If you work a search dog, you must ensure that you are training effectively. Stop training for those certification standards, and start training for the realistic search.
This means that you must train on double blind problems, if you want to be an effective and reliable search team. In double blind problems, you know nothing about the training search, and neither does your flanker, or anyone that will accompany you on your search. Double blinds also mean that you train in unknown locations and use unknown subjects, to you and your dog. Hmm, that’s a lot like a real life search, isn’t it? So why don’t more teams train this way? IMO, it is just not realizing what they are doing. They are either not comfortable with their training or they just do not trust their dog enough.
If you don’t do these things, then by always using known factors, your dog is simply running on “auto pilot” to complete the search. I have watched dogs do this. You bring them to the start of the problem, and they look around, sniffing the air, to see who is there, as well as who is missing. They learn, by your previous scent problems, to search for that missing team member’s scent. So when it comes to an actual search, that dog is looking around for who is not there, and then begins to search based on those missing known scents, rather than working the target scent from your scent article, in the case of scent specific dogs. Non scent specific dogs, commonly known as the air scent dogs will do the same, by looking for those ‘missing’ known scents first. To preclude your dog from wasting precious time on a search by searching for those missing known scents, before he reverts to searching for any human scent, you must train using those unknown subjects, or better yet, train that air scent dog to be scent specific. I have watched air scent dogs run right by me, within 5 minutes of the start, when I was the “subject,” never alerting to the handler. The dogs continued on to search for 20 minutes, finally coming back to me, and then alerting their handlers. This was all due to those particular handlers never training using unknown subjects. You can easily combat this, by changing up your trainings, using those unknown factors in your trainings on a regular, at least monthly basis.
Another way, to combat this issue, in addition to using ‘unknowns’ in your training is to train your dog for scent specific work, regardless of his discipline. I approached this subject for ALL live find dogs, and I was summarily dismissed, rather rudely. But now, there are more teams that are training their air scent dogs to be scent specific. And here’s the good part, training for scent specific, takes no more time to train, then it does for non scent specific.
I am not suggesting to start new dogs and young puppies out on the unknown problems immediately. You must imprint them first on what you want them to do, but then you must graduate them to the next level. The key is to not let them stagnate, by keeping them at the same level of training, whether for the handler’s ego, for ease of training, or to always want to mark “satisfactory” in the dog’s records. A failure in training is not a bad thing. Rather it is a great learning experience. It is a benchmark, telling you, the handler, just what you need to work on. I have personally witnessed several teams that train like this, using only known subjects and known training locations. By doing so, you are only hurting yourselves, and your future real life subjects, by failing to train realistically.