Odor Discrimination Part 2: Training an “All Clear” for Detection Dogs with Paul Bunker

In the second episode of the odor discrimination mini series, we revisit an older episode of K9 Conservationists where Kayla speaks with Paul Bunker of Chiron K9 about all clear procedures.

Science Highlight: ⁠An assessment of the effects of habitat structure on the scat finding performance of a wildlife detection dog⁠

What is an all-clear response?

  • The dog’s formal response to let the handler know there is no odor to alert to

What is a go-no-go response?

  • The dog’s NON-formal response to let the handler know there is no odor to alert to

What’s a situation we may want to teach this for?

  • Odor recognition tests
  • Teaching them that they can still get rewarded for no odor, which reduces stress
  • Good to check for contamination
  • Teaches them to be confident in leaving a search area with no target present knowing they will still be rewarded

What components make for a successful all clear?

  • Ensure it is maintained and refreshed
  • Prepare your training session in advance. Progression plans are extremely important.
  • Variable reinforcement with your dog’s reward hierarchy
  • The dog must 100% understand target before learning all clear
  • Don’t use jackpot rewards for an all clear

What other options do we have for reducing stress and reducing false responses (go-no-go)?

  • Teach odor separately from systems of searching so they are not codependent
  • Train blank sessions
  • Train longer sessions (within the abilities of your dog) so that it is similar to long working days
  • Develop independence early

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Where to find Paul Bunker:  ⁠Website⁠ | ⁠Instagram⁠ | ⁠Facebook⁠

You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at ⁠patreon.com/k9conservationists.⁠

⁠K9 Conservationists Website⁠ | ⁠Merch⁠ | ⁠Support Our Work⁠ | ⁠Facebook⁠ | ⁠Instagram⁠ 

Summary (AI-Generated)

Effective search skills are essential for working dogs in various fields, including detection work, search and rescue operations, and military applications. To gain valuable insights into optimizing search training, we turn to Paul Bunker, an experienced professional specializing in training search dogs. We’ll delve into three key aspects of his approach: teaching odor separate from the search process, maintaining search independence and focus, and the paramount importance of clarity in training.

  1. Teaching Odor Separate from the Search Process: Paul Bunker emphasizes the significance of treating odor training and search training as distinct exercises. While odor is a critical component of the search process, it shouldn’t become the sole focus. Bunker employs a step-by-step approach to teach dogs that the search itself is a rewardable experience. By initially focusing on teaching survey techniques using positive reinforcement and rewards unrelated to odor, dogs learn to associate the search behavior itself with positive outcomes. This approach helps prevent frustration and keeps the dogs motivated, even in real-life scenarios where no target odor is present. Bunker also highlights the value of conducting blank searches, where no target odor is present, to further reinforce the idea that the search behavior itself is rewardable, regardless of the presence of odor.
  2. Maintaining Search Independence and Focus: Developing search independence is a fundamental aspect of Bunker’s training methodology. He starts by utilizing clicker training to establish a learning process and set the foundation for independent behavior. Dogs are taught that rewards are not dependent on looking to their handlers for directions but are based on their own independent search efforts. Through systematic training sessions, dogs learn to rely on their own instincts and utilize their senses to locate the target odor. Bunker conducts training off-leash, promoting self-discovery and problem-solving skills. While he provides guidance when necessary, the primary focus is on allowing the dogs to work autonomously and concentrate on the search task at hand. This approach nurtures the dog’s natural abilities and fosters a strong sense of purpose and drive during searches.
  3. Clarity in Training: Clarity is of paramount importance in search training to ensure that dogs understand what is expected of them and what constitutes their target odor. Bunker places great emphasis on clear odor profiles, ensuring that the dogs are trained to accurately identify the target odor amidst various scents. By reinforcing the understanding of the target odor, dogs develop the ability to differentiate between target odors and irrelevant scents, reducing the likelihood of false alerts or responses to unrelated stimuli. Bunker meticulously plans training sessions and follows a sequential approach, gradually introducing complexity and challenges. This deliberate progression minimizes ambiguity and prevents dogs from resorting to guesswork. By establishing clear communication channels and providing consistent feedback, trainers can reduce stress and enhance the dog’s ability to perform reliably during searches.

Paul Bunker’s insights offer invaluable lessons for enhancing search skills in working dogs. By treating odor training and search training as separate entities, promoting search independence and focus, and prioritizing clarity in training, trainers can optimize the performance and reliability of search dogs.

These principles can be applied across various domains, from detection work to search and rescue operations, enabling teams to work effectively and accomplish their missions with precision. By tailoring techniques to suit individual circumstances, trainers can maximize the potential of their search dogs and contribute to their overall success.

Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt  00:00

Hey all, as a quick reminder, this episode is a re-release of an older episode with Paul Bunker from ChironK9 that fits into our mini series on discrimination training for conservation detection dogs. I hope you enjoy it! Hello, and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt and I’m one of the co-founders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs.  Today I have the pleasure of talking to Paul Bunker about all-clear training and go, no-go procedures for detection dogs. Paul is a canine consultant and trainer specializing in detection, and focuses on environmental and conservation surveys. After working with dogs in various capacities with the British military for over 22 years, Paul moved to the USA to support off leash detection, detection programs for the Department of Defense. Paul was the program manager supporting detection research projects with academia and the Office of Naval Research. In 2017, he established ChironK9, a canine consulting company that supports academic research and proof of concept field trials and deployments. He’s also the author of imprint your detection dog in 15 days. I’m super excited to get to this interview, Paul and I had a great time I learned a ton.  But before we get into it, we’re going to dive into our science highlight. This week we’re talking about an article that was published in methods in ecology and evolution. The title is “An assessment of the effects of habitat structure on the scat finding performance of a wildlife detection dog.” And as the title suggests that looking at how habitat structure affects detection dog performance. Basically, these researchers undertook the first experimental study to test the effects of habitat structure on Scout detection dog performance, they used one dog so that gives us one little hint about potential limitations of the study to find scats from the endangered Spotted Tail calls, calls calls, in 120, searches across three habitats in both winter and summer conditions in New South Wales, Australia. They conducted these searches in open grassland, woodland and dense heath, they also recorded the temperature relative humidity and wind speed. The performance was measured by the recording the distance at which the scout was first detected by the dog, the total search direction and the success rate of detection in each habitat. The scat detection rates for the dog was at 3% or higher in all habitats. And there was no significant difference in the detection distances between habitat structures, which was really interesting.  However, within the habitat structures, there was a significant positive relationship between the first detection distance and the total search duration, and the most complex habitat. These results should support other findings showing that detection dogs can work effectively across a diversity of habitats, but specifically demonstrates that searches in complex vegetation should allow for increased search efforts compared to relatively open vegetation. And that is, quote from the article, “The researchers do point out that the risks of a type two error in which the dog fails to detect a species when it is present, are likely to be higher in those dense habitats.” And that is important to know for conservation management. They note that the high detection rates in their results are discussed in the context of odor thresholds used to train wildlife dogs, and that they recommend future documentation of training to allow comparison of service across species and sites.  One other thing I found interesting was that the detection distances range from two to 48 meters. But again, those there wasn’t a significant difference between different habitat types. So of course, as far as limitations go, this is only one target, and only one target, and only three habitats in one part of Australia. But really interesting to know that the dogs, the dog, really continued to perform really well in all three different environments.  So without further ado, let’s get to our interview with Paul Bunker. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Paul. It’s, we’ve it’s long overdue, to be honest.

