Search dogs work under some of the most dangerous and stressful circumstances imaginable to locate lost people and find criminal evidence. They have to be trained and handled far more stringently than most household pets. Here are four lessons you can learn from K-9 handlers that might just help save your dog from danger or even death.
The "Leave It" Command
Search dogs aren't allowed to randomly put things in their mouths when working, as those objects could be a threat or a piece of evidence. If a dog shows interest in something and looks tempted to pick it up (they are, after all, dogs and not perfect), the handler gives them a firm "leave it" command.
Teaching a dog to "leave it" is often taught in puppy classes, and it's great to keep young dogs from chewing your shoes or taking the kids' toys. Some people, however, get lax about using it or never learn it in the first place.
Having a dog that reliably leaves something on command can save its life if it wants to lap up that sweet antifreeze puddle on your morning walk or grab chicken bones out of the garbage. Use your daily walks or even time around the house to teach or reinforce the "leave it" command.
Don't wait for your dog to put something in its mouth to tell it to drop it. The minute it shows any interest at all in something it shouldn't (trash, a dead squirrel, or your toddler's stuffed animal), say firmly, "Leave it." You may have to tug on the leash or pull on its collar for added emphasis.
Once you divert your dog from the undesirable object, reward it with something even better like a dog toy or treat. This is known as correcting and redirecting. Your dog will learn that obeying that command has better rewards than whatever interested it in the first place.
Search dogs frequently work in loud, chaotic settings, like mass disasters (earthquakes, tornadoes, etc.). Sometimes their handlers' voice commands can't even be heard over the ambient noise. To make sure their dogs understand them, search dog handlers often use hand signals.
Hand signals are great for the average dog owner to know because you never know when you too may encounter a noisy atmosphere with your dog (Fourth of July, construction scene, etc.), or your dog could lose its hearing in its elderly years. Teaching hand signals is a lot easier than it sounds.
Two basic signals are the sit and the down. Your dog may already know these voice commands. Practice them with a treat in your hand for a while. Your dog will learn to follow the treat and pay attention to your hand.
When you want your dog to sit, hold a treat above its nose and say, "Sit." When you want your dog to lie down, lower the treat to the ground and say, "Down."
Do this with the treat for a while until your dog reliably follows your hand. Then start only using the treat sometimes, but still hold your hand up or down as if you had the treat. This is known as intermittent reward. Your dog won't know when it's going to get a treat or not, so it will always obey the hand signal.
Having your dog know these commands and even performing them with signals can keep your dog out of trouble. No situation with dogs is ever one hundred percent predictable, however. If your dog does manage to eat something it shouldn't, don't take any chances. Get your pet to the animal hospital, like Beaver Lake Animal Hospital, right away to see what needs to be done.