The final days of the course with SWDI were about scent detection. (You can find the blog about the first days here.) The composition of the group changed a bit after the tracking days and we had to say goodbye to some of the great dog teams we had just got to know. The detection course brought along some new handlers and dogs from Sweden, France and Germany. Our training facility also changed from the Lindesberg town to Grimsö Wildlife Research Station that was located in the middle of the beautiful Swedish nature.
First we started focus training with the dogs favourite toy. The purpose of the exercise was to get the dog to stare focused at the toy until it was released to take it or get another reward. The idea behind this exercise was to train the dog to focus on the target (a toy, but also later the target scent) and ignore any distractions there might be. So the dog was supposed to keep its eye on the toy and not even look at the handler or anything else, no matter what. The dogs made progress very fast if the trainers were consistent when increasing the criteria.
The next step was to train scent detection with a small article on a small area. There were small drawers, card board box pile and a pile of tyres where you could easily hide those small pieces to be found. It was important to build up the expectation for the dog to find something in that area by making the exercise very easy in the beginning. As soon as they understood to search on that specific area, they had more patience to stay there and search for even smaller pieces and working more thoroughly.
After small area search we moved to line ups. The line up blocks were first introduced to the dogs by one block at a time. As soon as the dog got the expectation [that it was possible to find a target scent there], more blocks were added. We worked mainly on rows of 6 blocks. The exercises varied: the distance of the blocks was changed (making the row that way shorter or longer), the dogs were kept on and off the leash, the handler changed her walking speed or she just stand aside when the dog was working independently. And of he amount of target scent was varied and different distractions added.
Again, the dog was supposed to ignore the handler, no matter what s/he did. One way to make the handler “disappear” from the training situation was to use another person to reward the dog. The handler did not even need to know which block the target was to minimise the impact of the handler on dog. The handler could either walk along the line up with a steady pace or stand aside. Either way the dog could not take any hints of the target scent by watching the handler. If the dog decided to go with the handler, it missed the opportunity to get rewarded. The reward would only appear if the dog found the target scent and stayed with it. Very rapidly the dogs got the idea and ignored the movement of the handler and stayed focused on the line up.
It is important not to get stuck with any routines or manners. Everything should be varied.
You should vary the place you put the hide in: the hight, the depth, the position in the search area, the amount of the scent, etc. And addition to that, you as a handler should also never get predictable. You should train where you stand or sit, how you move or talk, and what happens outside of the search area when the dog does not see you. Other things to vary could be for example size of the search area, surfaces, lighting (darkness), distractions and so on.
Unfortunately my scent detection course ended too early, because I needed to get back to work. I missed many information-packed training days with this talented group, but I have a feeling that this was not the last time I visit SWDI.
One essential thing with every goal-oriented training is a well thought training plan with regular check ups and testing. This is one of the things that was stressed on these courses. At the SWDI they suggested to have training plans for three months which are tested every three weeks. “What you cannot train in three months, you cannot train at all.”, they said. If some problems become visible in testing, you should change something in the training plan to get progress.
I prefer to base my knowledge on facts. What I liked especially in these courses was, that the facts were introduced based on research and available studies made on dog behaviour – and they were taken into account when planning the exercises. We got a lot of information and articles that explain for example how important it is to collect data on your training and to test your dogs skills on regular basis. We also learned how the dog handler affects her dog , how to make use of the play when training, and what is good and bad stress for the dog and how it affects learning. Some of those articles have been already referred in this blog earlier, but there are a lot more to refer to in the future.
The days were really intense and full of theory, practise and good conversations. If you ever have an opportunity to take part in SWDI training, I would strongly recommend on attending.
Thank you for a great week Jessica, Jens, Tobias, Petter, Marie, Mats and Emma!
Also many thanks for all our course mates! It was great to meet you and train with you all!
And last, but not least, thank you Teemu for an awesome travel company!