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Training Tips from the CIA

Some basic fundamentals to follow from the nation's CIA.


January is National Train Your Dog Month, which is a good time to think about our dog training plan for the next 12 months. One way to do that is to go back to fundamentals to make sure we have everything covered when teaching basic through advanced behaviors in agility. Did you know that the CIA trains dogs and has some good tips to follow no matter what sport or activity you train your dog in?

The CIA's website describes their K9 unit which is wing of the Security Protective Services. The dogs are specifically trained for explosives detection and with their powerful olfactory abilities, they're a perfect fit for the job. The CIA chooses their dogs via a prison program pairing inmates and puppies together for basic socialization and obedience training. The dogs are all Labrador Retrievers based on the breed's tendency toward excelling in this work.

The dogs' training with the CIA focuses on learning different scents, which includes literally thousands of types of explosive smells. The training also includes working with their human handler as a team to go through items like luggage, vehicles and buildings to make sure they are safe. While much of this is highly specialized training, the CIA's trainers and handlers rely on 10 tips that anyone working with a dog can use:

  1. Make your training fun - the dog should want to engage in the activity and find learning to be a self-reinforcing activity.
  2. Make your rewards ones your dog finds rewarding, whether it's toys, treats, praise or play.
  3. Look for small changes as a sign your dog is "getting it" and reinforce them!
  4. When it's time to train, make it challenging but just as much, when it's time to play, make that fun as well. Remember that your dog can sense your emotions and don't let him or her feel the effects of your bad day.
  5. Be aware of patterns in your dog's behavior that may need interrupting and/or retraining before they become entrenched.Likewise, realize how smart dogs are and that they can figure out pattens from you as well!
  6. Add in challenges to always keep your dog learning. If your dog truly knows a behavior well, add in distractions, duration and/or distance to increase the sense of challenge and strengthen the behavior.
  7. Remember to be consistent - inconsistency is confusing to a dog and decreases learning efficiency.
  8. It's always healthy to stop and take breaks (that means humans too, not just dogs!)
  9. Use your dog's energy and personality to their best advantage. Work with who they are to make them the best athlete you can.
  10. End sessions on a positive note! Don't let a bad session or a mistake mess up your training. Tomorrow is always another day and being positive helps your dog to relax and feel comfortable continuing to learn.
To learn more about the CIA explosive detection dogs, visit their site.

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