Paul Bunker  04:02

Yeah, thanks for the opportunity. I’ve been a longtime listener and enjoyed the the information that’s out there. And I think this is a great resource for the community. And I appreciate the opportunity of being asked and a chance to talk to people.

Kayla Fratt  04:17

Yeah, and so you and I originally connected because I had someone from my Patreon, asking me questions about essentially an all clear type procedure where she’s trying to train the dog to search a specific area and kind of come back and say, Yes, it is safe to enter. And that was something that I have not taught in the past. I’ve always done kind of large area searches more working outside and I originally reached out to Dr. Nathan Hall, he told me to talk to you. So that is what we’re starting from what in your mind is what is an all clear response for detection dog

Paul Bunker  04:59

so I’ll just go over some of the terminology I use, because, you know, people may have heard of go, no go all clears and any other sort of combination of terminology that I haven’t used. So just so we’re all on the same sheet. And talking about the same thing. When I talk about an all clear, it’s the dogs conducted some sort of search sequence, whether that’s in a formal lineup, or a building, or a vehicle or luggage, anything of that nature. And it reports there’s nothing here for me to respond on, there’s no target present. When that go, no go, that’s more a presentation of one odor. So it could be I use an Olfactometer, which for those that are on my Instagram will have seen that device. It’s a computer running three port, odor presentation system. But with that, we can have one pour only and the computer actually presents target to the dog or no target. And in that case, dog goes forward investigates the poor and tells me yes, this target present or No, there isn’t. And that would be a go no go. And I think for clarity as well, during the podcast, rather than me keep using olfactory investigation, if I just say sniff. Just simple. So if I say you know, the dog goes forward and sniff support, and then reports to me formally, there is no me to present, that would be a go no go. So they’re the kind of the terminology I use. They’re very similar. Obviously, the formal response, which tells me there is no depression is really the application of how I use that technique. And what I’m trying to achieve that makes the term either all clear or go no, go. And hopefully, that’s clear for everyone.

Kayla Fratt  06:55

Yeah, I think so. So, like an all clear, in my mind, I’m thinking that would be more like checking an entire lineup checking an entire room and go no go is you’re presenting like a specific stimulus to the dog. And they’re saying yes or no to just that, is that? Am I understanding correctly?

Paul Bunker  07:14

Yeah, that’s correct. And the dog is giving you a formal response. So as opposed to the dog just showing behavior that or not showing response behavior, it actually gives a formal response, which says, I don’t smell anything, which I recognize as target. And that’s kind of the difference. So you know, a lot of people use all clears and go, no goes, but maybe don’t realize it or don’t actually turn terminate. So if we think about searching a vehicle to conduct a search of a vehicle, and you’ve gone round it your 360 and done your overlap, and then the dog stops searching and wants to move to the next vehicle. The handler moves with the dog. Well, if you ask the handler, why did you leave that vehicle and start searching the next one, they should tell you, when my dog showed no change in behavior, it stopped searching, I’m happy the vehicle is clear, and moved to my next one. Well, that’s an old cliche, it’s just not for the dog has expressed body language, which says there’s nothing here that I can find. And that’s the same you know, with a room, the dog goes around the room, it comes back to the door where you’re stood and says I’m ready to move to the next week more piece of luggage or a parcel exactly the same. It’s just that in this case, we formalize it and tell the dog if you don’t smell anything, this is what I want you to do. Tell me you don’t rather than having a so called passive behavior, it’s a it’s an active behavior the dog gives you with a go no go again, a lot of people use this, we make presentations. So we say to the dog, here’s a priority area. Here’s a burrow, and I want you to put your nose into this and just check it for me. And if you give me a response, I know there’s something in there. If there’s nothing in there, we’ll move on. That’s a go no go a hole in a tree, a particular plant a piece of scat, you know, we make these presentations and we ask the dog, is that your target or not? Or here’s a priority area where potentially my target exists, or it could be a pile of leaves. And I’m looking for a reptile that I think might be curled up in there because it’s a cold day presented to the dog. Step back, watch the dog it does nothing moves on. go no go. And so informally, people do use this and training is just that. With this system, we make it a little more formal.

Kayla Fratt  09:35

Yeah. Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. And yeah, I’m already thinking like, oh, yeah, when I did when we did Black footed ferret work, there were certainly times where I would point out a cluster of borrows and ask the dog to check. Which sounds like an informal go no go and one of the problems that we ran into when we were first experimenting with that was figuring out how to how to actually show the dogs that, hey, just because I’m presenting something doesn’t mean that you need to read into my body language and perform, you know, try to alert to it when there’s nothing there, which seems like probably one of the most obvious benefits of consciously teaching this.

