Q. Like clicker training, marking each and all of those little things adds up, and then needs to be reinforced. Training is needed throughout their life, isn’t it? Is Holly still being trained?
A. Every day, because a Bloodhound is like a piece of lab equipment that you have to maintain, to calibrate and keep dusted; otherwise you go to use it and it’s broken. There are always new fragrances, new techniques—if a person jumps out of a sports car, it’s different than if a person comes out of a semi. And day versus night, snow versus rain versus dry leaves. As I tell these operational folks—whether they are SAR or law enforcement—when you get that initial certification on your dog, she is a deployable asset, and congratulations, you just entered kindergarten. Now the training starts! Because up until that point, the dog and the human are building the team, developing basic skills and meeting a certain number of criteria. Then they go out in the field. There is nothing more humbling than to show up on an actual case and realize, “Oh, I’ve never trained for this.” I’ll guarantee you that within the next two weeks, you will be training for that.
Q. Some people say that a human can actually “break” a dog. In other words, the dog has to trust you, and if you give the dog the wrong cues, the wrong direction—and the dog invariably knows better—that confidence between the two of you can be broken. Have you seen this with Bloodhounds?
A. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that. One of the dogs I placed and trained earlier—a rescue dog who came to me with some emotional baggage but did a great job getting trained—went into a situation in which she basically decided she wasn’t getting enough work. This dog was high maintenance, and needed lots and lots of work. She decided that she no longer felt like working for the human, and she shut down and was sent back to us. I tested her and found her to be happy, wiggly, dragging me around the field. Now she’s with another law enforcement agency and is doing fantastic because she is getting the work she needs. It is a very delicate bond, a very delicate balance. But Bloodhounds will go to their death to protect their human partners.
This article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 36, May/Jun 2006 published as Dogs at Work