Are you rewarding your dog inappropriately?

I recently watched one of those police shows on spike where the Special Enforcement Unit did a drug raid, and then they called in a drug dog. The dog searched very nicely off leash without interference from the handler, until the dog grabbed a hold of a duffle bag and then started scratching and biting it, with the handler encouraging the behavior with "Did you find the drugs?"  and "Get it boy!"….before opening the bag. If you ask your dog a question, and he answers you, please seek professional help. But be careful with overpraising and rewarding on the street!

I see this all the time with handlers praising their dog and even rewarding with a toy for an UNCONFIRMED alert – meaning the handler has no idea if he just rewarded the dog for finding drugs, being frustrated and tearing something up, or for locating with excellent precision, a ham sandwich.

No matter how reliable your dog is, rewarding unconfirmed finds on the street is likely to cause false alerting somewhere down the road, because no matter how good your dog is, he will eventually alert on something at some time, that isn’t cotnraband. he is a dog and is not perfect.

The proper approach to a street alert is to gently praise the dog off the find, place him in a down or walk him away and confrm the alert. If the dog is correct, allow him to search from a different angle than he did previously (disorienting the dog so he doesn’t run to the location on memory but rather searches with his nose) and then when you get the  alert on confirmed contraband reward him with a toy and generous praise. This brings your reward system into the variable stage and will make your dog’s alert behavior stronger and stronger.