Paul Bunker  10:17

Yeah. So you know, when we teach presentations, it’s not necessarily unusual. And I don’t want to stereotype but it’s not necessarily unusual that the dog will give a SIP response, because you’ve had a very much changing behavior to what they’re used to all of a sudden, you’re pointing something and it’s thinking, Well, maybe you want me to respond, I’ll sit and see what happens. And you go through that process. By formalizing the training, we’re actually teaching behaviors, obviously. And we’re saying this is what I want you to do when you’re presented with odo. And this is what I want you to do when you’re not presented with odor. So it becomes very much black and white, because the dog understands, okay, if I do this, and I’m correct, I get a reward for do this, and I’m not correct, I don’t get a reward. So we making the behaviors very clear cut in the dog’s mind. There’s no ambiguity. And but as you said, you know, potentially in the field, you could point to something and the dog will just think, oh, wait a minute, why is mum doing that response just to see what happens or to keep her happy? Or whatever it is? And that is not necessarily unusual, especially during the training phase? Is it worked on that?

Kayla Fratt  11:23

Yeah, that makes sense. So what are some of the situations in which, you know, especially in kind of a field application, you have found, it’s most useful to start teaching one of these procedures? And then maybe how do we decide between which one?

Paul Bunker  11:38

So first of all, as I said, they’re very similar techniques, it’s the application of how you apply it. That’s the difference. So the dog is taught the same way, in the process of teaching is the same, it’s just whether I point to something and say, confirm, it’s a target or not, or a lab, the doctor search and at the end of the search, come back and confirm it’s found something or not, but the training steps are exactly the same. And so there’s several uses for this. And one of them is if you do an odor recognition, test, some sort of lineup, whether that’s in training or certification, it means the dog understands that at times, and I do blank searches. So I do do a lot of searches, the dog understands that my target is not going to be you’re always going to be present. But it’s not a stressor. It isn’t and I know, people talk about well never have the odor in the last container within an OT lineup or odor recognition, test nine, or any sort of lineup. Because your dog has an expectation, it’s going to find odor. When it gets to the end of the lineup, it responds on the last one because it hasn’t found anything. And that’s its last opportunity to get his reward. Well, if we actually teach the dog, what percentage of your lineups a percentage of your presentations don’t contain odor, then you’re going to eliminate that requirement to actually give a certain response in anticipation that actually something should be present. And the go no go is a reward or behavior. So it’s an option for the dog that actually, whatever I do, I’m going to be rewarded, whether there’s target present, and I say it’s present, or there isn’t target present. And I say it’s not present, it’s still rewardable behaviors. And that reduces the stress, the frustration, the anxiety and the dog, typically those super high drive dogs that are really focused on what my toy what my toy, you want my toy, and it sees the opportunity to get its reward disappearing, and realizes if I don’t give a response, my opportunity to get reward has gotten so I better give a response. And so owner recognition tests or lineup is great for that. We use it in research and Dr. Naik before you spoke to about this, we have to support his research or some of his research with a number of the dogs that I have, they must be able to complete a go no go and they must be able to complete an all clear that is used in firstly threshold testing that is assessing the dog’s individual threshold. So we know that individual dogs are different detection thresholds, whether between breeds between the same breed or even between litter mates, they can all have different capabilities of threshold. And if if Dr. Horne and his team is doing research on particular odors and need to know what is the threshold of that individual dog, the only way you can affect if you do that is by having the dog toward an all clear or go nogo because in that case, they present the odor and the dog says yes, I can detect it. Yes, I can detect it. No I cannot. No, I cannot. No I cannot. And we’re not introducing again any stress because the dog understands I’m still getting a reward. And I’m going to have an opportunity to get my jackpot at some point when I find older, but the team can calculate the threshold capability of that dog to detect. The other application is and I use this a lot is checking my equipment for contamination. If I’m teaching a green dog, I want to make sure that my equipment is totally clean, and I’m not inadvertently presenting any contamination of target. So it desensitizes the dog or contaminate my equipment, and the dog gives a response. And I believe it’s a false response and move the dog away. You know, I don’t want any of those complications. So my senior dog that is taught this technique will actually search my equipment, and tell me there is no way the President is clean, I can then set it up and bring in my young dogs and confident that there is no contamination present. I also use this in research for the exact same reason, we check equipment before we conduct a research trial and detection. In that way, we know that not equipment is contaminated. So any response on target is an actual response on target, and not a false response, or not a false response. But a response because there’s contamination present. And that makes the research so much more robust. If I can demonstrate there was no contamination in equipment before we started the actual odor trails. Actually, in the field then briefly spoke about, you know, if you’re presenting a an area that you believe is productive, and their site, a burrow, a hole in a tree, whatever it is, in your old plant, or piece of scat, you know, and you’re not quite sure, is that my target scat presented to the dog. And you know, when the dog is trained to either say yes or no, and it will walk away and say it isn’t scary, or yes, that’s a piece of my target. So there are applications in the field, but they’re, you know, you have to pick and choose it if this process is suitable for you. Because if you’re just doing Wide Area surveys, large field searches, for instance, maybe on a bat survey, you wouldn’t necessarily need a go no go. Unless, like their you know, you are making presentations for some reason, and you want the dog to be able to do that. So it’s not for everyone, but it certainly has its uses nearly movies, I do a lot of personal research, because we, you know, conservation work is a growing field. And you know, this is I’m sure your listeners have experienced it where a potential client comes to you and says, can your dog detect species A? Well, to be able to do that, I must be able to demonstrate, obviously, capability. And I’m going to do research trial. And it may not be academic research supporting scientists, but it’s going to be personal research I do. And again, I want the ability of the dog to actually screen those samples and tell me yes, I can detect here or No, I cannot. So I use it in personal research, when I’m developing programs that allows me to know if sample collection is working, if I’m able to actually transport those samples through the mail system, for instance. And they’re still viable when I get to him in my training lab to work my dog on. I’ve actually recently developed a headspace collection device, remote collection device for reptiles and mammals. So to test that, I need to be able to do lineups and the odor might not be present. And if I keep doing presentations where odor isn’t present is going to frustrate the dog again. So by having this technique, what I’m able to do is calibrate them the device, the machine. To understand, okay, I need a three minute draw time I’ve overdue it’s such a pressure to impregnate the best medium possible to capture this scent of this species of reptile. And the only way you can do that really effectively is to ensure my dog is relaxed and confident in conducting those research trials. And that’s why also the all clear actually supports that type of work. So while it’s not for everyone, there’s a lot of examples where it can be used. And where it is useful to have it in your toolbox just like a lot of other tools that you could have in your toolbox.

