How many times have you trained a dog and got frustrated when it fails over and over again? In how many of those times did you have a written training plan that you also followed?

We usually go to the training field or training facilities and have an idea of something we want to train. Maybe something that did not go very well last time or something we want the dog succeed in. We then decide the theme of the training and start working with the dog. This happens although we know how important it would be to plan something beforehand. Still not many of us writes the training plan down, or analyses those details that need to be taken into account during the training session.

I was visiting SWDI again this January for a 7 days. We had a detection work shop with one theme for the whole week: training protocols. We were given a protocol for detection work that we were supposed to follow for that week. Everyone read it through first time in the lecture room. Very clear and coherent plan with well explained, detailed training steps. Before we took any of the dogs in the training facilities we read the first step over again and set up the needed equipment for the first round.


Progression plan by SWDI.

When we arrived in with the dogs, one at a time, the set up was ready and the dog could be sent to work immediately after entering the room. Assisting handler wrote down all the successful repetitions, possible missed hides, false alarms and the number of resets. Every dog did about 3-6 repetitions before they were taken out for a break again.
The time we had for the training was used effectively, because every time a dog was present, the handler knew exactly what she or he was supposed to do and what was expected from the dog. If the dog failed 2 times in a row, the trainer had to think what should be changed and then reset the exercise. If the dog succeeded 3 times in a row, the trainer could move on.

This method worked with all of the dogs with different backgrounds and learning history. When we proceeded step by step following the plan we could see huge progress with every dog by the end of the week.

What should you take into account when making your own training plan, then?

First you need to decide what your goal is and write it down with all substantive details. For example, if you are training a “sit” command, you need to describe what is the situation that you aim for, what is the environment, duration, distance and the position and station of the dog. If you were starting training “sit” for agility competition, where the dog needs to stay put in the start and wait for the command to start running, the goal could be something like “Dog needs to sit for at least 10 seconds in the start, front paws behind the line, facing the course while the handler walks away from the dog, closer to the first obstacle. Dog may leave only when it hears the command from its own handler.

When you have your goal, you divide the training in to sub goals and important elements.

At SWDI detection work shop we had a task to make a progression plan for remote scent detection.

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Remote scent detection

The idea was that the handler should stand outside the doorway and send the dog to the line ups two times. You flipped a coin to see which one. There could be one target scent in the line up or not. If there was no scent, you needed to call the dog back. You would get minus points if the dog went for the wrong line up or did a false indication.

To train our dogs for this, we made a progression plan. It looked like this:

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Training step 2.4 (Handler standing in the doorway. Send the dog left/right on line ups placed in a 45 degree angle from the door 2,5m to the first object. Dog on a leash.) of remote scent detection on line ups. (Video by M.K.)

We had one only day to complete the whole task: planning, training and competing against other teams. We had three dogs competing in our team. We used about half an hour to write down the whole plan and had the rest of the day for well planned training.

In the next video you can see one of our teams dogs competing. The right side line up is just down from the camera. Dog is sent to the left one. No hits on this run.


Making this kind of training program and following it systematically, you will get stronger behaviours and results much sooner than just training and modifying the training plan while you are working on it. Without a plan there is a  big chance you either raise the criteria too soon and the dog fails because of it, or you stay on the safe ground where the dog succeeds but does not proceed.

Do you have good training plans that have shown to be effective in your scent work? Feel free to share them n comments.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Anonymous

Thank you again for a spectacular training week that again gave lots of new ideas
Jessica, Tobias, Jens, Petter, Team Stefan Löfven and all the other great course mates!