This week we sat down for a chat with Jason Collins of RFA Security, our detection dog partners, to find out more about what makes a good detection dog.
Jason is a NASDU (National Association of Security Dog Users) Approved Instructor and the dedicated handler for Environet’s Japanese knotweed sniffer dogs Mick and Mack. This means he cares for them, is responsible for all their handling and training and of course gives them plenty of love and affection too!
Which breeds usually make the best sniffer dogs?
Gundogs are usually our first choice, because certain talents and characteristics have been bred into them over centuries that help them to perform well at particular disciplines. They usually excel at ground scenting, have biddable characters making them easier to mould and they have a high ball drive, so their desire to track and chase is strong even if the ball has been dummy thrown or hidden. They also need to be strong and healthy.
How do you find suitable dogs?
We use a network of likeminded friends, colleagues and contacts across the UK, which we’ve established over many years. We also work with a few rescue centres who will contact us if a dog comes to them who may be suitable for detection work. We look at genetics too, so we check whether the Sire or Dam came from quality working stock or if there are any notable dogs in the bloodline. Mick and Mack have some superstars in their family tree, including their grandparent Drakeshead Vodka who was Field Trial Champion!
When do you know if a dog is going to ‘make it’ onto your detection team?
An experienced trainer can usually tell within a few minutes whether a dog is capable of being trained. However, some dogs will go all the way through training, complete various tests, gain a license and then decide the job isn’t for them! It’s quite rare but when it does happen we will always rehome them. You can’t force a dog to work for you and if it doesn’t love the job then no amount of coercion will persuade it! The failure rate is around 50% when training search dogs, so only around half of the dogs we take into training will make it through to the end. Even when all the boxes are ticked, there is still a little bit of magic needed for the dog to succeed!
What does a typical training day look like for a Japanese knotweed detection dog?
The day starts at 0700 with the Trainer exercising the dogs in one of RFA Security’s compounds. They are then loaded into a training van and taken to the Canine & Security Education Centre (CASEC) where they are run again before training commences. All training is based on a system of Play Reward; once the dog gives the desired response a Play Stage is initiated. The dogs are run through various scenarios with a break between sessions. The reward-based training system means that to the dogs, work is like a game of hide and seek.
How do the dogs relax?
They are taken for long walks in the surrounding countryside with the focus on allowing the dogs to simply be dogs, so running, following scents, chasing balls and chewing their favourite toys!
How does it feel to have trained the first Japanese knotweed detection dogs in the UK?
Actually, it’s been incredibly exciting. We didn’t know how well they would take to it though we were confident that with our extensive experience training dogs to detect explosives, drugs and even bed bugs, Japanese knotweed would be no different – and we were right. We’re delighted to be working with Environet who are leaders in their field and are willing to embrace innovation and new ideas. Plus, it’s obvious they absolutely love dogs! I’m so glad Mick and Mack are now part of their family too.