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Kayla Fratt  19:31

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. No, I totally agree. Thinking about my summer on the wind farm. I can’t think of a time where I would have wanted an a no go no go. Go no go or an all clear for my dog. We did. Like the closest we got was if he was working off lead and I wanted to direct him to an area that I felt he had really missed within an area but yeah, we didn’t do anything all That’s similar to that versus with barley on a couple of our projects. Now we’ve had times where I’ve wanted to make a presentation or I wanted to be able to have him tell me that at the end of a lineup, there was nothing there. And, you know, one of the things that you’ve mentioned is that, especially with the go, no go, this is now a rewardable occurrence, because, in theory, what we’re doing is basically rewarding the dog for making the correct choice, even if the correct choice is that there’s nothing there. Am I still following you? Right?

Paul Bunker  20:29

Yeah, absolutely. Yes, again, it’s making it very black and white, there’s no gray, you know, if I would always present, I’m getting a reward if I would, or isn’t present. And I tell you, I’m getting a reward. And there’s no ambiguity. And I keep saying it, but it does take out a lot that stress and anxiety, frustration, especially for those hydride Doc’s that, just panic, that their opportunity to get a reward is disappearing. And started to give you, let’s say, false alarm alerts, but trying it because they’re panicking, they want a reward. And there’s no other option available at that point.

Kayla Fratt  21:07

Of course, yeah, yeah. Because if all they, you know, we intentionally select these dogs that live and die for the ball, and then if we’re not giving them an opportunity, or the only thing that they know how to do in order to potentially get their ball is to perform an alert behavior. You know, of course, they’re going to do that at times as they start getting more and more desperate. Yeah. So what are, how do you go about teaching a dog these procedures? What components make for kind of successfully teaching this behavior? And are there any, like big pitfalls that people should shouldn’t be aware of before they embark on something like this with their dog?

Paul Bunker  21:48

Yeah, so the actual technique, it is a technique, and there is a progression that is required to actually make it useful and successful. Just like anything else that we teach. If it’s done incorrectly, let’s say or without prior planning, you can actually develop a behavior in the dog that you don’t want. And it’s important to understand that, you know, with this go, no go all clear behavior, you can make mistakes in the way you apply the training. And that’s going to confuse the dog and the dogs gonna start just doing behaviors, it thinks you want instead of a clear understanding. So there is a sequence to this. One of the big fallbacks is and, you know, when we first made contact, you spoke about it in your email, which started this whole conversation was that your friend’s dog would go into an area is supposed to respond on something that was present. But instead of that came back and said, There’s nothing present and it had been toward an all clear response. And that can happen if the old clear response, the formal response of there’s nothing present becomes more rewarding than the task of conducting a search. Because the dog learns or why do I have to conduct a search, I can actually circumvent that, pretend to do a little bit come back to you and say, yeah, there’s nothing here, now give me my ball. So you very much have to have this process of training the dog, in the go, no, go all the all clear. And then the maintenance of that is an ongoing thing, you know, you can’t stop and sit back on your laurels and think, once the dogs trained is trained, this requires a lot of refresher training to keep it clean, you know, and keep it that the dog actually understands target, present, respond, I must complete a search all the way through, if there’s no target present, and I have completed the search, and then I give you a form of response, I am going to receive a reward. So there’s different things that actually I use to develop that. The first stage is we do or I always do a reward selection exercise. And this is where the dog actually tells me what it finds rewarding or most rewarding, whether that’s a toy and or food and I genuinely will use both as a reinforcer and like my dogs to enjoy both, but it’s not critical. I have dogs at the minute that are 100% toy and not treat driven at all. And a dog that is totally treat driven. They both been taught the no go go, go no go and all clear. And they both been through research with Dr. Hall. So you know, they obviously work but I also have a lot more dogs that are driven by both and I much prefer that because that makes the ability to actually shape the behavior of the all clear so much easier. And I’ll talk about that in a moment. But the first thing is a reward exercise. The dog chooses what is most rewarding I develop a hierarchy then of its jackpot Tori, its secondary toy and its third favorite toy We generally with the treats, I just keep high value and low value treats and high value is things like chicken and cheese, you know the typical type things and then lower value I have commercial dog food or whatever. But if the dog is super high drive on its retrieve ball or whatever it is, then that’s always going to be its jackpot, so no reward existence. And then the next level in the training steps is that I use a variable reward in the it might get its jackpot Tory, it might get its secondary toy, he might get his third toy might get a piece of chicken. But during training, the dog understands I’m always going to get a reward. I just don’t know what that reward is going to be. But I will accept a treat in the anticipation that my next trail might give me my jackpot. I will accept a jackpot and generally use that for a really good learning process. And then I finish a training exercise or at the end of a training exercise. And then the next training cycle, okay, I’ve got an opportunity there for the jackpot might come in first session, it might come in my second my third. But in between am I get my secondary favorite toy or a piece of treat? The doctors never knows. And I’m the one that manipulates those behaviors by selecting what toy or what reward reinforcer I’m going to give. And when I’m going to give it and that goes into you know, I already enter my training session, knowing what I’m trying to achieve, and how I’m gonna reward that exercise. So then the dog understands and accepts that I might get a treat, I might get praise, I might get a jackpot. Again, that takes out a lot that pressure that if you train to teach this and all of a sudden, the dogs expecting to be seen this jackpot toy and you give it a piece of chicken and it spits it out said no, you know i i always get my job but where it is it. So that’s the kind of the first two stages that we go through. And then the next stage is the dog must 100% Understand target must be no question in the dog’s mind. I know what my target is. I’ve experienced it in different presentations in different amounts size, different ways. And I know exactly what my target is, there’s no ambiguity there. And if it’s been reinforced enough times, and the dog understands that target is connected to jackpot, as well as variable rewards, then we ready to start the all clear no goes until the dog understands the target and understands the systems. I don’t start going over go. And then I’ll actually set up a training session where there’s no target present. I allowed the dog to search whatever the lineup is, or however I’m making that presentation. And it must understand the system as well. So we understand you know, there’s a line of six stands with filters on I noticed search and all that’s understood. But all of a sudden, there’s no target present, but there always has been. And typically what we see is the dog will go in as normal search each other. For instance, six stands, get a little confused, wait a minute, maybe I missed it, they’ll go back down the line. And as they’re coming to the end, and they start to lift their head away, I just give them a little hint come back to me. And then I’ll give him a reinforcer. And generally for the first two, maybe three sessions depends on the dog, and actually give him a quite high value reward for breaking away from the lineup. But for after that it goes straight away down to low value we walked or lower value. So I’m kind of saying to the dog have the confidence to leave an area if there’s no odor present, and you’re still gonna get a reward. And very quickly though, I reduce the quality of the reward because that can lead to what you spoke about me in the first place where the dog learns, I don’t actually have to respond on a target, I can just pretend to search and come back to you and I’m gonna get the reward for little effort. But if it understands that this is where we’re going into black and white, he understands when Todd if I do a search and target is present, that is a shortcut to my jackpot. If I do a search and no target is present, and I come back and tell you I’m still going to get them reinforcement. It’s not a shortcut to my jackpot but I’m getting something and then going to get another opportunity to search again and if Target President I’m going to get my jackpot so we kind of brainwashing the dog and manipulating those behaviors to say look, if Target is present, that’s your shortcut to your jackpot and it’s the only way you’re gonna get the jackpot is based on target. But if it’s not present, you come back to me until it’s not present. You’re gonna get something and another opportunity to go and find your target. So generally I don’t like to finish any training on blank on a not jackpot, we enforceable training session. I always like to finish that the dog understands at some point during this training session, the jack pot is available, and I am going to get it. And as I said, I genuinely then finished training on a jackpot. So that the dog understands, okay, I get what I want, as long as I keep going, keep going. And so hopefully that process is kind of clear. But you can understand how, if you don’t do it carefully, you can inadvertently make a dog that actually pretends to search and then just comes back. And that’s why, you know, one of my first responses was to you was Don’t use your jackpot be all clear. Use a lower.

