How To Identify A Change Of Behavior (COB) In Your Detection Dog

How To Identify A Change Of Behavior (COB) In Your Detection Dog

Many detection dog handlers watch almost exclusively for one thing when they are working their dog: the indication, or TFR (trained final response). It is critical to know when your K9 has identified a target odor source, and where exactly that source is located, but many factors can interfere with a dog performing their final response. 

Occasionally, a K9 will be confronted with significantly more or less odor than they have been trained on, or there may be other environmental factors (such as target odor placement, air movement, etc.) that can cause them to not provide their handler a TFR. In the presence of a trained target odor – even if conditions may not be ideal – a detection dog will demonstrate what’s called a “change of behavior (COB).” At its most basic form, this means that a dog’s body language will change once it goes into odor, which typically always happens just prior to the performance of their trained final response. 

It is not only important to recognize your dog’s change of behavior in case they go into odor but do not indicate (this may signify the presence of residual odor, or that target odor is there but something is interfering with the K9’s ability to identify the exact location), but also in case a K9 “falses” (where they display their final indication but no target odor is present). 

Why this matters for you

In order to be the most effective detection dog handler possible, it is critical to understand the importance of identifying a COB, or that moment when your dog goes into odor (and what is occurring during that time). It is more critical, however, to be able to recognize the moment that it happens and how long they are in odor for. Being able to identify the moment that your K9 goes into odor will allow you to mark that your dog showed interest in that specific area (in case you re-run them, send another K9 through or send a human team in to analyze the area in more detail). It will also communicate that there is, or was, something of interest there but something is interfering with the K9s ability to target the exact location of source. 

By being able to read your dog’s change of behavior, you will know with 100% certainty that your dog is indicating on target odor, and you will be able recognize exactly where the odor is coming from. Not only will this assist you directly during deployments, but will make your dog’s indication irrefutable in court.

Differences in Detection Dogs

Every detection dog works differently, and changes of behavior will vary from one K9 to another. There are certain behaviors, however, that most dogs will display to varying levels when in the presence of target odor. In order to understand these behaviors, it is important to first understand the basics of how odor works and moves. 

Odor molecules move similarly to smoke, as they move with air currents and pool in closed off areas just like smoke does. During handler school, we demonstrate this using smoke bombs and cars: the smoke bomb fills the car and is emitted through the seams of the vehicle. The smoke leaking out is then carried in various directions by the wind. 

Odor molecules behave in a similar manner, and this provides detection dogs with a way to locate where odor is coming from. Even though they cannot see how odor moves, they do smell it and move their bodies in such a way that allows them to trail odor to the source’s scent cloud. As handlers, we can read the dog’s behavior as they work detection problems to paint a picture of what odor is doing in a particular area or detection scenario.

detection dog indicating on box

Common Behavioral Changes In Your Detection Dog

Although working styles differ from one detection dog to another, there are certain key body language signals that a majority of K9s will display once in odor. As a handler, these signals are critical to watch out for when working your dog:

  • Head turn
    A head turn occurs when a dog hits the edge of target odor, and consequently “snaps” its head in that direction. This is also known as a “positive indication.”

    When any item sits in one place for a length of time, including target odor sources, it will create a scent cloud (or a cloud of scent that moves outward, with the most condensed odor being the source itself). Trained detection dogs are capable of recognizing a scent cloud before they actually locate its source. When a K9 comes in contact with the perimeter of a scent cloud, it will snap its head in the direction of the odor, and will typically begin to enthusiastically follow the scent. Many dogs almost appear to hit an invisible wall as they quickly change directions.
  • Bracketing
    Bracketing occurs when a dog moves back and forth through the perimeters of a scent cloud. Dogs are capable of detecting the exact moment when no more target odor is present, so by working the cloud in this zig-zagging motion, they can narrow in on the exact location of the highest scent concentration: the source.

    A handler can identify bracketing by the distinctive zig-zagging motion that their dog begins to display, followed by numerous head snaps in the opposite direction once the dog hits odor’s perimeter. Oftentimes, a dog will bracket a scent cloud back and forth, making motions increasingly smaller until they identify the exact location of source.
  • Breathing
    Usually when a dog is working, their breathing will change when they begin searching, change again when they go into odor, and then change once more once they have identified the location of source. Many dogs begin searching by displaying active sniffing. When they enter the presence of target odor, they begin breathing louder, faster and more frantically. Once they finally locate source, most dogs breathing will slow drastically, or even stop entirely.

