various breeds and the fears that they have. Interestingly they stated that Cairn Terriers were among the most fearful breeds.

The fact that there are breed differences indicates that a good breeding program can go a long way in reducing fear in breeds of dogs. Socializing puppies is something everyone can do. However, it should be done under the guidance of a competent dog trainer, especially for first time dog owners.

Dog Training Tips 4 The age to start training

For a long time, it was believed that you should not start training a dog until he was six months of age. I feel that this came about for a number of reasons. One, trainers did not know how to train a young puppy. Two, people did not have the patience to train a puppy. Three, trainers felt that a dog younger than six months was not mature enough to train. But consider this, from birth a puppy is able to learn. At birth they learn how to nurse, how to sleep with their litter mates and that they have a benefactor, their mother.

As they grow, they learn how to play with each other. If they are raised by a diligent breeder, they learn how to interact with humans. Each week that they grow, they are able to learn more about their environment. They explore, watch, and interact. By eight weeks of age they are able to associate and mentally sort what they experience well enough to start learning things like house-training. The point is, that puppies are very able to learn.

However, they have a very short attention span and seem to forget lessons from one day to the next. In reality they do not forget, they are developing the ability to categorize what they have learned. Even humans will learn something much quicker and easier if they can relate it to something they already know. When people have to learn something totally new, it takes much longer. Dogs are no different than people.

If you wait until a dog is six months old to start training them, you have to undo all of the things they have learned on their own that you do not want. The dog has been learning anyway. It is much easier for the dog and the owner to start training as soon as you bring your cute puppy home. I recommend giving the new puppy a week to adjust to his new environment and you, then using clicker training to teach him his house manners. The main thing is to have patience and realize that it will take longer for the puppy to be reliable, but he will learn. I started training all of my search and rescue dogs at 12 weeks of age. They grew up knowing the job that they had to do.

The key is to understand that each dog will learn at their own pace. You have to be patient because dogs learn the same way as human babies or young children. Training should never physically or mentally hurt the dog. Only reward the behavior you want. In the next Dog Training Tips, I will talk about how to communicate to a dog.

Dog Training Tips 3

In Dog Training Tips 2 I talked about how the type of dog, its breed(s) influence the dog’s personality and how biddable the dog is. The term biddable means how willing the dog is to obey. Some breeds are much more biddable than others. For example, most of the herding and some of the hunting breeds are very biddable. Some of the breeds classified as working dogs are biddable but some are not. The least biddable breeds tend to fall into the livestock guarding breeds and the hounds. However, this does not mean that they are less intelligent. As a matter of fact, the livestock guarding breeds are very intelligent but as a rule are bred to work independently, and alone. They must make very important decisions to protect the flock that they are guarding. Many people are attracted to these breeds because they are very quiet and calm. However, they do not make good pets. They are bred to repel an intruder regardless if it is animal or human. It takes a special person who understands this type of dog and knows how to train them to successfully own one.

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Created by Bruce Ross

The hounds are another difficult breed to train. Again, not because they are less intelligent, but because they are bred to be very focused. Think of it this way. If a hound is bred and taught to hunt fox, they must only find and follow the scent of a fox. A Foxhound who is side-tracked on the fresher scent of a rabbit or deer, is no use as a Foxhound. But, some of you may say, what about Bloodhounds that look for missing people. Each person has his own unique scent. This is true, but the hound is trained to follow only human scent, whichever human scent his handler indicates. The Search and Rescue (SAR) Bloodhound will not veer off a trail to track an animal.

Because the hounds are very focused, they often block out everything else. For the pet owner, this can be frustrating because as hound owners know, when these dogs go for a walk, their noses are often on the ground taking in all of the scents. Their tendency to focus so strongly on scent, and their ability to block out everything else makes them seem to ignore the commands of their owners. The younger the dog, the harder the hound is to train because he is going to follow his instincts first. This means that the dog’s owner must exercise a lot more patience and realize that it will take much more effort on their part to motivate the hound to break his focus and listen to commands. One way to circumvent this is to use clicker training on the very young, 12-week-old puppy, before he fully develops his ability to focus on scent. All puppies have short attention spans and if you do not want to train your puppy to hunt, then this is a good time to take advantage of the puppy’s short attention span to teach him to focus on you.

Never forget, dogs do not speak human languages. Therefore, it takes patience on our part to teach them and you must take care not  to repeat a command. The dog does not understand that “Sit” is one word. If you say, “Sit, Sit, Sit!” the dog will think it is all one word and never sit until you say it three times. A thought for today, did you ever wonder why dogs seem to be able to communicate to us better than we can to them?

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or if you need a certified canine behaviorist.

Dog training tips 2 -The type of dog and training

Successful dog training is not just about the method of training the dog. A big part of training a dog depends on the type of dog you have and the lines it comes from. Whether it is a purebred or mixed, all dogs have lines which is another way to say their ancestry. Typically the term “lines” refer to selective breeding, but selective or not, the parents and grandparents have a strong genetic influence on the personality of the dog and make up the dog’s lines.