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Kayla Fratt  30:44

Yeah, that makes sense. And yeah, figuring out, you know, what your dog’s hierarchy of reinforcers is, is obviously, as you said, the first step for that. And that makes really good sense. And I like also that you pointed out that yeah, we might use that that jackpot, the first couple of sessions to really help the dog understand what we’re trying to do before we downgrade. And yes, we’re downgrading quickly. But I think one of the other problems that I’ve heard some people talk about when they’re trying to teach this is that they start trying to reinforce an all clear type behavior, right off the bat with the lower value reinforcer and the dog is, if the dog isn’t used to getting this variable reward. Then again, they’re in this situation where the dog is like none other than an animal that I want my ball, this chicken isn’t doing it for me, you know, I’m going back to search. You’re full of crap, this is out here somewhere.

Paul Bunker  31:36

Yeah, and you know, you’ve spent all that time reinforcing the correct behavior to search, and there’s going to be an odor present, you’re going to get a jackpot, you’ve really reinforced that and the dogs practicing. And all of a sudden, you’re saying, Come away from that opportunity to get your reward, and come back to me. And again, that can be very conflicting for high drive dogs. But if it does that a couple of times and gets his jackpot, it’s more likely, then that is going to repeat that behavior and you start to it starts to understand, okay, that is a reportable behavior again. But as I say, we very quickly have to get rid of that jackpot out of that sequence. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt  32:15

Yeah, that makes sense. So is there anything else we wanted to say kind of on like the reward selection and variable reward? I know, that was a question I’ve written down, we already talked about the fact that that was likely to meld all together.

Paul Bunker  32:28

Yeah, no, I, you know, like everything else. And people that follow my social media or have read my book know that progression plans are extremely important. And, you know, the sequence of actually achieved in any training technique is very important, you can’t shortcut this. If it’s not done correctly, it can lead to a lot of issues. It’s a powerful tool. It’s a tool that I train all the dogs to do. But it’s one that can be messed up very quickly, if you don’t do it correctly. And therefore, it’s important that those steps are followed implicitly. Because if you don’t, you know, you’re going to make that green behavior. So you’re going to make the dog confused about what it’s to do, or it’s going to understand or I don’t have to search anymore, I can just pretend to and get my my jackpot reward. So it’s important that people follow those steps implicitly, and are able to think on the fly, you know, and there’s times when I’ve worked my dog, you know, when even my experience dogs and just like any training, you know, we come across a problem during training where the dog develops a behavior that we’re not used to, we haven’t seen before, whatever it is, we have to change our behaviors on the fly. And actually deal with that, whether we stopped the training session and said, this isn’t working, I’m gonna have to make an adjustment, or we adjust that training session immediately to get the behaviors we want. And so a thorough understanding of the all clear system means that you’re able to do that, you know, you can read your dog, you can read the paper, you can read the situation that’s presented in front of you and know, do I reinforce this do I know to stop training, take a break, we come back problem solver, etc. But because it can be manipulated by the dog, you have to be on your toes. You know, some dogs are very good at manipulating behaviors to get you to provide a reward. So you have to be on your toes for that.

Kayla Fratt  34:29

Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, and one of the other things I’m thinking is that I could see this actually being a procedure that’s potentially a little bit trickier to at least maintain with a dog whose reward hierarchy isn’t as extreme. You know, I have one dog who will absolutely spit out a fistful of warm boiled chicken. If there’s a ball around, and I have another dog who is who really will kind of take it take both. He’s very happy with both and I can see and potentially it being easier to at least again, maintain that hierarchy and maintain the behavior with the dog who, I know that every time I give him chicken that is still a reward, but it’s far lesser for him versus the other dog who’s hierarchy isn’t quite as extreme.

