and other canine training tips from trainer, Kevin George
written by Kerry O'Connell
You've got to tell your dog you love him!" The short barrel of a man shouted as he ran towards the handler and wrapped his arms around her shaking her to demonstrate. "The dog's got to know how happy you are. Why else would he want to work for you?"
That was the philosophy that well-known trainer Kevin George emphasized the weekend of July 24-26, 1998. "Make an idiot of yourself!" He yelled. "Jump around. Yell, scream, spin around in circles. Anything to get that dog excited about working."
Yes, we were all 'idiots' that weekend. But it was amazing the response we got from our dogs. Absaroka Search Dogs attended Kevin's seminar with four teams; I was the only candidate member with my border collie, Boomer. Chris Dover and Targhee, Roxanne LaGreca and Ash, and Lee Dunn and Sky also participated. We all made fools of ourselves for our dogs.
The seminar was a combination classroom/hands-on workshop sponsored by Idaho Search and Rescue Dogs (ISARD) out of Blackfoot, Idaho. After we arrived Friday night, we learned some of Kevin's training rules.
• No problem is too big, don't get overwhelmed.
• No problem is unbeatable.
• Get their attention.
• Educate yourself about training, don't take one trainer's word for gospel.
• Don't complain. Retrain.
• Don't blame the dog, it's the trainer.
• Be a team player with your group.
• Remember the victim by guaranteeing the best-trained dogs and handlers.
And, we can't forget the ever popular "make an idiot of yourself." Being boisterous, loud, and animated was normal handler behavior for the weekend. With all this craziness going on with the fifteen teams taking part, the dogs got quite "jazzed up." They wanted to work so badly it was hard to hold some dogs back.
But with all the excited dogs, Kevin made sure that handlers knew the ground rules about rewards, the heart of all motivation.
• The dog will be rewarded for every positive behavior.
• The dog may get more than one reward. For example a tug and a treat and maybe even a simultaneous belly and back scratch that Kevin likes to call "tiger claws."
• The dog may have to wait for a reward. This pertains to an injured victim who needs treatment, or if the dog is in a dangerous position (as in disaster work) when the find is made.
Saturday, Kevin introduced us to his copyrighted training exercise he calls "A Box is a Box in a Box."
This very specific, patterned box game gave us a new way to train for evidence searches. (For details on "A Box is a Box in a Box", email Kevin George directly at
) In this game, the dog would find one or more scent articles hidden under a series of boxes. The great thing about this game is that you can use lots of different people to hide articles. If you have several people hiding articles, then the area and the boxes are covered with a number of different scents. At the seminar, we found that if the handler worked the box game properly, the dogs established a pattern during the first series. After several more runs, dogs started their searches with the pattern of boxes, then found articles placed a few feet past the boxes.
Kevin's boxes had several purposes:
• Evaluate and improve the dog's drive to work.
• Teaches the dog to unintentionally quarter an area.
• Work past residual scent to the source scent.
• Teaches dog to start to learn to search beyond what it physically sees.
All of us found value in the boxes. Even Roxanne LaGreca who's dog Ash became famous for squashing all things cardboard in her path. "The box game gave me quick easy things to do to keep my dog motivated." Roxanne said. "It taught me there is no need for lengthy problems all the time to keep my dog sharp."
Chris Dover said, "Kevin George gave us more ways to keep our training positive, upbeat, and fun so the dog is enthusiastic and enjoys it."
I agree with both of them, but from my point of view, it's the dog new to evidence search that benefits the most. The work is fast (even exhausting for the handler), simple, and most importantly it gets results. My dog was barely introduced to article work before the seminar. In one afternoon he went from finding his reward toy, to finding scent articles, to finding people. I was thrilled to say the least.
But Lee Dunn found another benefit. With unfamiliar dogs working within 20 feet of each other, Lee immediately saw that, "it could provide an excellent introduction to corridor searching."
Another point that Kevin hammered into our brains, was the importance of daily logs. "I don't care if you only do some obedience or agility for five minutes. Log it!" he says. There is no doubt we all took this advice to heart. Kevin made daily logs easy to do.
As Roxanne said, "Since the seminar, I've been doing more article work, because its easy to set up. I've also been doing more directional work within the article work, because it all falls together so well. And I've been trying to do something, no matter how trivial, every day with my dog and logging it. That's a BIG challenge, but I can see the benefits."
I know when we left Blackfoot, Idaho that Sunday, we were all exhausted. But we were also eager to introduce the other members of ASD to the box game; to Kevin's training philosophies; and encourage everyone to make bigger idiots of themselves. It was a wonderful experience that did more than facilitate our dog-training skills. It was also a way to meet new people. We talked with handlers from other parts of Montana, and really enjoyed the members of the newly-formed ISARD. The president of the group, Ann Christensen (e-mail
) did a fantastic job organizing this seminar and I hope she continues to offer training opportunities in the future.
On our way home, though, it was just the four ASD handlers. As Lee Dunn said, "it was a bonding and socializing opportunity for four of us from the same unit to attend together." By the way, thank you, Lee, for getting my keys out of the trunk of my car. It is assuredly these types of things that bind all of us together. Or at least it gives us good stories.
I would say the best part of the seminar was a couple months later when we were able to introduce the rest of the team to Kevin's box game. Chris Dover organized our monthly workout weekend at her local fairgrounds. Most of the training we did in the parking lot. "I think of how valuable it was to realize," said Chris, "that we could get so much accomplished in such a small space."
I know we weren't surprised by Kevin's basic training ideas. He just stated them so clearly. We will thank Kevin for sharing his box game and allowing us to add it to our training tools. And also thank him for raising our level of enthusiasm, and that of our dogs.
Kevin George is from The Search and Rescue Dogs Association of Alberta.
- 7120 - 91 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T6E2Z7 (403) 437-3129 for information on Kevin's seminars and schedule.