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Symbeline's avatar

Dogs trained for specific tasks; how are they treated by the owners? (sniff inside)

Asked by Symbeline (30369 points ) November 13th, 2012

This question and its answers made me think of this…

I’m wondering about dogs that get trained as seeing eye dogs for the blind, attack or drug sniffing dogs used by the police, hunting dogs for catching wild animals…how are they treated by their owners or trainers? I don’t know much about dogs, and I’ve never had one. How much work does it take to train a dog to do a certain thing like that, and is it stressful for the dog? I imagine it is a lot of work.
I mean, if you want a dog to be obedient and devoted to its task, you have to tap into its nature and, in a way, make him submit to your wants, all the while considering its natural abilities. (hunting, smelling, stuff like that) But for the dog to trust its task, it has to trust its owner. Is that how it works? I suppose the type of dog is also a significant matter, too.

Is it even possible to get a dog to do these things if he doesn’t have a good owner? I’m thinking that a sad, angry or depressed dog won’t answer the call.
So, how are these special task dogs trained, and what are the owners like? Is there a difference depending on the task the dog is trained for? Probably, right? I like to think they’re happy dogs, what say you?

Also, feel free to answer for animals other than dogs that get trained in specific ways. Thinking about circus animals and how they’re not all treated well at all, but are still obedient, for the most part…I also think there must be quite a difference between getting an otherwise wild animal doing what you want, as opposed to a dog, which has lived with men for centuries. What are the differences like?

Also, sub question;
I keep thinking about junkyard dogs, but I think that, often, those are dogs that are beyond repair if you will, and have been abused or mistreated to a point that they’ll never really be nice. Having the dog hang around a junkyard all day is a better alternative to putting it to death, but is that even true about junkyard dogs? Or do they get trained too? I mean the dog can’t make a difference between who’s allowed in and who’s not, right? Especially if it doesn’t give a shit… unless it’s trained.

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9 Answers

Unbroken's avatar

I like this question, it still pops into my head when I see companion dogs, I also have a friend that shows dogs. And have met others trained for hunting and retrival.
Having never really owned a dog, merely a participant in part of it’s life I don’t know the answer to these questions.
Except I see love from their interactions with their master’ countered by discipline.

I have met one partially reformed pit. He was a biter and abused, abandoned, he was going to be euthanized.
A friend of a friend saved him and started training him. I meet the dog before the the process was complete, he interacted well with some other dogs he’d been introduced to. He also responded well to me, he was closely watched. And there were a few things that triggered him, but he was willing to be touched, petted and remain calm, tentatively trust. Which was a huge step. I still wonder what happened.

My dog shower friend would say it’s like raising children, but dog people are much better at it than people. However she’s biased and has never raised children.

Ok I’m staying tuned to learn.

Symbeline's avatar

@rosehips Except I see love from their interactions with their master’ countered by discipline.

Yeah, there’s a guy in my town who trains seeing eye dogs, I always see him with three or four dogs. One thing is, I’m dead scared of dogs, don’t really know why, but the trainer picked this up really quickly from me, so every time I cross his path, he orders his dogs to get out of my way. They do so, and they sit in the grass and wait until I go by. But like you say, his voice isn’t all authoritative or loud. I mean you can tell he’s giving an order, and the dogs obey in a split second, but I don’t get the feeling that it’s all forced on the dogs’ part, even though I guess this behavior must have been forced some way or another.
Also I was with a friend once when we came across him and his dogs, and she asked if she could pet them, and they guy said no, not when they’re working. So this leads me to think that while they’re being trained, they also have free, careless fun time with the owner.

And cool story with the pit. It shows that dogs which were treated like crap can still be happy, if treated right. It’s also surprising coming from a pit bull, which is said to be the most vicious type of dog, but I’ve heard many different types of takes on that issue, and I myself am of the mind that if you treat a dog right, it has no reason to go all psycho on you, despite its natural traits. But again, I know very little of dogs. I know there are some people who have wolves as pets, but I imagine it mustn’t be like having a city dog as a pet. :/

Leanne1986's avatar

Obviously each training method is slightly different depending on what you are training the dog to do and taking into consideration the dogs breed and natural instincts. Some dogs can cope with longer periods of training and others need very short, sharp bursts of training regularly. As far as training a dog for professional services like the police, sniffers and service dogs, a lot of care goes into making sure the dog is well balanced, happy and healthy. A dog that is cruely treated, fed on a poor diet and bored or frustrated is less likely to be able to work.