Paul Bunker  35:15

Yeah, so I have got two dogs at the moment. One is one hoax sent, ball, nothing else, he will spit out chicken cheese is not interested whatsoever. I have another dog that is 100% treats a Labrador no interest. And the approaches are very different. And I keep saying train the dog in front of you. So you have to be able to assess the dog in front of you now with a Labrador, he is so tree driven, he will do anything to actually get a treat. So if there’s odor present, he will tell you if there’s not odor present, he will tell you and the way that I trained him was to change the training cycle slightly, that once he understood when there’s nowhere to present, if I come back and get a piece of cheese, I then extinct extinct the incorrect behaviors. So that if I would always present and you come back to me and say isn’t, you don’t get cheese, and he is so focused on food, he got so annoyed with not getting the cheese that actually that cured that problem, you know, he’s never gonna give up an opportunity to find an odor and get cheese, he’s going to make sure he does that. Because if he misses an odor, it removes the opportunity to get that cheese. And that is going in than anything. So you know, that worked for him. That was a slight change to the program. Because you know, the way he is, with the ball driven dog, what I did was he gets his ball for odor. If there’s no way to present, he gets played, as in no ball driven play, but just play with me. No, I’m fortunate with him. He likes his cuddles. He likes his affection. But nowhere near he’s bought, he’s bought crazy. But at least he gets something. And only with him because he is so driven. If I then release him fairly quickly, and there’s a target present, he understands there’s no prior target a comeback. It’s not an unpleasant experience, but unreleased again, to actually have an opportunity to get a target. So you’ll actually do that, because saying there’s nothing present opens the door to something present. And again, that worked with him as an individual dog because his search drive and his desire to move forward and actually find this jackpot means that he’s going to say there’s nothing here, because that opens the door to something being there. And that’s what I saw, you know, it’s not just an easy technique to use, you have to be able to adjust on the fly based on the dog in front view, and assess the individual dog there is, you know, potentially and I don’t have one potentially there’s another dog in the group that only likes treats. But when it doesn’t get a treat, from the extinction process of not responding, it totally breaks down and you know, and just flux as an individual thing. And you have to adjust your training based on the dog in front of you.

Kayla Fratt  38:06

Yeah, of course, no, those are really great examples. And I think one of the other things that I’m catching is how important I would imagine, especially early on, but probably for quite a while in the sub training, it actually is for the handler to know, like you’re not doing you’re not teaching this blind as a handler, because you really need to know whether or not the dog missed odor. And it’s coming back trying to perform an all clear and has actually missed it. Am I correct there? Yeah, critical,

Paul Bunker  38:35

absolutely critical because you know, your influence on the behavior of the dog is obviously going to dictate the whole process. So you must know in the early stages, where the target is, when the target is not present, and be able to shape those behaviors. As we progress through this obviously, at some point that we’re confident the dog has the capability and understand system, then we go double blind, you know, and that takes away that influence with a human it takes away that clever hands syndrome or whatever you want to call it clever hands, influences that can exist. And it really means that the dog is acting on its own based on what’s presented in front of it. I cannot influence through any body behaviors or sounds a make or anything to influence the behavior of the dog and, you know, I may if the dog goes up and down the stands twice and I know it’s a blank and it starts to go down with the time I might inadvertently just go hey, or something, you know that those behaviors and I don’t want to do that. So we go double blind very quick on that.

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Kayla Fratt  40:39

That makes sense. Yeah. Are there any other procedures? You know, again, we’ve talked about how helpful these they all Claire’s and they go no goes are for reducing stress and reducing these false responses. Are there any other kind of tricks that you’d like to pull out of your hat for that particular issue?

Paul Bunker  40:58

Yeah. So first of all, I teach odor separate from my system to search, and they’re not codependent. So that odor is very much a separate exercise from any search, whether it’s a vehicle search, baggage search, field search, whatever it is. The survey techniques are taught using positive reinforcement. But then at all. It’s difficult for me to say obedience, because it’s not an obedience exercise. But if you think about it, that it’s actually all my directionals, left fry, stop on whistle come back to me, search this area, whatever it is done to reward based training, then odor doesn’t become a critical part of the survey process, the survey process or the search process is its own rewardable exercise. Decades ago, when I started training, we use the older to teach systems a search. This meant while a dog was searching had an expectation for me to get my reward, I must find odor. And if it didn’t find odor, again, you get those hydrate or any dog, but you start to get those hydrate dogs that get frustrated and see the opportunity of their reward disappearing because it’s not there, particularly in real life searches where there’s nothing present. But any dog might start to get fed up, we’re searching, searching, searching, and nothing is found. But if the odor is just a shortcut to my jackpot, but it’s not necessarily always present in my searches, and the search and behavior becomes rewardable, then it doesn’t matter if I would have present or not. The dog is not in a state of mind that it has to find the odor to get its reward, it understands that both techniques are rewardable, it’s just when I discover odor, it’s an instant opportunity to jackpot, it’s a bonus to the search, it’s not a requirement of the search. And in real life, you know, we go out in the surveys, and there are times where we find nothing. Or the dog has to work for hours and hours and find nothing but maintain motivation. And a fine by keeping them both separate, it means you’re able to do that. I do a lot of blanks. So generally we do between 20 and 50% of our search use and search training is blank, where there’s nothing present again, because the behavior of actually conducting searches rewardable If I give a directional turn, right, and the dog doesn’t really nice turn right, I might throw it It’s bull by doorstop dog whistle, I may throw his ball. If I do a stop on whistle come back to me, it might get a piece of chicken, you know, throughout the whole process of a survey. It’s a rewardable experience. So I do a lot of blanks. And again, that means that the dog doesn’t have a high expectation when I go into the field, I’m going to find something and therefore I better give a false responsive, I haven’t found anything. It goes into the field knowing that there’s opportunities to get rewards. And finding odor is the shortcut fastest way. But it’s not the only way and it’s not always going to be present. double blind search is a very important that I think where you don’t know you have no idea where the target is it makes you a lot more relaxed I believe you’re less likely to influence behavior, that dog you’re more likely to handle the dog a lot more naturally. You’re not you know, you’re not giving out those behaviors where the dog gets close to overdue when you suddenly stop and go quiet and all those cues the dog needs to start giving a response and they can actually become part of the response cycle or response training that you’ve imprinted into the dog during training so double blind stop all that. So blanks double blind is very long searches long search duration dependent on the weather. 4050 minutes instead of you No, just 20 minutes searches and get the the training done. And I used to call it the 20 minutes sit, we would see this a lot in the military, one of my prior projects, where the dogs, the student only had 20 minutes a day to work with his dog, and the dogs would sit at the 20 Minute point or near to because they learned, okay, I work 20 minutes, and oh, there’s always at the end, it’s about 20 minutes, I’ll give a sick response. So I call it the 20 minutes, it might take longer those durations, and keep the dog going for long periods of time, obviously, welfare and breaks, etc, depending on biome and terrain, weather conditions and such like. But if the dog has an expectation that again, I’m gonna go for long searches before I find anything, then the day it happens isn’t going to be a stressor. And again, he’s not going to think I’d be working long enough, let me throw a sit here and see what happens. But also with that is clear odor profile, a thorough understanding of the target, when I smell target and give a SIP response, but if I don’t smell it or not, and by having that clear understanding of what the target is, then the dog isn’t going to give a speech to terminate false response on something that actually it’s not been trained on whether that’s disturbance or something out of context in the area that all of a sudden the dogs come across. So I’ll give it a go, I’ll just give a sit on this glove that someone just dropped in, it’s got fresh human same time, because it shouldn’t be here. Instead, you know, if it understands when to present what its target is, and that’s reinforced. But it understands what its target is not just as importantly, it knows to move on. And so there’s kind of some of the principles that I used throughout my training process to actually clean up a lot of these behaviors and prevent both sets of false alerts. Or, you know, it doesn’t even have to be false is just the dog has been taught through training that a certain sequence of behaviors happen at a certain time. And it’s not that the dogs been bad, or is wrong is just at some point, we’ve communicated something that isn’t quite clear, always doing what it thinks it should do. You know, and a lot of cases, that is the case, the dog just does what it thinks it should do. Because it doesn’t quite understand what we want it to do. And again, return plans. Planning your training in being very sequential in your training steps actually resolve a lot of those issues of ambiguity in the dog and the dog making up behaviors because it has to guess what you want. You can use plated effectively, what you want.

