Dogs work for rhubarb in the mud

One of the important jobs that dogs do for us is search and rescue in places that are very dangerous or impossible for people to work in. Dogs can be specifically trained as cadaver search dogs, to find bodies under the rubble at earthquake sites for example. A couple of months ago, last March, there was a disastrous mudslide in Washington State, in the north west of the US.

This struck a chord for me, because I was there, visiting my nephew in Seattle last year. The affected area is not far from the pumpkin farm we went to visit to get out Halloween pumpkins. This connection makes far-off disasters seem all the more real. 

You might wonder about some of the dilemmas facing cadaver search dog trainers. Imagine your dog has just discovered the body of a child. “Oh, good boy, good boy, good boy” you chortle as you bring out your dog’s favourite tug toy “what a good boy, you found the body of a dead child, good boy!” as the devastated parents collapse in shock and grief nearby. I don’t think so. So how do you reward your dog? 

The answer is to brush up on your learning theory and “train smarter”. You just quietly say “Rhubarb” to your dog and take him away. Only you and I know that “rhubarb” has been trained in as a powerful conditioned reinforcer – a unique word that signifies reward to your dog.

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About transformational1

I have many interests and I have had a varied career. I am a semi-retired professional dog trainer, specialising in the use of positive reinforcement. I do some consultations, I run instructor workshops and I am setting up a Dogs and Psychotherapy Research Project. I have a law degree from Melbourne University (but have never practiced) and I am passionate about Human Rights. My first degree was in Sociology. I worked as a social researcher on issues such as low income housing, women's refuges and women in the workforce. I live in an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia, and I have a German Shepherd called Chance.
This entry was posted in Animal intelligence, animal training, Behavioural science, Dog training, Dogs, Human-animal bond, Learning theory, Media images of dogs, Training theories. Bookmark the permalink.

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