good working dog should know
by L. Maugh Vail
"This extraordinarily tough and often hard dog has a
brilliant career as a working dog behind him. This has somewhat fallen
into oblivion" from Der neue Weg der Hundeausbildung, by Urs
The above quote from Urs Ochsenbein, founder of the modern Swiss Disaster
Dog Association and a leading trainer in all types of dog sports,
characterizes the Airedale. It throws out a challenge to us all, to bring
back the lost reputation of the Airedale as a working dog.
1. Introduction: dog sports as a training pool from which to draw
service dog training candidates.
Many people who would like to train their dogs for serious purposes fail
to realize that all specialized training requires a foundation. I have
seen people train search and rescue whose dogs were so scattered that
they would run off aimlessly with the handler running helplessly after
them. I have seen police service dogs that are either cowards or aimless
aggressive, dangers to civilians and handlers alike. Such problems occur
because people have failed to think through what they want.
Over the years, people involved in training service dogs devised tests to
determine the potential of the dog for the more demanding, specialized
service work. These tests came to be something fun for trainers and their
dogs and evolved into the dog sports we know today.
The dog sport of Schutzhund has its origins as a pool from which to draw
service dogs for tracking and general police work. In Germany many of the
leading police trainers with international reputations for their insight
into tracking, obedience and protection are also Schutzhund judges. In
Switzerland, in addition to Schutzhund, there are sports for dogs related
to search and rescue, which serve the same purpose. There are trails
there for "medic dogs" where they have to demonstrate
obedience, agility and find missing articles and wounded people. The dogs
are judged on their attitude towards their work, their efficiency and
their alerts. There are similar trails for potential disaster dogs and
avalanche dogs, all with their prescribed rules. The Swiss emergency
services are of the opinion that these sport-trained dogs again form a
valuable pool from which to draw service dogs.
In fact, many of the more knowledgeable search and rescue dog trainers
like to see a candidate dog have some previous training. Helpful are some
obedience commands with emphasis on a directed retrieve and also
tracking. The directed retrieve provides the foundation for sending a dog
out to search a pattern whereas tracking teaches a dog to focus on a task
over a period of time. The better the foundation, the better the dog will
learn. We have found that dogs with little or no foundational training
seldom make intense, focused search dogs.
This leads to the question, what sort of foundation should a working dog
have, and why have people in various countries looked to dogs who have
been titled in these sports rather that training their own dogs from
scratch? Why do the best rescue Dogs and even police dogs seem to come
from abroad, where this close connection between dog sports and service
work has been a longstanding tradition?
II. The Dog's Natural Aptitudes: what makes a dog potentially valuable
What makes a dog valuable for service to us is certain abilities he has.
One obvious ability is his scenting ability. The dog is able to follow
tracks, find evidence, clues, air scent for missing/injured/buried
The dog is also able to go places we cannot. Far example a dog can enter
a collapsed structure and balance himself on precarious surfaces where we
would fall through. The dog can penetrate small opening where we cannot.
The dog goes easily in and out of ravines, across streams, into terrain
where we cannot venture. Finally, the dog can strike quickly and
powerfully against an adversary.
Yes, a dog can do all these things. But most important of all, a dog can
be trained to do these things under the direction of a handler. This is
perhaps his most important asset of all - his OBEDIENCE TO MAN! Without
this quality, there is no guarantee that a dog would use his nose or his
mobility and agility in a way that would be of value to us. It is the
dog's ability to be a team player that makes his talents accessible to
us. Nowhere else do such close relationships exists as between a service
dog and his handler.
III. Factors Common to the Major Dog Sports
The major dog sports such as Schutzhund, ring sport, and the Swiss search
and rescue trials have in common that they show off the basic working
qualities of the dog. They all have some form of obedience exercises -
all very similar - and they all then go into abilities involving the
ability of the dog to use his nose, his ability to do a specialized form
of work such as apprehend a criminal or find an injured person. They show
off a dog that can focus high in drive on his work.
Thus these sports are multi-dimensional - they are not just obedience or
just tracking or just agility or just protection but rather involve a
combination of these. This is so that the dog will have a balance in his
training - something like the foundation we would expect to see in a high
The other thing to notice about these sports is that they do not have the
dog doing everything. The routines are well-prescribed so that the dog
builds a solid foundation. He masters a few skills but really masters
them, rather than spreading himself to thin.
IV. Don't dabble; have performance goals in mind
We should take our cue for the foundation working dog skills from these
sports. Get the rules that describe these various sports. Even though I
may have no intention of training a dog to pass a special test, e.g.
field dog trials, I find the rules for such trials most instructive.
Rules describe tests which have been thought useful to determine the proficiency
level of a dog's performance. They also give us an idea of what sorts of
variety these skills may or even should posses.
It has been demonstrated in Schutzhund for example that a dog can achieve
a level of proficiency in tracking, obedience, and protection. The Swiss
search dog trials have demonstrated that a dog can achieve a level in
obedience, obstacle work and air scenting. The Swiss prefer search
candidates however which have passed the SchH I, because this test weeds
out dogs that shut down in the presence of noise, threats, or pain.
Books on these dog sports contain valuable information about the
potential dogs can attain as well as training tips. Explore and read.
Then put together a training plan and stick to it. It is helpful to join
a group who is receptive to this line of thought.
V. So, what should a working dog know?
First a working dog should know how to concentrate on a task. For
example, tracking is an excellent way to focus a dog. It teaches a dog
top become engrossed in his work over a prolonged period. Tracking is
like algebra. It is quiet, intense, and focused work. It teaches
concentration. A dog who can track usually shows his ability to
concentrate elsewhere. This is clearly a useful, transferable skill.
Tracking is especially beneficial to dogs who will be trained later for
scent work it is vital that the dog remember what he is doing.
Secondly, a working dog should be a team player. To the uninitiated, the
dog obedience exercises look like some bizarre ritual we make the dog go
through. But the dog is a creature of motion. We combine his natural
desire to be in movement with his desire to please, and the result is a
fluid movement which makes a team. This builds mutual trust and
confidence in the team as they learn to work together closely. When
people complain to me that obedience exercises are like mechanical
rituals. I counter with, "How come we don't ridicule the
calisthenics of football team players or dancers?" Obedience is
dancing with the dogs. Nowhere does the true relationship between dog and
handler show itself so clearly as in obedience work.
Thirdly, a working dog should show drive. It is important to give the dog
some kind of task that is instinctive yet simulates a real situation,
e.g. chasing and apprehending a criminal, searching and finding an
injured person, retrieving a lost article. These activities are of course
only pantomimed in training, but they provide great release for the dog.
Or they can be perfected as a sport for trial competition.
In conclusion then, there are generic skills which a dog can learn which
transfer easily over to other situations, We could list some of these
which are really at the heart of the major dog sports:
on a track
respond to directional signals while searching
negotiate obstacles and different surfaces
retrieve over a jump
climb a wall
barking alert / hold and bark
indicate finding of an article
engage a stranger - e.g. the courage test
These are skills that transfer to a wide variety of
situations. They are also within the realm of possibility to master. But
remember, they must be approached in terms of what they represent and
demonstrate. A successful working dog must be able to focus on a task,
act with drive and self-directed energy, and be a team player.