Sunday, 6 February 2011

New Dog Training Techniques - back from India

I'm hoping to write a few blogs about India itself, about the people, what I thought about how they live, their dogs, both street and owned.

Here's some of the dog training.

Training Sheba the Saluki to do the Guide Dog task. 

At the test on the last day (blindfolded) I did walk into one barrel, but with more time to train I'm sure Sheba would have carefully led me round every obstacle! She also alerted and led me to the doorbell at the end of the task - a Hearing Dog task.

Training Sheba to detect tobacco

Some of the dogs were learning to detect explosives, tobacco isn't quite as glamorous but apparently it's hard to get the scent of drugs through customs. No idea why... For this section we were being trained by Jane Sharp, who trains the detection dogs at Heathrow Airport.

The lecture hall. I'm hidding behind other students, but see if you can spot me!

All the lectures were outside. This was where we had our lectures about dog behaviour and learned the techniques we then used on the dogs. 

Tracking session

We learned 'search and rescue' style tracking, teaching the dogs to use not just the track itself, but sight, sound and the air currents. Helped along by us! So we learned a little bit about following tracks as well, and if  wespotted the item, person or sausages that counted, it wasn't the dog working on their own. I'm told this is properly called 'trailing' and is great fun to do, as you really are working in harmony with your dog.

The great thing about all of these activities is that they are all done on the lead. So any dog can do it,, it doesn't matter if they pull on the lead, or are not reliable off the lead. Plus it can be done in areas dogs may not be allowed off the lead. I'd like to use my new skills to make training fun again. So no  endlessly marching up and  down a training hall in a line with a group of other dogs.

Dogs can be useful again - the Hearing Dog task for instance - ever mislaid your mobile phone? You ring it, but still can't quite place it, which coat or bag has it been left in? Or maybe you dropped it, you know roughly where, but can't see it. Your dog can take you straight there.

If you're walking along having a chat with friends, have you ever 'nearly' walked into a lampost or a tree? Your dog can make sure those near misses never happen, and once they've learned to lead you around obstacles, the bond between you strengthens and you can use this to help stop pulling on the lead.

And after the more standard exercises are done, what's more fun than teaming up with some other dog lovers, splitting into two teams, and using your dogs to help find a person who is 'lost' or better yet, a trail with all the makings of a picnic on it! If your dog doesn't find something you may find you have everything to make a cuppa but the teabag, but that's where the fun is. Maybe the other team found the tea, but not the milk.

Once our dogs have learned to locate lost items, we will never lose our keys again! Anything that's dropped can be found again, and dogs regain their lost purpose. Many of our breeds today were bred to work - while some dogs have a working life and there are plenty of dog sports to try out there, they all need investment in money and time, especially if you want to compete seriously. 

Our dogs were finding 'lost' people very, very quickly, after very few sessions they were leading us around on a night track (completely dark, no street lights in the mountains of Pune - I've never, ever seen so many stars), successfully finding the spoons our trainers had left for us. I think we missed one, but on 'test day' we found enough letters to make the word TEAMWORK.
Some of these skills are very new to me, so I'm practising them with  my dogs, but if you fancy a short session, we can meet in the park and learn together -the more dogs I do this with the more I will learn. Fees, coffee if it's a chilly day, diet coke if it's a warm day! If I can teach a 7 month old Saluki, your dog can learn this too. I also worked with ten year old Sarah, so there really is no limit on the dogs who can learn these skills.

I have two more course this year, one in March repeating some of the trailing work with one of my dogs, then one in May repeating some of the detection work, with another of my dogs. I've been told I don't need to do these after being in India, but I'd like the refresher on the techniques and of course I get to work with my dogs under expert supervision.