ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Beginning Search and Rescue

Can you help me find the proper resources to train a SAR using clicker methods?

I am happy to help you, but you will need to be more specific. Your question is too overwhelming to answer quickly. If you can answer what category you fit in as a "trainer" then it is easier to find resources.

There is no one source of information that will get you a good SAR dog. The biggest obstacle is actually you. Dogs already know how to "search". Getting a dog to find something for you is actually very easy to do. The question might be: How can I be a more effective leader. I prefer to look at the "doggy" experience in more general terms than in one specific skill such as search and rescue. Most of the training you do will be other things that really do not involve scent training.


You will need to decide what type of leadership you will exert. There are many different models out there with huge philosophical differences. Leadership comes in all flavors. In the short run I might be more effective to lead with a "gun". It is possible to teach a dog to perform using force, manipulation. The method you use is important because this will set up what type of relationship you will "statistically" observe with your dog. So if your goal is to get a dog to search, you can use any method. Or are you are seeking a more "bonding" type of experience with your dog ?


(not how to smell) If you pick clicker training stick with it. Try not to get into "traps" like using "luring" as your teaching method. The big picture is NOT that you are teaching a sit, but that you are teaching your dog how to learn. Once your dog understands the learning game you will both have the skills to learn new things more quickly. It can be very confusing to teach a dog to ask a dog think on its own and offer behavior(as in clicker style) and then use force or manipulation which causes the dog to "shutdown". Please do not mix methods.


There is research out there that suggests getting your dog at a certain age so as to allow it enough time to learn from its pack certain social skills. Also, I would be very conscious of the environment that the mother and pups are living in before you get your dog. This may be picky ... but I am trying to increase my odds of getting a "social" dog.


Know what your housebreaking strategy is going to be. Also, what is your schedule ? Does the puppy get to stay at home all day by itself? I decrease my odds of success if I allow my child to be raised by the school, internet, tv, and other children without any interaction from me. The same is true with my dog. If I am not around to reinforce good behavior how can I expect a dog to learn what I like. The next big initial issue is working on getting the dog to want to be with you versus chasing deer. If you are unsuccessful your dog will end being a "runner" by the time he is two.


Seek pleasure, avoid pain. Behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to increase... Behaviors that are not reinforced extinguish. Very simple phrases but sometimes hard for people to internalize.


Continued Very important. The litter mate experience will help shape how your dog relates with others socially. It would be handy for you to understand how dogs signal and react socially. For example, seeing and reacting to signs of stress from your dog will help you predict outcomes of how he will react when another dog is approaching.


..Finally It is up to the handler to understand more about the mechanics of scent than the dog as the dog already has this uncanny ability and doesn't really need to understand it. This is important because it will allow you to think up practice sessions with your dog. For example, if you know that the "victim" has started at Point A you start your dog a Point A and follow the trail. This is probably the most simple of all tracking in concept. Learn the different tracks and how best to approach them. Once you have an understanding play hide and seek to develop your dogs appreciation of what you want. This gives your dog practice at honing its skills. Get creative, but go in "baby" steps.... for example hide in a tree when the dog gets more experience. Decide on your alert signal.


...the answer to your question. Any SAR book that explains how dogs smell and different types of tracks that you will encounter. I only have one book on tracking so I am not the person to ask. It is called "Scent" ..Training to Track, Search, And Rescue authored by Milo D. Pearsall and Hugo Verbruggen. It is an old book but I like its presentation on what we know about the mechanics of smelling (which we still don't completely understand) and it has some example tracks. That is the only part I would read. All the other topics that I listed above are more important and will depend on what your philosophy is on what resources you will choose to get to that point. So if you choose clicker training as the "learning method" for your dog go get books on clicker training and better yet go to a clicker class. You are not after learning SAR but how to teach. Even here you will need to decide if you actually believe in what points the authors are trying to get across. If you want to lead without coercion, study ideas on how to lead without coercion. Answering these questions to yourself will lead you to the right resources more efficiently :-)

Rob Hussey
copyright 2000 Rob Hussey


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