Training Question: Detection Dog’s Searching

Issue: In detection work, the dog’s drive is over the top, and he spins and barks during the search pattern, and it distracts him from good searching. What should I do?


You may need to change your context cues for his searching. Most handlers show the toy and get the dog in drive, before sending the dog to search. You might want to work on a long down, and put him in a down for a minute or two before quietly starting the search. Whisper his search command. Don’t talk to him while he is searching, and wean off a lot of presentation (movement in the search area by you can kick him into higher drive) and let him work it out on his own. He needs to learn that barking and spinning doesn’t win him the toy. As his handler you need to complement his temperament. You need to be quiet and calm to counter act his over the top drivey behavior.


Imagine you had the opposite problem, where the dog didn’t show enough passion for the searching, what would you do? You would give him easier finds, and quick rewards, and lots of very vocal praise, and probably more handler assistance to build interest. In this case you need to do the exact opposite. You need to make the hides more challenging, and as well, do a very large proportion of blank areas to non-blank areas. The dog needs to realize his searching will go on for a while. Dogs that have this problem are usually being worked in their in-service training with short problems and quick finds, so the dog comes to anticipate his reward is coming very fast, adding to the anticipation of the outcome. If the dog has tons of energy, giving him his Kong at the beginning usually will not result in getting him calmed down, but rather more excited, because you give him what he wants right out of the gate as you have found out.


Many Malinois are very impatient and impulsive dogs and must be taught to work their scent detection and tracking in a lower than normal gear, as they are often wont to work in “sprint” mode as opposed to “distance” mode. Making the problem more complex, demanding more concentration, with rewards spaced out longer, will over time, teach the dog to work longer at a good level of concentration. Make the rewards a little more variable, and don’t reward every find with his toy. Sometimes just praise him off of it, and start another search.


Unfortunately, by virtue of the limited training time available to most officers, scenarios are often set up and worked rather quickly, with fast results, and while for some dogs this works, for other dogs this makes for very impulsive behavior.