Changes of Behavior and Why I Wish We Were All Detection Dog Handlers
Detection dogs, they still blow my mind!
How can a dog find a miniscule amount of drugs or explosives?
In one study a bedbug detection dog was 97.5% reliable detecting bed bugs and their eggs with 0 false positives while discerning them from ants, cockroaches and termites. They could detect as few as one adult bedbug or 5 eggs and were also able to discriminate live bedbugs from dead bedbugs, casts, skin and feces with a 95% positive identification, with only 3 false positives on bedbug feces.
Did you know dogs can also smell the presence of blood, even after it has been scrubbed off of a surface? I guess people should think of that before they think they can clean a crime scene!
For more on detection dogs click this cool link from Wikipedia you’ll be surprised at home many things a dog can find with his nose that you never realized was even possible.
I think a dog’s nose is still one of those mystical things we really don’t understand, and probably won’t for a very long time, if ever.
But I Digress
But I digress, although the canine nose is a superior piece of equipment, I want to focus on what K9 detection dog handlers rely on, so that we too can become more in tuned with our dogs.
A K9 trainer relies on what is called a “Change of Behavior”. And, although it is really complicated, it is also kind of simple.
A “Change of Behavior” is any change in a dog’s normal countenance or behavior.
It can be as simple as freezing and sniffing purposefully, to changing direction, to something as complicated as all of that with a sit or down as an indicator.
The police officer or K9 handler is waiting for that very first brief change of behavior.
It is that change in a dog’s countenance or simple behaviors that often lead to search warrants and the seizure of illegal materials.
When the handler, who is often called to testify in court, goes to court he needs to be able to explain and sometimes show that minor change in behavior that leads him to believe that the item they are searching for is inside.
And, in most cases it is that, something so simple as a change in behavior that leads to conviction.
Why Do I Wish We Were All Like This?
Detection dog handlers have to be so in tuned with their dogs and their dogs behaviors that they notice a slight change.
They aren’t aimlessly walking around the airport and allowing their dogs to show a multitude of behaviors without noticing. They are watching and waiting for their dogs to hit on a scent.
I find that my clients totally ignore the changes and behaviors in their dogs.
Dragging them toward things they find scary, and forcing them to socialize with dogs or people they are scared of or apprehensive about.
And, that force can cause bites and trauma that could absolutely be avoided.
Because all dogs show these changes of behavior.
This is how dogs try to communicate with us. They can’t speak to us verbally!
But only a well-tuned owner can notice.
Our dogs notice our minute changes of behavior.
They notice if you tighten the leash, become worried, or fearful.
I had a service dog that was placed with a woman who was afraid of big men. She would scream if they startled her, especially when they were out and about.
The dog, previous to placement, loved everyone. But after living with her new owner, developed a dislike and distrust of men. After all that is what her new mother taught her. Later she had to be dropped from the program because her owner couldn’t control herself.
The dog was able to pick up the slightest behavior that changed when men came around.
We Need to Be Better Listeners
Imagine if we could be better listeners for our dogs?
Imagine seeing a stiff tail, or ears, or dilated pupils and realizing your dog is not comfortable and being able to get him out of that situation.
Just like a dog that is excited he has hit on a certain scent (and knows his toy is on it’s way), a dog that is nervous, fearful, uncomfortable, or aggressive will also show signs.
Nothing Happens “Without Warning”
Nothing, well almost nothing, happens without some kind of warning.
99% of dogs have some kind of warning signal the other 1% aren’t normal or have extenuating circumstances like a seizure disorder.
The problem is we don’t hear or see the things they are desperately trying to tell us.
Or we write it off because we don’t want to believe that our dog, the thing that we love with all our hearts, can show aggression (although this has nothing to do with you). You are much better off to tackle the problem when you see it than to ignore it and pray it goes away.
You don’t know how many people say to me
“There was no warning, he has never bitten before”, “I mean he growls at my daughter when he is eating, but he has never bitten before”.
- A growl
- A hackle
- A stare
- Dilated pupils
- Seeing the whites of the eyes
- A freeze in behavior
- Trying to get away
- Averting all eye contact
- A snarl
- Flat ears
- Tail stance
And, these are just some of the minute signs that your dog is uncomfortable. Often several of these signs go together and paint more of a visual picture.
But I can spot a nervous, or aggressive dog almost in an instant.
I have trained myself, like the K9 handler, to notice miniscule changes of behavior to keep myself safe.
Dogs and their behavior can change immediately, and I like to avoid scaring dogs and getting bitten.
I also like to see the moment my dog sees something (think squirrel) and gets over excited.
You see it isn’t all about avoiding the horrible things like fears and bites (although this is crucial for living with these kinds of dogs), it is also important to recognize before your dog gets excited and tears your rotator cuff.
- Or jumps up on you
- Or goes to chase the cat
- Or thinks about chewing your sofa….
Changes of behavior come in many form.
If my dog sniffs the sofa, or the toilet paper, he is going to get a firm “leave it” BEFORE he eats it.
If my dogs ears lift and he stares toward a field, he is going to get a firm “leave it” and I am going to brace myself, because I know that is his way of saying “There is something exciting over there”. And, I might not be able to see the squirrel or deer or armed gunman, but I know something is going on over there.
It is Worth It
You don’t have to be a K9 handler or a dog trainer to notice a change in behavior.
There is no specific recipe.
You just watch and pay attention to your dog and notice what he is telling you with his body language.
He learns our verbal language, it is the least we can do to watch and understand his language and what he is trying to teach us as well.
And, you can save your back, and your rotator cuff, and your hands and your face and keep yourself from being bitten.
Any change in normal behavior makes me stop and listen, to my dogs, to other dogs in my environment and to my client’s dogs.
It also allows me to better notice when I have a sick dog.
Some changes in behavior indicate disease and other health issues that can only be addressed by your veterinarian.
It is one of the things that helps me to speak to the animals, and be a better owner and trainer.
No I am not waiting for the bad behavior to show up so I can correct it or fix it.
I am looking to stop the bad behaviors from happening at all!
And, getting my timing right on telling my dog what to do instead!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.