New Year Resolutions for Police Dog Training


Over the next few posts I want to discuss 5 New Year’s Resolutions for Police Dog Training. Today I will discuss the first two:

  1. Establish Goals
  2. Break Down Training into Steps
  3. Train from the result to the start (Back Chaining)
  4. Anticipate Outcomes and set up for success
  5. Use more Reward, and Compel Efficiently

 Establish Goals

Too many police dog handlers fail to establish goals, whether for a training session they are about to begin, or for a more medium term goal such as the dog indicating on a high find deep in a building on a building search. As a handler you need to take control of your training program and understand why you are doing a particular exercise in a particular way. You should set up training to achieve specific, defined goals. Don’t just set out drug hides to run the dog on without regard for difficulty or objectives you may have in training. In every session you should be working on particular skills, such as the alert, or the searching behavior, or ignoring distractions you set up such as food or novel odors to proof the dog’s odor recognition. Training record forms set us up for lazy training: We fill in drug odors and amounts, and rate performance. Don’t confuse your records with training goals. Know what your dog needs to improve upon, and note it in the narratives, and then set up training to directly address those weaknesses. Set up training to reinforce strengths as well. You should be able to state your training goals with your dog for every skill set he possesses at any time. If you can’t do that, start thinking about it so that you can. Write down everything you want your dog to be capable of doing (within reason) and set those as long term goals. Then decide how to break each goal into a set of manageable training steps you can consistently train.


Break Down Training into Small Steps


Let’s say a dog has an issue you are addressing in training. Say the dog is having trouble with the bark alert in the building search. If the alert is the problem, we need repetition of the alert to train and condition the response we want. So set up your session to address that specific issue. Having the dog search a giant building for one alert opportunity is inefficient and lacks focus, and is poor training planning because it fails to break down the training to focus on the issue your dog needs to have addressed. A simple search problem which will not tire the dog out and an easy find is what we want to create so we can concentrate on training the alert behavior. As the alert behavior becomes a habit, we can slowly make the search problem more complex, and if the alert maintains, we add further complexity. I hear so many times how handlers have been “working hard” on an issue and the dog isn’t responding, but working hard and working smart are two different things. You can dig a ditch with an icepick, and yes, you will work hard at it and it will take a lot of time. Training must be goal oriented, and the session must be focused to achieve those goals, and this is accomplished by breaking the problems down into small manageable concepts and training in a progression, step by step.