    To figure out what your detection dog sounds like when they are working and enter into odor, work then in a quiet area (you can even turn lights off so you don’t get distracted by their movements) and listen to their breathing pattern. Breathing patterns can be an extremely important clue as to where odor is and where it is not.
  • Individual changes in behavior
    Like humans, every dog is an individual and will provide their own unique body cues when in odor. Dogs will typically display the same pattern of cues, or similar cues each time they are in odor, so by paying attention to your dog’s unique working pattern you will learn to identify it immediately. Watch for the manner in which your dog positions their ears and tail while searching or indicating. Some dogs will even begin walking differently or changing their posture when in the presence of odor.

    By taking notice of these idiosyncrasies, reading a detection dog becomes significantly easier. Many times, recognizing these details is what makes reading a dog undeniable, and a handler’s credibility is increased considerably when they can articulate these patterns. Recognizing these cues are easier when you pay attention to one area of a dog at a time while running them rather than trying to watch their body working as a whole. For example, you can choose to focus on their ears in one session, tail in the next, sniffing pattern in the next and then back legs in the next. Taking video footage of your dog working and then studying it afterwards may help as well.
detection dog indicating on box

In Conclusion

There are many cues for handlers and trainers to look for when working detection dogs. Many of them are similar from one dog to another, but paying close attention to an individual dog will enable you to quickly recognize their specific working style and pattern. If you are curious about different types of detection dog patterns, watch other teams work. What do the dogs do? At what point do they begin to bracket or demonstrate a head turn? What does their breathing sound like while they are working? 

Handlers capable of effectively reading their dog can not only confidently call hides vs blanks, but are also able of articulating their dog’s cues in real world scenarios. Reading your detection dog can become very straightforward if you take the time to look for the cues listed in this article and understand when they occur and why.

Why Is The Belgian Malinois Used As A Police & Military Working Dog?

Why Is The Belgian Malinois Used As A Police & Military Working Dog?

The American Kennel Club defines the Belgian Malinois with three simple words – confident, smart, and hardworking. Though there is so much more to this astounding breed, no three words better embody the spirit and determination of these working machines. 

From their agility and strength, to their unrivaled devotion and boldness, it is no surprise this breed has become a top choice for police and military efforts throughout the world.

The history of the Belgian Malinois

To understand why the Belgian Malinois has such an amazing reputation as an unparalleled working dog, it is important to take a look at the breed’s history. 

Developed as a herding breed in Malines, Belgium, this diligent breed also proved to be useful in the protection of farm and family. By breeding with an emphasis on performance as opposed to looks, the success of the Malinois quickly skyrocketed into one of the most sought after breeds for working purposes. Due to its versatility, new career paths quickly opened to the Malinois. World War II introduced this breed to military use – mainly hired as border patrol, cart haulers and message runners.

This was just the beginning. Throughout the following decades, the Belgian Malinois gained further popularity in working fields. It was introduced to the United States around 1911, with five ‘Belgian herding dogs’ being employed as Police K9s by the New York City Police Department. The Belgian Malinois was officially recognized by the AKC in 1959.

In the 1960s, the use of the Malinois spread across the country like wildfire. Mals became the preferred breed for police and military matters, though the public often misjudged the breed as a German Shepherd. In recent years, however, the name and presence of the Belgian Malinois has started to shine even brighter.

belgian malinois detection dog

Two Examples Of Heroic MalS

When the need for a military dog arose during the siege of Osama bin Laden’s compound, it’s no shock to hear that the first choice was an eager Belgian Malinois named Cairo. Prior to this famous mission, Cairo had experienced other difficult assignments, including being shot during one operation. The incident put Cairo in serious condition with injuries that may have ended the careers of other dogs. However, the tremendous work ethic of the Belgian Malinois and the drive to continue that work put Cairo back in no time.

Cairo is just one example of the successful use of this breed in working fields. With the Belgian Malinois employed by police and military forces throughout the world, it’s not hard to find a plethora of other examples as well. 

Utilized by the Los Angeles Police Department, a fierce Malinois named Edo became a hero due to his assistance in armed suspect seizures. 

During the disasters of the 7.1 earthquake in Mexico City and the destructive mudslides of Montecito, Diva the Malinois effectively saved countless lives as a dedicated urban search and rescue dog

Strong and agile - THE ideal working dog

The flexibility and intense drive of the Belgian Malinois easily proves its usefulness for these purposes. But other than that, what exactly makes this breed such a staple for police departments and military efforts?

