Basic Detection Test

Here is a basic test for suitability of a detection dog (specifically a lab)


  1. Test the dogs sociability, he should come out and be happy, excited, and eager to see people. If he is aloof and ready to work more than socialize that is fine. Some labs prefer to greet people than to work, so make sure he is not just a social butterfly. Reject dogs that exhibit fear of people or are unsure about approaching.
  2. Buy from a police dog vendor. If you go to a bird dog trainer, just remember they have a very different mission. Dogs from bird dog trainers have usually been force fetched and will not perform on drive usually, and are taught to use their eyes a lot for marking where birds fall. That is not what we want. We want dogs with little obedience and a lot of natural drive to hunt and retrieve.
  3. Test in an unfamiliar place if possible. If at the vendor’s site you can test there first, but make sure at some point you take the dog to a place the dog has not been to and see if the dog will still hunt and retrieve there.
  4. Choose the toy you will use for training. I start with PVC pipe, because if the dog will hunt and retrieve that, he will be easy to train. Some labs prefer a ball or kong.  Just make sure you test at a minimum on the toy your dog will use in training.
  5. Once the toy comes out, he should be focused on the toy, not socializing with people anymore.
  6. Do 4 or 5 retrieves out in the open where the dog can see the toy. You are looking for how fast the dog goes out, and looking for a fast pick-up. Dogs that run out and smell the object and pick it up gingerly are not preferred. You want a retrieving beast that hits the object like a linebacker, and kicks up some grass and dust!
  7. Do 4-5 throws into tall grass with the wind direction coming towards you if possible. Let the object land, and then spin the dog in a circle. Many labs are trained to use their eyes to mark location, so make sure he doesn’t see it land. While he is hunting, make note of if he is using his nose or eyes. You want a dog sniffing for the object not looking for it.
  8. You should see him quarter in his searching, and make a hard head turn when he gets close to the object, and pick it up fast.
  9. Take the dog inside, and do some retrieves on slick floors, into bathrooms, into dark rooms, and make sure he will go up stairs and down them.
  10. Take the toy and tease the dog with it, and pretend to hide it in a bunch of places in a room with furniture (not a giant room, but an office or a section of warehouse or classroom), then place it where it is not visible but where he can get to it, and see if the dog will search it out. Some dogs don’t know this game, and you will have to teach him. Most vendors teach the dogs to do this prior to sale. But some dogs will not hunt
  11. Do some throws into a car (not your patrol car) and see if he will hunt for the toy in the car. Don’t make it difficult. Make sure he will not get distracted while inside the vehicle and stays focused on the task of finding the toy.
  12. If the dog balks at any of the environmental challenges, if he is unsure, see if he will do it for the toy. You need to know if he will overcome environmental problems for his toy. There will always be something that will be new to him. If the toy doesn’t get him over the issue, select a different dog. If the dog shows fear, do not try to reassure him, use the toy to excite him to overcome the problem. Reassurance is praise, and you do not want to praise him for fear.
  13. Make sure the dog will go into your vehicle cage for his toy or some water.
  14. Drive him to a location like a strip mall, and walk him around and make sure he is comfortable going in and out of the car and going past crowds.