People that train dogs to fight do so by tapping into their survival instincts by creating a situation of high arousal and fear in which the dog has no choice but to fight. Their owners could argue that they are “working” for them but actually the dog is on autopilot and doing what he can to survive and when a dog is that highly aroused it is hard to get them to focus on anything else so if the owners asked that dog to “sit” he probably wouldn’t do it, even if he knew the “sit” command. This is not good for the dogs mental state let alone physical.

Now, police dogs often have to work in states of high arousal due to the nature of the job but a lot of care goes into making sure that police dogs are general able to come out of that state when needed so that they can be called away from a situation and respond to other commands. These dogs have to be well cared for to ensure that they can work in high arousal situations when necessary but come back down pretty quickly, you won’t get that from a dog that is poorly treated in order to make it fight for survival.

A guide dog could not be trained by using fear inducing methods as a Guide dog needs to be in a calm, mental state to complete the tasks that his owner needs him to do. These dogs are trained with lots of reward based methods and consistency.

As a general rule, dogs are happier when they are given mental stimulation and so, as a trainer myself, I recommend to all of my clients that they give their dogs jobs to do. For example, something as simple as scattering a dog’s (dry) food across the floor so he has to find individual bits rather than just giving it to him in a bowl makes the dog work a bit for his food making it a more enjoyable experience for him. You can get puzzle feeders where the dog has to work out how to get the food out and these are great for mental stimulation especially for high energy dogs.

My colleague recently worked with a Border Terrier, a breed with a high working drive, who had developed behavioural problems due to being kept in a small flat all day with minimal excercise. My colleague witnessed this dog creating her own entertainment by removing each piece if food from her bowl, hiding it in a variety of different places and then, when the bowl was empty, going back to find the food. What a clever little girl. Thankfully, she is now in a more suitable home for her needs.

So, in my own experience, and I am sure a lot of trainers and behaviourists would agree with me, a well treated, working dog is a happy dog.

syz's avatar

Training service dogs take a tremendous amount of work, and the training methods used are positive (a dog that has been trained via negative reinforcement will never function as it should in a service role, those dogs required a high degree of confidence and independent functioning). In general, service dogs are a valued and respected member of the family – they provide a level of independence for their owner that would be impossible without them.

Other working dogs receive a wide range of training techniques and handling styles, since there’s no standardized protocols for them. But any great team is based on mutual respect, not fear. Hopefully any trainer that does not treat their dog well will eventually wash out because they won’t be successful.

Guard dogs (junkyard dogs) are rarely trained for that position, they are merely chosen based on breed predilections – the natural instincts of a territorial breed are reinforced (and yes, there are still people who try to “make them mean”, and those people should never be allowed an animal). Once one of these animals perceives the location as their territory, they will protect it against intruders (just like you own dog barks when there’s someone at the door).

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Most of the police dogs around here live with their handlers so off duty they’re part of the family. I had a friend that trained service dogs. They were all treated like pets when they weren’t in training. Dogs are pretty easy to understand once you consider them pack animals and learn to read their body language. One thing to remember is don’t come down from above on an unfamiliar dog. That can scare the dog.

rojo's avatar

From what I have seen there has to be a positive interaction between the trainer and the dog and in the case of companion dogs there has to be a connection between the dog and the person who needs the dog.
I recall seeing a show where a trained dog was given to an autistic child but the dog just could not connect with the child but wanted to interact with the parents. I got the impression it was not that the child did not love the dog but was a personality thing and the dog just couldn’t relate to the child. The agency found another dog that was compatible.

Kayak8's avatar

I train dogs for search and rescue and have two who live with me full time when they are not working. We start them as puppies and the training is designed to be fun (my guys get to play ball or tug when they have made their find, so it is all fun for them). My older dog has been trained to find living people, deceased people and human remains and evidence/article recovery (great when you misplace your cell phone or drop your keys in the woods).