With its sturdy frame and formidable build, this powerhouse of a dog can easily take on the most demanding of tasks. Physically, this breed is built for work. The perfect combination of strength, agility, and stamina allows the Belgian Malinois to conquer challenges humans can only dream of, making it an ideal partner in these intensive fields. 

As a police K9 or military working dog, the Malinois is able to launch through car windows to apprehend suspects, track down individuals through difficult and extreme environments, and even leap from aircrafts to parachute into challenging situations.

drug detection dog belgian malinois

Police and military work takes more than physical strength though, and that’s where the unique mentality of the Belgian Malinois comes in. Loyalty, protectiveness, and eagerness – backed by an incessant desire to work – creates an unstoppable machine when paired with its physical capabilities. Their alert nature and enthusiastic willingness to do anything makes the Malinois an extraordinary partner in even the most difficult of conditions.

In Summary

With all of this going for the Belgian Malinois, it’s easy to see why this breed is a top tier asset for police departments and military forces throughout the world. 

Although the Malinois is a powerhouse of a dog, its skills and talents must be shaped by intensive training in order to create the amazing working canine the world has come to rely on. At Highland Canine Training, our background gives us a personal understanding of the challenges our police officers and military personnel face everyday. In order to craft the perfect canine partner, our training reflects real life scenarios and training techniques that canine handlers will be using in the field. This ensures the Belgian Malinois working dog is equipped with not only the resources it needs for the job but also the experience to successfully fulfill the tasks required of it on the job. 

The natural ability of a Mal makes them the ideal candidates to be trained to perform any type of odor detection in stressful environments, in addition to reliable apprehension skills without hesitation in the harshest situations. With a properly trained Belgian Malinois on your side, nothing can stand in your way.

Why 'Good' Dogs Are Becoming Harder To Find

Why 'Good' Dogs Are Becoming Harder To Find

amber siebsen dog trainer

This blog article was written by Amber Siebsen, a K9 Trainer and Instructor with Highland Canine Training, LLC. 

In this article, Amber explores whether ‘good’ working dogs are becoming harder to find – or do some trainers and handlers just have unrealistic expectations for green dogs?

There is a common myth growing in the K9 industry about the quality of dogs available to agencies and vendors. The myth? Simply, that there are no more ‘good’ dogs available. 

The belief is that Europe is now completely void of strong working genes. It is no longer able to provide agencies with the heroic monster dogs they need in order to keep their handlers and communities safe. 

As a relatively new trainer to the working dog industry, this myth has puzzled me, as I have had the opportunity to work with many incredible dogs from Europe. I hadn’t truly understood the thought process behind this belief until a recent experience involving a green dog at our training facility.

Testing the green dog

Shortly after we had received a new shipment of green dogs, an agency contacted us. We had one green dog unspoken for and they agreed to come down and test the dog. 

This particular dog had just turned one year old. At the time, he had only experienced very basic bite work and drive development. Being green, he needed to be trained – but he was an awesome blank slate I was very excited to work with. I was hoping this agency would feel the same way. He seemed a great prospect. He held up in the face of pressure, was very civil, and would hunt for a reward item until he found it – no matter the length of time it would take.

So, the day arrived and the agency came down to test him. I got him out of the kennel. He was a big dog, but very social – yet when he was brought out to greet the members of the agency, their trainer and the handlers present jumped back and were very hesitant about him coming close to anyone. 

As everyone seemed uncomfortable with the dog, I took him down to handle him for his ‘drive test’. I put him on a long line so he could hunt away from me. At this point, the trainer made it clear he did not like that the dog didn’t have off-leash obedience and wouldn’t recall. The dog had only been on the ground for a week and had no real obedience – remember, he was a green dog who had only been with us for a short amount of time. 

The dog did an excellent job hunting for the ball and located it on every occasion. This was a game he was very familiar with, having played it for a long time throughout his drive development. It was horribly disappointing for these trainers that the green dog wouldn’t out the ball as they would have liked, but we moved on to bite work next.

The bite work test

I brought the dog down to the back tie to be tested for bite work. By this stage, the dog had only really experienced biting a sleeve and had very little experience biting a suit. 

The trainer proceeded to put on a bite suit and walk backward into the dog. The dog was very confused but did the best he could. Next, the trainer attempted to test the dog’s pressure by catching him on the wrist and throwing him against a tree and into the woods behind the back tie. Once again, the green dog was very confused but kept his full mouth grip. The trainer proceeded to tempt the dog to take his legs. Bear in mind, this dog had never taken a leg before, and was already confused about what he needed to do and was becoming increasingly frustrated.

