Air Force Dog Training
by Barbara J. Andrews
Speaking about officer/dog teams graduates at Lackland Air Force base, Major John Probst, commander of the 341st Training Squadron said "When they leave here with
an explosive detector dog, they have the capability to save tens, hundreds, or thousands of lives, depending on how effective they are as a team when they get
to the field."
Probst turns out over 600 dogs for the Armed Services. The dogs are trained in
various specialties or combinations of expertise.
We live with dogs every
day but how often do we really stop to think about their incredible
capabilities? Thousands of years ago, we two-legged mammals recognized the
useful instincts and abilities of canis lupus. We may not have the dog’s keen
sensory perceptions but we are pretty smart, after all, we invited the wolf to
share our campfire.
Why Dog Training Methods Fail
Most people seem to have forgotten why we
invited dogs into our lives. We coddle them, avoid stressing them, and give them very little mental or physical stimulation. We have
untold electronic marvels but the average human has no clue what a dog can do!
Go to the inner city and tell teenagers that dogs have
20-40 times more receptor cells in their nasal cavities than humans and they'll
just shrug. Tell them that dogs can smell a hamburger
three blocks away through traffic and exhaust fumes and you've got their
attention. If you tell them that a bomb-sniffing dog may have saved their lives
without them knowing, the boys will look puzzled because they don’t watch news
programs but they “think they heard it somewhere.” Smile and tell them a
drug sniffing dog can find one marijuana cigarette in a warehouse of tobacco and you’ve
really got them thinking! That is how much mankind has lost touch with his best ally and
strongest partner in the animal world.
You know these things because you love dogs. You probably watch Animal Planet. You come here. You are informed. But look around you. Go to a
local Obedience class and observe. The dogs are worked in short segments and
are given frequent “breaks.” Ask yourself why those dogs are so undependable and
think about this quote from the Air Force trainer “Most working dogs can put in
about a six-hour day before they get tired or disinterested." During training at Lackland, their working hours are about 6 a.m. to noon.
Military trainers agree "To keep a dog effective, it's important that they look at their 'assignments' as
both challenging and fun.”
Contrast that to obedience classes using clicker training
Such tools are not for the dog's benefit,
they are to aid the owner in learning how and when to give commands. Stop
and think. What happens when a hunter is in the field or
a herdsman or shepherd is working his dogs from a distance of over a half-mile?
A top Air Force trainer said “The rewards are simple: A loud 'good boy!' or 'good
girl! combined with some rough and tumble petting, and interactive play with their
Lackland AFB trainer Svitanek summed it up when asked who's easier to work with,
the two or four-legged students? "Definitely the dogs," he said, "People all
have opinions ... the dogs don't."
Take your terrier on a mouse hunt or earth dog trials. You are the
intelligent human so think of a task suitable for your purebred's background.
Not sure of his breed? Doesn't matter, teach him to do something he
perceives as useful. Praise him for fetching your slippers.
Give your dog a job. He’ll give you his life.
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