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Dogs were selected for specific traits, which make up the breed. These traits are a combination of the physical and mental attributes. For example, if you have a few sheep in a field and nearby is a rabbit hiding in the brush, a Border Collie will know that the rabbit is there but will focus on the sheep. If you put a Beagle in the same field, he will know the sheep are there but focus on the rabbit. This is part of their genetic mental makeup or to put it another way, what they are bred to do.

The attitude of the dog depends on the breed(s) that it is made of. In the case of mixed breed dogs, you will only know by observation which genes are dominating their mind and to confuse things even more, the environmental stimulation can trigger different responses. For example, a dog that is a cross between a Border Collie and Beagle may be attracted to both the sheep and the rabbit, making it unreliable to use in the field.

Added to this are the general canine instincts that all dogs have. The most common and easiest for dog owners to see, is the prey chase drive. What this means is that how easy it is to train a dog depends on the genetic makeup of the dog and its individual personality or temperament.

A good dog trainer will understand how the genetics of a dog affect how it thinks and responds to stimuli and adjust the training methods to ensure success. This does not mean that some dogs must be trained using harsh methods but finding what motivates the dog can be tricky.

There are many dog trainers worldwide that advocate using choke collars, pinch collars, and shock collars. There is never a need to use these methods to train a dog. I have been training dogs professionally since the 1960’s and specialized in aggressive dogs and have never had to use any of this equipment.

A good dog trainer will motivate the dog to want to obey. But as I have said in my previous article, obedience is not a question of knowing what to do or what not to do, but the ability to exercise self-control to do it. You must give your dog time and practice to develop self-control.  More tips to come. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. If you need the help of a certified canine behavior consultant go to www.iaabc.org.

The amazing ability of dogs to detect scent

In a recent study conducted by the University of Alberta, they determined that a dog could detect fire accelerants such as gasoline in quantities as small as one billionth of a teaspoon.

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The study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of arson detection dogs. To test this the researchers used two dog-and-handler teams. One dog was trained to detect a variety of ignitable liquids, and the other was trained with gasoline. Interestingly, the dog trained on a variety of liquids performed well detecting all accelerants, but the dog trained on gasoline could not generalize to other accelerants at extremely low concentrations.

The reason for the tests was that accelerant dogs will give an indication at a site and when the material is tested in a lab, no trace of accelerant is found.

Those of us who use dogs for various scent work will find this information helpful. The study concluded that a dog could detect odor at one billionth of a teaspoon. In previous studies by Johnson and Johnson, they determined that a dog could detect any scent at one part per trillion.

The variables that must be considered in research such as this are:

The dog’s physical ability to detect odor. Even a good dog will have off days.

The trainer’s ability to train the dog.

The air flow at the testing site.

The age of the material, in other words, how old is the scent source?

And my last comment, if the dog who was trained to detect only gasoline would not generalize to other accelerants at a low level, he was doing what he was trained to do. It does not mean that the dog could not detect the low-level scents. The question that needs to be addressed is do the non-gasoline accelerants have a gasoline chemical that evaporates quickly that the dog would identify at a higher concentration, but at low levels are there other scents or chemicals in the accelerant that are residual which the dog is not trained to find? For example, a dog taught to follow human scent will never follow animal scent. Unless the other accelerants had the chemical composition of gasoline, the dog should not indicate it.

But this is a good study and does give us an idea of the concentration of scent that a dog can detect.

 

A Dog’s personality can change

According to a study done by William Chopik a professor at Michigan State University a dog’s life changes can influence their personality. His study has confirmed that dogs have moods and personality traits that shape how they react to situations.

The way you treat your dog and the activities that you do with your dog can influence the dog’s personality. He found that the sweet spot for training and shaping a dog’s personality is around six months of age.

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Chopik plans to continue his study to see how the environment can change a dog’s personality. For example, a dog may behave one way in a shelter and if adopted into a loving home, may react differently. A previous study by Clive Wynne, professor of psychology and head of the Canine Science Collaboratory has demonstrated that letting shelter dogs do a sleepover in foster homes goes a long way to reduce their stress.

Therefore Chopik is on the right track with his planned study about how adopting a dog out of the shelter environment may change the way the dog reacts. However, canine behaviorists know that it can take three to six months for a dog to fully adjust to a new environment.

The bottom line is that this study shows that it is important to give your dog a loving home, train your dog, and properly socialize your dog to give your dog the best possible life.

Do bigger brains mean smarter dogs?

According to a study conducted by Daniel Horschler, a UA anthropology doctoral student and member of the UA’s Arizona Canine Cognition Center, dogs with bigger brains can perform certain tasks better than dogs with smaller brains. The researchers found that larger-brained breeds had better short-term memory and self-control than smaller dogs, regardless of the extent of training the dogs had received.

The tests showed that brain size did not determine a dog’s performance on tests of social intelligence such as being able to follow where a person points or with the dog’s inferential and physical reasoning ability.

What the study did not define is what is considered small and what is considered large? What the study also did not seem to take into account is the difference between the way humans relate, handle and treat small vs large dogs. As a canine behavior consultant and dog trainer I have seen a vast difference between the way owners treat and relate to large vs small dogs. For example, you do not see owners carrying their Labrador Retrievers around in backpacks or pushing them in strollers. Often small dogs are not allowed to act like dogs whereas large dogs are allowed to act like a dog should act. It is interesting to consider.