How to Train a Dog to Search
Teaching your dog to find lost things is a great dog trick that will amaze your friends.
When I used to do public relations demonstrations, I would ask to borrow a set of keys from someone in the audience. They would toss their keys out into the grass, and then I would send my patrol dog to sniff them out and retrieve them. That’s always a crowd pleaser and easy to teach if you have a dog that likes to use his nose.
There are two ways to teach this trick. You can teach your dog to retrieve the item, or to lay down next to it. Your dog doesn’t have to be a natural retriever to do this, but you do need a dog that likes to use their nose.
Here’s how you start.
• Start with a piece of leather about the size of a wallet. (Leather is easy to work with and holds scent well)
• Play fetch with the leather – and make it fun!
• Once the dog understands the game, toss the leather into some tall grass so he has to search for it.
• Next, toss the item in the grass and spin the dog around so he loses sight of the location. This makes him utilize his nose and search for the odor.
Each time you send the dog out, say “fetch”. You want to name the activity – searching, finding and retrieving the article is “fetch.” The goal here is to take your dog out to a field, tell him “fetch,” and have him automatically start searching for human scent.
Years ago, I lost a set of keys during a training day. The next day, I returned to the area where I thought they might be. I told my police dog to “fetch” and off he went, searching the grounds.
He first came back with a pen that I didn’t even know I’d lost. The second thing he brought back was my lost set of keys.
This is a training trick that just might come in handy some time. The dog isn’t looking for any particular scent, just human scent. Once your dog starts getting good at this, have other people toss out training articles for you.
If your dog runs around with the article and doesn’t want to bring it back to you, train him to sit in front of you holding the item in his mouth. Use the same command, “fetch,” and hold your hands around his mouth as he holds it. You may need to tie him to something so he doesn’t attempt to run away from you.
When teaching the behavior, use your nose find the item, pick it up, bring it back, and then sit and hold it in your mouth to show “fetch.” Some dogs do this naturally, like retrievers, and for others, you’ll need to break this down into several steps. Reward the dog with food when he does it right.
The other way to teach this still uses the command, “fetch.” However, if your dog doesn’t like picking things up with his mouth, teach him to do “down” near the article. Have your dog on a leash, then show him the article and say, “down.”
I start out by putting a hotdog under the article. The dog has to flip the article over with his nose to eat the yummy treat he found. Once the dog starts getting the idea of doing “down” at the item, start tossing it farther away.
Keep the dog on a long line at this point. He will first run to the item but immediately realize there is no hot dog. Reinforce the dog and drop a hotdog as you pick up the article. Do not hand feed the dog, just drop the food on the ground as you pick up the article.
The food should be dropped exactly where the article is at. After about 100 repetitions, your dog will be an expert at this. Just like above, when the dog gets good at this, start tossing the item into thicker grass to create blind searches.
Also, once your dog gets good with leather move on to a variety of other articles. Keys, screwdrivers, and other hard objects can be difficult for retrievers, so go back to basics and teach the dog to sit and hold the object in his mouth.
You can also help the dog by having a piece of cloth on the leather key fob attached to the keys. However, when I just want to show off, I like to use a leather object. My dog, Bracha, will pick up anything and people love watching her work.
Below is a short video of Bracha doing an article search.
If you want to show off the next time you have a party, teach your dog the article search trick. Your friends and family will be impressed, but beware – guess who they’ll call every time they lose their car keys or drop their cell phone in the woods.
Tricks like these teach your dog more than ways to impress your friends. They also teach your dog that he is a part of your family.
At Adams K-9 Dog Training and Kennel, we teach you and your dog a lot of tricks. Whether you have a problem you need to resolve or need a place to board your furry friend, we can help.
At our West Michigan dog training facility, we’ll help correct bad behavior and reinforce good. We teach your dog how to behave well when you’re not in the house, and how to have good manners around visitors when you are at home.
Contact the team at Adams K-9 Dog Training and Kennel today we’ll teach you to love your dog, and to love your dog’s behavior.
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