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Kayla Fratt  47:45

Yeah, that clarity and training is so so so important. I had one other question that came up. I posted on Instagram last night that I was going to be interviewing you and got a couple of questions and one touches on something you just mentioned, which was expanding on these these search skills? And particularly, I think the question revolves around the idea of how do we how do we maintain search independence and focus for the dog? As you’re doing that? Or has that not been an issue for you where the dogs are kind of looking to you for these directions and other ways to start trying to get their reward beyond just seeking odor? Because I know that’s something I’ve heard before as a concern for saber, rewarding a dog for a recall during a search or something like that.

Paul Bunker  48:29

Yeah, so I develop independence very early. And again, if even if you look at my clicker videos, and I should have said this way, the staff, whatever I do, I’m not saying this is the only way and I’m not saying it’s my way, you know, and this is the way I do things, and that my mindset is like this because it’s worked for me, and it doesn’t mean it will work for other people. But even when I’m clicker training, which is always a, I click train all my dogs, yeah, if that dog is never going to use clicker, again, in its training plan. It is clicker training. And there’s a number of reasons why I do that. One is a tool in the toolbox if I need it. But also I think clicker training gets the dopamine go in, it gets the understanding of I’m in a learning process, get my brain actually in a understanding of how to learn and what to learn and things. I can then teach three behaviors with the clicker, which I typically do, I’ll do a little behavior, a shape behavior and a CAPTCHA. And that gives me tools in my toolbox if I need them later on. But it also means with a clicker, if I transfer that dog to a student, and the students timing isn’t quite Gray, or their voice inflection isn’t quite right or something. I didn’t take the clicker and actually take all that pressure off them of having to worry about rewarding the dog at the right time and the right behaviors and I do that. So it means one and we move in a lot of the stress on them. About think about how do I Search for dogs? Well, it’s my position, what body language I’m looking for, because I’m doing the actual click for them. But also, when I do click, and they were observing the dog, they can see, that’s when he clicked. Now I start to see what he’s seeing, you know, so I click a train or my dogs for that reason. And I think, you know, that sets up that learning process because during clicker training, the dogs don’t look at me. And I click and I treat, which I know is done by some people, when they’re breaching, peering, charging, whatever you want to say that clicker, if you throw it away from me, and the dog learns, I must move away from him to get my treat. So early on, I start this process of move away from me, don’t look at me, it’s not a reward or behavior to look at me or every interest in me, there’s options out there for you to receive a clip. And then all training is done. self discovery, I don’t train a dog on leash, it’s all done off leash, I set up the environment, so the dog can be successful. But I don’t show the dog what it’s supposed to do, I want the dog to be able to problem solve. So if a training session is ongoing, and the dog is being challenged, I don’t want to come up to me and say, Help me, show me what I’m supposed to do. What I want you to understand is, you’re not going to help me and show me what to do, I need to work this out. Now, again, there’s a balance there, because what results slideshow displacement behaviors, if it’s getting confused, etc, I’m going to stop. And I’m going to reset up the environment. So it can be successful. But what I don’t want the dog to learn is walk up to me, act helpless, and I’m going to walk forward and present where the odor is, and say here, I’ve solved the problem for you. And again, it’s a balance, you know, that’s self discovery learning is a balance between allowing the dog to learn and understand independence. Without confusing the dog causing displacement behaviors ruining training session, again, it goes into that planning your session, before you start stopping it if things aren’t going right, and we set on the fly, to actually develop those behaviors. And then 99% of the time, all my outside training is off leash, I mean, there’s times like vehicle search and things where it’s unleashed. But all my early training is off leash, whether it’s in a room, all infield surveys. So the dog again has to be independent from me. So it learns independence, but at the same time, the directionals that control if you like, they are positive reinforced, there’s no negative in there. So the dog, if the whistle goes and I give a sit, I’m gonna get a reward for it, there’s no pressure on the dog, you know, it’s not panicking. I must complete this behavior. Otherwise, you know, something negative is gonna happen. It’s actually here’s an opportunity for me to get a reward. I’m, I’m actively happy to do it. And I think that, that level of stress reduction, that level of keeping everything calm, and the dog really wanting to work all day and just have every opportunity to find this award means that the dog understands self reliance, it understands independence, it understands problem solving. I can step in when needed to help guidance. But, you know, people come in how my handling technique is very relaxed, very laid back. And I don’t talk a lot during the searches. I give feedback as required, but actually allow the dog to do a lot of its work. I mean, that’s what it’s supposed to do and concentrate on searching it, find something, give a response, it’s gonna get a reward, you know, and that I think that all you know, the whole methodology, the whole process melds together in the end to produce that independence. But it has to be done with forethought and care. You can’t just you don’t want to produce a wild dog. Right? Who understands okay, I don’t need to listen to you. I can just went out and find odor. I don’t need you to tell me what to do. So again, that balance is very important.

