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Many times while observing the training instruction given by Newton Villalona, Director of Training for Southern Coast K9, I hear him emphasize to the K9 handlers that they need to believe in their detection dog’s instincts and be patient through the process. He explains that impatience and hasty control can often result in a missed find.
“When working a properly trained dog…trust your dog, they know what they have been trained to do,” he says. And, “Watch his behavior, what has changed?”
There are many indicators a K9 handler should look for when their dog is on odor, and each dog has his own way of communicating. These signals are often missed and, in some cases, so is the dope, the suspect, or worse yet – the explosive.
Here are a few indicators to look for:
A common indicator nearly everyone has seen is the ‘head turn,’ which occurs when the dog goes through odor and has a hard time getting his body to follow his head. In most cases this is very pronounced, but the head turn may also be subtle. In order to avoid missing this important indicator the handler must pay attention to their K9 partner at all times while he is working.
Another indicator is breathing. The sound may be slight in tone but it will change. The change is a result of the dog shifting his breathing from nose-breathing to mouth-breathing. The dog may even switch his breathing back and forth allowing the scent to be smelled through the nose and tasted through the mouth. This indicator may be used as the dog zeroes in on the source of odor.
Some of the more difficult indicators to pick up are changes in the dog’s tail, ears and cadence. The dog will take off in a trot, but may suddenly shift to a turn and a stiff, erect walk.
The ability to read your dog and know what he is communicating is essential when you have a difficult hide and he has to use his nose extensively. Too often I have seen handlers pulling their dog off a scent that would have led to the hide. There has to be a balance between control and allowing your dog to work. Your willingness to allow him to free hunt to find the scent will depend on how much you trust your dog. Your level of trust depends on how well you have come to know him through training. If you have done your training well and the partnership is strong, then the adage is always “Trust your Dog!” His nose and abilities to find the odor (drugs, explosives, cell phones or the suspect) are better than your own.
*For an in depth article on indicators go to www.policek9magazine.com and see the article Reading Your Dog in the November/December 2011 digital magazine.