Our training methods are extremely fun for the dog and they get rewarded when they make the find, so they work hard to do that quickly so the fun can begin. My older dog can pay attention to what he is doing (searching) for about an hour. During the hour, he gets water breaks and periodic down-stays to get him to rest, particularly if it is difficult terrain. After about an hour, we will return to the truck and take a longer break before we get back to work.

At home, my more experienced older dog is extremely co-dependent. He follows me from room to room because he never knows what fun surprise might await him (copious praise, loving pets, whatever). In this way, he has learned to pay attention to me very carefully. He is a great companion and starts braying like a bloodhound when he knows we are off to do our jobs.

To answer your specific questions:

How are they treated by their owners or trainers and is it stressful for the dog? In my experience, these dogs are treated extremely well. The idea, from the dog’s point of view, is to have fun. You are correct in assuming it is a lot of work, particularly with a young dog when you are doing the bulk of the training. It should not be stressful to the dog, although I have seen some handlers get frustrated and the dogs pick up on that.

The type of dog and trust You are talking about a dog trusting its owner, but one of the things we hear over and over when we train dogs is that WE have to trust our dogs. If the dog has been properly training and demonstrates some new or unexpected behavior in the search field, there is always a reason for it—it is up to the handler to discern the reason.

I am not trying to get my dog to submit to my wants, I have created a scenario where the dog is working to satisfy HIS wants (play ball). For search and rescue, the more robust built dogs with longer noses typically do better at the task (for reasons of endurance and greater surface area in the nasal area means better ability to scent). Smashed-nose breeds typically do not do well, not because they can’t scent but because they often overheat and have difficulty breathing while doing more intense work like searching through the woods, jumping over logs, running up and down hillsides, etc.

Dog Emotions There are a lot of schools of thoughts about the emotions of animals. What I have seen is that dogs react to how their handlers are handling THEIR emotions. My dog doesn’t care if a person is dead or alive, but reacts to my discomfort around a dead person. He is not upset or sad about the death (he could care less as he didn’t know the person). But on the other hand, I have seen dogs react very badly to deceased victims who experienced a lot of trauma or terror prior to death as it seems the scent IS different in ways the dogs can discern. I have seen dogs back up out of a scene with every hair on their back standing up and this most often occurs with a traumatic death that seems to involve a lot of fear hormones on the part of the deceased.

I do believe I have two happy dogs who enjoy getting to play this darn “find the people” game that their mom thinks is so much fun. They go camping with me and run with the pack of other search dogs to play at the end of the day.

lifeflame's avatar

Also, dogs are naturally hierarchical animals in a pack. So when a dog is small, it’s actually looking for some one to be the pack leader and to let them know how the world works. When the owner refuses to step up to this role and set boundaries, or worse, sends inconsistent signals to the dog about those boundaries, then the dog becomes confused.

wolfsbanek9's avatar

Here at Wolfsbane K9 we train dogs for personal protection work and sometimes for police work as well. I can tell you that based on 30 years at this the best dogs come from training with positive methods and not negative ones. A dog that is treated poorly will act out at some point. Our dogs are large breeds and could be dangerous if they are not trained to follow commands. So, we begin with them as youngsters by using methods we have developed in which we give food rewards for positive actions. As they progress it becomes a game for them to follow the commands. To us it is work but to the dog it is nothing more than play.

Once a dog reaches some mental maturity at about 14 months of age we move to the bite work and if needed the drug detection training. You must understand that the dog is still just playing along no matter extreme he becomes. He is following commands that he has learned since 8 weeks old. In drug detection the dog isn’t looking for drugs because he doesn’t know what a “drug” or “narcotic” is. He is identifying with a scent from something he has been trained to find and then alerting the handler that he smells it. The dog is seeking praise and a ball which should be given to him for a few minutes after each find. It is a game for the dog and requires no harsh training.

Teaching dogs to attack on command requires a specific type of dog. Most dogs do not have what is called prey drive. They are not bred to have a lack of fear of humans. The right dogs are bred to take on a challenge and we teach them that they will never lose when they go in for the attacker or felon. The dog must always think he will win the fight. Our dogs can be turned on or off to do this with a single command. They are social and not man killers unless they are told to be. I hope this helps and you can always find lots of training information and tips on our web site at www.wolfsbanek9.com .

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