Reply To: Stimulus or cue?

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AvatarLou Castle

    Last question first. You may recall that I said that my work is based on drive training. That means that I try to DIRECTLY use the dog’s drives to reach the goal. Most training involves the dog’s drives, but only peripherally. Training directly with the drives results in minimal confusion, and ultimate reliability. Using the dog’s drives directly means that he’s never wrong, You don’t get the false alerts that waste time, and in the LE (Law Enforcement) world can result in Constitutional violations. And because the dog knows exactly what to do (it’s what his drives make him do) the training goes very fast.

    The best way to have a behavior repeat is if it’s based on the dog’s natural instincts. A drive that has been satisfied is more likely to repeat and this is the key to reliability in dog training. SAR work is nothing more than a natural hunting behavior for a dog. We’re using his natural instinct to hunt, and channeling it into hunting for what we want found. In SAR that means lost persons, evidence, and HR (humans remains). Dogs hunt naturally for food, water, and for other resources. For the most part, we’re tapping into the dog’s hunt and prey drives. Hunt drive is defined as the dog’s drive to search for something that he wants. Prey drive is defined as the dog’s desire to catch and kill prey. It is stimulated by the dog finding his prey. It has six parts: hunt, find, flush, chase, catch, and kill. (Note ‒ Some people combine chase and catch and say that there are five parts.)

    The find-refind (FRF) is harder to teach because it’s counter instinctive. Leaving found prey (when the dog leaves the find to go to the handler) is 180 degrees from what the dog’s drives make him do. YOU become a distraction to the hunt. You have interrupted the dog’s natural instincts to get him to do a trick, return to you and bark. His instincts make him want to flush the prey so that he can chase, catch and kill it. Barking at prey is a natural behavior that’s intended to flush the prey from its hiding place so he can do the last parts of it. The FRF makes that impossible. You’ve interrupted the drive so that it’s impossible for the dog to satisfy it.

    Having the subject deliver the reinforcement while the dog is barking at him is a very easy way to teach the dog to bark at him because it reinforce the natural behavior. The FRF DOES NOT do that. It’s basically a trick. You’re having dog make the find and THEN LEAVE IT, that’s counter instinctive. Then he’s supposed to come to you and bark. You’re not the prey. The dog isn’t trying to flush you from hiding, it’s a trick. Trick training is fun and gets the dog into a learning mode, but it’s still a trick. Tricks, especially ones that go against the dog’s instincts, make the work inherently unreliable. Barking at prey is instinctive, therefore it’s easier to get the dog to do AND it’s more reliable.

    If you use the FRF, every search is 3 searches. The dog has to find the subject, then he has to find you, then he has to refind the subject. If you’ve got a “wandering subject” and a surprising number of lost persons fit this profile, the dog has to do THREE MORE searches for you to make the find. If there are people in the search area, you’re wasting the dog’s energy. They only have so much in the gas tank.

    The FRF takes longer to train. I know people who have not been able to certify for OVER A YEAR, because they are not successful in getting a reliable bark at the refind. These are people whose dogs are reliably making finds but they’re not doing the refind portion of that movement and so they can’t certify. That’s a year of feeding, vet bills and training time. Let’s not forget the gas and associated expenses for the car, food, and your time, for that extra year of training when you’re not able to go on call outs. That’s a year off the dog’s life.

    I’ve heard the argument from those who are afraid that a barking dog will scare the lost persons. My response is “I’ll trade you a scared lost person for the fact that he’s now been found.” Another argument is that the scared lost person may try to flee from the dog and fall off a cliff, killing or injuring them. Or in their blind, fearful flight they will trip or run into a tree and be hurt. At first glance that makes sense. But let’s look a bit deeper.

    Most of these searches are done during daylight hours. Universally, these dogs are wearing brightly colored vests identifying them as SAR dogs. So this argument is unfounded. “But what about people who have an unreasonable fear of dogs?” they ask next.

    GREAT QUESTION! Let’s look at a FRF dog that makes a find, then turns and goes looking for his handler. When the dog first approaches the lost person they may panic. BUT they’re not going to run away. Instead, they’re going to roll up into a fetal position and hope that the dog does not bite them. But a moment later, the dog is gone. THAT IS THE TIME that they’re going to try to escape from the dog. A few minutes later, you and the dog arrive where the dog first found the lost person, only to discover that he’s no longer there. And so the dog has to do another search. The point is that for a person with an unreasonable fear of dogs the time when they’re going to try to flee, is WHEN THE DOG LEAVES! Not when he’s standing in front of them barking.

    Now let’s look at the find with a dog that barks at the subject. The dog makes the find and the person goes fetal. The dog stays with the person barking, calling you to the scene. HE’S NOT GOING TO TRY TO FLEE WHILE THE DOG IS A COUPLE OF FEET AWAY, BARKING AT HIM! It’s too scary. They will think that the dog will elevate to a chase that will surely result in an attack. And so they stay curled up IN A BALL. you arrive a few minutes later in response to your dog’s barking, call the dog away, and the search is over.

    The story that people tell about “subjects fleeing and falling off cliffs” or “running into trees” is COMPLETELY BACKWARDS from what might happen with a barking dog v. a FRF dog. It’s the dog that finds them AND LEAVES that might cause flight, NOT the dog that stays with them and barks.

    You ask “What would she have done if I stood still?” Hard to say without seeing the dog work. She might have sat if you’d waited longer. Or she might have started walking towards you. It sounds as if she was confused. This may have been due to your naturally nervous condition during a certification. That is sometimes similar to what happens during a real search. If it does, the dog might not sit, just as during your cert.

    I’ve always said that an alert should be so obvious that a blind person can see it. If the FRF works perfectly it will fit that requirement. But you’ve discovered one of the issues with it and failed your cert. I’ve never had a find and bark dog fail to bark when making the find. It may start with an excited whine, but soon turns to a bark. And once the dog figures out that it’s the barking that will bring the reinforcement, it comes very quickly.

    You think that she was “totally puzzled” because you were “just standing there” but that can occur at any time during a real search. If it does and she’s puzzled again, what will she do? The answer is, we don’t know. Your dog is confused and confusion leads to unreliability. The find and bark does not involve you, it’s between the lost person and the dog, so it’s more reliable.

    You say that your dog “doesn’t bark.” But I’d bet that there is something that makes her bark, a knock at the door, your doorbell, a toy. I once had a student tell me that he’d been told that getting a dog to bark on command was the hardest thing that you can do in dog training. About 25 minutes later I had the dog barking reliably on command. It’s ONE OF THE EASIEST things to get a dog to do.