The decoy walked into the back tie – kicking at the dog – while the dog kept attempting to bite his arms. This only stopped when the dog popped him between the legs in an attempt to find a grip somewhere on the decoy. At this stage of his development, the dog really had no understanding that legs were even an option. He had only experienced very basic bite work.

The environmental test

Finally, we carried out an environmental test. This involved bringing a dog to a building with a decoy hiding inside. Although this dog was great in new places, he had not yet been started on building searches. He was sent in to locate and bite a passive decoy – which he did when he stumbled across him. 

However, with such little experience in this setting, the dog had no idea he was being sent in for a bite. The decoy immediately came alive and pushed the dog back into the wall and proceeded to scream. The green dog came off for a second before reengaging on the bite suit he had gripped a mere handful of times. 

After the ordeal was over, the trainer came out and explained that the green dog needed to be washed because of his lack of training and did not show courage on passive bites. 

They were disappointed that this new dog was not street-ready – and therefore, in their eyes, not a “good dog”.

What did this experience teach me?

After this experience, the perpetuating myth surrounding ‘good’ dogs makes more sense to me. After all, if the standard for a good green dog is for them to hold up to being beaten down right off the bat, and not require any training to target, carry out building searches or passive bites, it is no surprise that the number of good dogs appears to be falling. 

It actually seems that the issue in the industry as a whole isn’t a lack of good dogs – it may be that there is, in fact, a lack of good trainers who truly understand how to build great working dogs, who have the patience necessary to increase the chances of success. 

I’m not saying every dog is capable of being a working dog, because that is simply not true. However, there are plenty of good dogs ready to become great with proper training. Somewhere along the way, it seems we have forgotten that police dogs are, in fact, dogs – and not automatically man-eating monsters from birth. These dogs become K9 officers in large part because of the care, attention and skill of their trainers. They don’t become amazing police dogs by chance.

In summary – through bad training, a good dog becomes almost useless if it can’t stand the pressure of operational environments from the beginning. But through patient handling and a structured training program, a good dog can realize its true potential and become a valuable asset for any K9 team.

How to Select a Top Notch Human Remains Detection (HRD) Dog

How to Select a Top Notch Human Remains Detection (HRD) Dog

Human remains detection (HRD) dogs (also known as cadaver dogs) are an incredibly useful tool for law enforcement units, search and rescue teams and coroners alike. They make possible the locating of critical evidence, necessary to close some of the most heinous cases and bring justice to victims. They also provides many families with the closure necessary to heal when they may otherwise be forced to live the rest of their lives wondering what happened to their loved one. Without HRD K9s, some of the worst cases would go unresolved, which could result in even more innocent lives being unnecessarily lost.

Training an HRD K9 is not a quick process; it requires a great deal of time, dedication and education in order to do it correctly. Cadaver dogs are not just imprinted and trained on decomposition. They must understand that their job is to locate any human remains present, whether they are fresh and sitting on top of soil, or 150 years old and buried under the ground. HRD dogs are expected to find everything from traces of adipocere when a body has been moved or tiny remnants of human remains undiscovered by the human eye, to multiple bodies in a disaster scenario when the environment is saturated with the scent of early decomposition. They are expected to completely ignore animal remains, litter, environmental distractions and more, while serving as our forensic anthropologist who can recognize whether remains are human or not before their handler even recognizes the signs that evidence is present. These dogs must also have enough control to indicate so closely on cadaver that there is no doubt regarding its location, but not pick up the find or disturb critical evidence.

The first critical step in training a quality HRD dog is finding and choosing the right partner. In a world where many people have access to hundreds of adult dogs or puppies, it can be difficult to know how to choose the right one for the job. In this article, we will take the guesswork out of selecting the right HRD K9. From breed to temperament and drive, you will learn how to find the right dog for your needs.

Selecting Your HRD Partner: Breed

Deployments can be long and tedious for HRD teams. Depending on the job, you may have to trek through acres of dense woodland, tread lightly through dangerous disaster scenes, move meticulously through miles of field, operate a search pattern on a boat through water, work the streets of an urban environment or travel through mountainous, arctic or desert terrain depending on your location of operation.

Because HRD work can be dangerous and exhausting, it is critical that your dog can work hours in difficult-to-navigate terrain. Remember that this dog may be asked to search for miles without locating odor, so make sure to choose a breed that is not only renowned for its working ability, but also comes from “working lines.” 

