Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One of the grand moments in a K9 SAR career

This post also never got publushed, it is also about a year old...

While you might expect the story of a find, or a great training feat, or a superb certification, this story might pale by them, yet it brightened my day and I still relish it a week afterwords and probably will do so for the rest of my life.

The dog, a chocolate Labrador retriever that I barely knew. But I have a very fond place for the chocolate labs, I do understand them quite well. I am also a fan of Cesar Milan. His way with the dogs matches theories I learned in the past, and these have worked for me quite well.

This chocolate lab, a SAR dog in training, was quite hyper about his tennis ball on a rope reward. Let's just say that the yellow cover was coming off the ball and the ball itself was half busted. That lab bit HARD on it and would not let go of it for his handler. The latter had to grab the dog by the harness and wrestle the ball out of its mouth, a real pity.

I approached the dog and claimed my space, which the dog gave me without a second thought. I was calm and assertive and the dog switched to a much calmer way and definitely was submissive. I asked the handler to give me the ball and I immediately threw it to the dog, not 30 feet, not 20, just 5 feet in front of the dog. The dog retrieved it, gave it a bite or two and I extended my hand and asked the dog to give me the ball. The first time, the dog missed my hand, the ball fell on the ground and the dog let me pick it up. Almost immediately, I threw it again, 5 feet away. The dog retrieved, saw my extended hand and put the ball in my hand. We practices a few more throws and the dog had total confidence in me, I could now take the ball, pocket it, pet the dog, talk to the owner, throw the ball, again 5 feet etc. Why 5 feet? The short distance kept the dog calm and focused and this is the mode a reward for SAR ought to be given, clam and focused as not to disturb the learning that just has occurred prior to the reward.

Rita, another now seasoned handler tried it as well, and had the same behavior I did.

Now came the owner's turn, and guess what, when thrown calmly, with expectation to get it delivered back to hand, it happened to him too. The shorter the throw, the better the retrieve and release. It took all of maybe 10 minutes and the handler learned a new way to reward his dog and in so doing, I think there was trust building between the two, something that was sorely missing in that equation.

As for me, I was surprised how quickly the dog gave me his trust. Maybe Stryder, my chocolate lab did talk to that younger dog. Who knows? Fact is, I could get the ball from the dog just by asking and a bit of body language.

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