One of the leaders of the Detection Dog Task Force was told by a potential participant “that they would like to be involved, but understand the dogs are not allowed to be obedience trained”.
First, we need to consider what level of obedience is required of an active detection dog.
Should a detection dog spend its time focused on the handler?
Is the dog relying on the handler to cue each and every area that should be sniffed?
Is the dog in conflict between a driven search for odors associated with reward vs pleasing/not pleasing the handler with precise obedience?
Does the dog perform the search from heel position or under a constant tight leash?
Is a dog more or less likely to show the Clever Hans Syndrome if the dog has been made sensitive to the handler?
Will a dog being procured by law enforcement be coddled or prompted for behavior, versus being independently driven to find its reward regardless of a new environment and having a stranger as a handler?
Second, it is necessary to understand the flip side of the coin. We don’t want an out of control dog that is dragging the handler and knocking down pedestrians or a dog that has no control over its own energy. We need a dog that can be easily transported, calm under veterinary examination, and dog that is easy to train for detection tasks. A dog should have good manners, but their focus should be on their task. At the end of the day, the best candidate to protect our national infrastructure will be independently motivated and obedient more to the odor, than toward the handler.
The point has been made on the blog that the goal is a detection dog working in law enforcement. This is not a competition dog, this is not a pet, this is a dog with the responsibility to protect us from harm. Walk through an airport concourse. Count every place you can conceive that an explosive device could be possibly hidden. Would you want a dog that is driven to use their bio sensor in anticipation of reward or a dog with multiple levels of obedience and control? Both might seem an easy answer, but then the dog is in conflict between sensitivity to the handler and the desire to search.