When choosing a puppy, you will likely run into a variety of breed sub-categories: working lines, conformation/show lines, pet dog lines, etc. You will ideally want to ensure that your future partner comes from working line lineage, as this will give you the best chance at finding a puppy bred for stamina, focus and drive. It is important to find a breed that is durable, capable of working in a variety of weather conditions, not overly sensitive to new stimuli, and athletic.

german shepherd cadaver dog

Very large breeds could present problems for HRD handlers, as they typically possess less natural stamina than smaller breeds. Medium or smaller “large” breeds (such as labs or working line German Shepherds) are the standard choice for HRD candidates. Some typical breeds found in HRD work are:

Selecting Your HRD Partner: Socialization

socialized cadaver dog

Testing a potential candidate for environmental and social stability is critical when evaluating a potential HRD candidate. Handlers may find themselves thinking, “Why would my dog need to be social when it is working independently out in nature most of the time?” 

Unsocialized dogs, in general, can present pretty severe issues for their owners. Undesirable behaviors such as aggression, severe timidity, spooking and becoming overly excited are typically witnessed in unsocialized dogs. Matters become even more concerning where working dogs are involved – an unsocialized K9 can:

  • Cause harm to innocent bystanders
  • Cause harm to your team mates or other dogs on the team
  • Forego obedience to trained odors in favor of becoming distracted by new surroundings
  • Panic, and refuse to work
  • Take significantly longer to desensitize to potentially frightening stimuli

You will want to test how your puppy or dog reacts when it is exposed to traffic, new people, other animals, slick floors, dark spaces and unfamiliar obstacles. If you are attempting to raise a puppy for working purposes, it is very important to socialize them well so that they remain stable in every possible environment. By practicing on obstacle courses and agility equipment, you can help boost your pup’s confidence and condition them for the physically demanding work they will face in the field.

Selecting Your HRD Partner: Search Drive

Search drive is a vital component to any sort of detection work. When selecting an HRD dog, you don’t want a dog who will look for a couple of minutes and give up – you need a dog who will search for hours, day after day, vigilantly and enthusiastically. 

Search drive is typically tested using a toy that the dog likes. This can be accomplished by holding the dog back while throwing the toy into an area that is not easy for the dog to find it (tall grass, forested ground, rubble), and watching how long they will look for this toy. When testing search drive, you will want to analyze a couple of different factors:

  • How long does the dog/puppy search?
  • How enthusiastic are they when they are searching?
  • How much ground do they cover when searching and what does their “pattern” look like?
cadaver dog in training

Your future HRD dog will likely be required to search for miles, so the ability to keep hunting is incredibly valuable. If you are planning on imprinting with odor inside a PVC pipe (which is typically the fastest way to do so), they will need to be willing to hunt for and play with a piece of PVC pipe. You can increase your future HRD candidate’s enthusiasm for the pipe by playing fetch with it for a bit before proceeding to throw it into the long grass or woods. The optimal candidate will not stop searching until it locates the pipe.

Selecting Your HRD Partner: Environmental Stability

An HRD K9 faces deployment in a variety of situations. Working deep in the woods, inside buildings or houses, over acreage and fields, in disaster situations, along residential developments and more are not uncommon places for searches to take place. It is critical that your future partner is 100% focused on their job regardless of where you take them. 

Although socialization in the early days helps to build this, some dogs are naturally nervous and will not be comfortable working in new places. Triggers such as new sounds, smells and sights can make dogs uncomfortable, and although this can be worked through to some extent, it will make your life significantly easier if you find a dog who is already confident and focused. You can test this by using a toy or your imprinting PVC pipe, and having your dog hunt for it in a variety of places. What does their body language look like while they are hunting in new environments? How enthusiastic and focused are they? 

Make sure to work indoors and outdoors, in light and in darkness, in loud and quiet environments, and on slippery floors and unstable (but safe) surfaces. Your pup should be willing to hunt for the pipe regardless of the environment, because it implies that their toy and hunt drives are so strong that they will be happy working anywhere as long as there is a toy on the other side.

cadaver dog searching car

In Summary

Quality HRD teams are an incredibly valuable asset to society. They accomplish things that neither humans nor technology could do on their own by helping to bring closure to the desperate families of lost loved ones, and providing the evidence necessary to bring justice to the victims of individuals who commit heinous crimes – while stopping them from being able to commit any more. The first step in creating the optimal HRD team is choosing the right K9 partner for the job. Breed, temperament, stability, physical health, socialization and drive are all vital components of finding the right HRD dog, and will make or break your team’s effectiveness. Finding the right dog may be one of the most critical steps in the process of training an HRD K9, but once you have them, the real journey begins.