Kayla Fratt  54:19

Yeah, it really seems like I know, I think it Sarah struggling says a lot that balance is a verb. And I think the first time she said that, or the first time I heard her say it a couple of years ago, I didn’t quite get it get and the more the more and more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Yeah, we want this balance between the dog obviously being able to hear us and being able to respond, especially for safety cues and independent searching and I know I’ve talked about this previously on the podcast when I was selecting my puppy niffler one of the big things I was looking for was one of the more independent puppies in the litter because I was looking at a litter of Border Collies and they are you know, as far as breed Dogs Go if you want a dog who’s going to sit and stare at you for hours, that’s the dog you should get. Versus i and I’ve again I’ve said this before on the show, like if I was looking at a litter of Cockers, I wouldn’t necessarily be worried about picking the most independent cocker spaniel and a litter because there that’s just not as likely to be part of that breeds repertoire. And then through training, I’m continuing to influence whatever I need more of more of that independence or more of that responsiveness. And yeah, I personally have not had a lot of problems with the dog coming back and seeking direction from me. Unless I’ve set up something that’s just beyond that dog skills, even though I do really like my dogs to be pretty responsive. And I also do reward some directionals and reward recalls and those sorts of things. It really seems like the times where my dog particularly barley, if he’s coming back and asking for help, it’s because things have gone on for too long without any reward at all. And he’s just really starting to get tired and frustrated, desperate, whatever it may be.

Paul Bunker  56:04

Yeah, and as you say, you know, some of this can be breed dependent. I love Border Collies and, and my favorite breed was training Border Collies, but my approach to train a border collie would be very different from the minute I’ve got a Springer Spaniel, you know, when it’s just LightWave. And if I trend the Springer Spaniel the same way or handle the Springer Spaniel the same way as the border, it would close down, you know, the, the dog would actually go wild, and I would lose everything. And vice versa, if I bought a colleague the same way as the spring, it would just get so frustrated about all this, you know, on top of being telling it what to do and stuff it would close down. So you have to be able to adjust yourself, again, based on the dog in front of you. And although the principles for training, the all clear, or any of these steps, you know, are guidelines, within those guidelines, there has to be adjustment based on your dog and the way you handle, you know, it shouldn’t be just well, this is it, and this is the way I do it, you must be able to change on the fly based on what is being presented in front of you.

Kayla Fratt  57:08

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Is there anything more that you wanted to add or anything else you wanted to circle back to here? Before we go?

Paul Bunker  57:15

I think one of the most important things and I’ve mentioned this before, a couple of times is progression plans. And if you prepare for your training sessions, you set them up, you really your preparation to take a lot longer than your actual training. And if you have prepared correctly, if everything is ready, whether you’ve set up the environment for the dog to be successful, and to achieve what you’re trying to achieve. Or you’ve made sure that your odor is a really good source of odor, or whatever it is preparation is key to an actual very short training session. But that will be a lot more productive than just going in there blind think I’ll do this today. And I’ll do that today. So I think progression plans, right, the progression plans down, make sure you stick to him. If your dog is not progressing within the progression plan, then adjust go back a few steps, then move forward, you know that planning really, I think is critical in successful training of a dog in reducing frustration of you as the trainer handler as well as the dog. But plan plan plan? Definitely.

Kayla Fratt  58:23

Yeah. And you know, the last thing that I wanted to ask you about was about your book, which is kind of on the opposite end of you know, you know, we said right off the bat that before you even start thinking about a no go dog, or an all clear your dog has to have a really clear understanding of odor. And your book is about that, I presume? Yeah.

Paul Bunker  58:41

Yeah. I call it imprinting. So you know, back in the UK, I, during my training, we always said we imprinted on odor. I know there’s other terminology, associate and bridging whatever. But you know, when I talk about imprinting, I’m talking about introducing a target odor to a dog and then eliciting some sort of response. And what I wanted to do was write a book, and I’ve been wanting for quite a lot of years, and I had the opportunity on a 30 day write your own DocBook course, to actually produce a book, I wanted to do something that was easy for people to get into. And it was during COVID You know that their pet dogs are stuck at home. Everyone’s stuck at home, the dogs are getting frustrated. And it gave people this opportunity to do something with their dogs. And now we’ve covered a wide gamut because obviously the technique could be used in for HR for search and rescue or if you wanted to do drugs detection, but also it can be taught to the pet dog that you just want to do something with for a bit of fun and find my keys. You know if I lose them sort of thing. It covered the full gamut. But I just wanted something out there for the community where they could pick it up. It was a standalone document that and it’s a workbook you know and I call it a workbook that they could work through with it. They don’t whether they wanted to go into some sort of working dog formal training, or they just wanted to do it for a bit of fun.

Kayla Fratt  1:00:10

Yeah, yeah, that’s great. It’s, I’ve heard really good things. Actually, I have not purchased a copy yet myself as a confession. But it’s certainly on my it. I think it’s been sitting in my Amazon cart for a little bit here. So yeah, and Paul, where can people find you online, if they want to learn more about you stay up to date, all that good stuff.

Paul Bunker  1:00:30

So the website, my name of my company is Shea one, although I know in us it’s pronounced k one is C H, A R, O, N, dash k, the number nine.com. Instagram is where I post a lot of things now, which is shame on canine all one word. So actually on canine but there is links off my website, to my different social media platforms. And I’m just starting to launch an online course portal as well, which again, is linked from my website, but I’ve only just started that platform. So hopefully soon, I’ll start some more online training opportunities for people and actually explained some of this sort of stuff as well.

Kayla Fratt  1:01:18

Oh, great. Yeah. Well, I’m sure people are going to be very excited to hear about that. We’ll link to all of that in the show notes so that our our listeners who are driving or walking the dog or whatever, it don’t have to try to jot anything down quite yet. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Paul. It’s been a pleasure.

Paul Bunker  1:01:35

Oh, thanks very much for the opportunity. And thank you for everyone that takes time to listen.

Kayla Fratt  1:01:40

Thank you all so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and are feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist and whatever way suits your passions and your skill sets. You can find those show notes, donate to K9Conservationists, and join our Patreon where you might answer ask a question that spawns an entire podcast episode over at K9Conservationists.org. Until next time!