K-9 Cross Training

By Dave Reaver

Practically every dog handler has an opinion on the feasibility of successfully cross training a patrol dog to perform as a detection dog as an additional skill. Arguments against cross training are seldom based on a solid understanding of the drive and behavior.

Genetics and learned behaviors are necessary for both tasks.

Early detection dog trainers looked for a genetic behavior they could channel into detection training. The most common were compulsive play-drive, or the need to eat. Many successful detection dogs have been trained using these motivators.

Using food requires that a dog be hungry, so a portion or all of his daily ration was given out as rewards for desired behavior. Once the dog is no longer hungry, it becomes difficult or impossible to elicit more successful searches.

Compulsive play drive is more often used and desirable over food. Many who use this drive feel it important to not teach the dog obedience lest it dilute his play drive. Re-enforcing behavior using only positive re-enforcement has proven to fall short of truly shaping the dog’s behavior. The shaping is only complete when all other behavior is extinguished during the period of time you are utilizing the behavior you wish to harness. One answer is to withhold the reward during undesired behavior. This is a long and frequently unsuccessful method of extinguishing behavior.

Others find the dogs will only play with a special toy or a towel. Addressing the toy, a dog with true genetic compulsive play drive will play with any toy or article. If it is necessary to substitute to suit the dog, then perhaps that drive, by itself, is not sufficient. As with food, when a dog no longer wishes to play, you have lost your search tool.

Before going further, this would be a good time to identify the conditioned behavior we should use for all detection training.

To have a dog retrieve a ball or a stick randomly is a method of playing. This is pleasurable to the dog and when repeated, the behavior will intensify. If we truly want to harness this activity, then we must add another ingredient, compulsion. Compulsion is the act of compelling or forcing. While I certainly do not subscribe to any cruelty, even punishment while training dogs, the concept of total affection training for police service does not work. To make the retrieve consistent and predictable, it is necessary to add compulsion to the behavior, or to use a term most of us recognize, forced retrieve. The techniques used to accomplish this could encompass another article. To attempt to force retrieve a dog without a thorough understanding of proper techniques would almost certainly fail. Introducing a dog to the forced retrieve is stressful. Dogs that cannot handle stress will respond poorly.

Suffice it to say, the dog is forced to retrieve an article in a prescribed manner. The dog is never allowed not to retrieve regardless of distractions, lack of interest, lack of desire to play or lack of hunger. The addition of negative re-enforcement to properly shape the behavior introduced with positive re-enforcement ensures that the behavior is under your control at all times.

Detection Is Retrieving!
Detection training, properly conditioned in a dog is simply retrieving. If he does it absent compulsion, the behavior is sporadic. If compulsion is introduced and administered properly, the results will be superior to the dog playing or working until he is no longer hungry or wants to play.

While we have glossed over an abbreviated example of compulsion, it seems a rather long way to get to the subject of the article, cross training.

The typical police dog of today is imported and frequently titled. All training to a title in Europe has a retrieving exercise. More often than not it is done with compulsion. Typical of all behavior reinforced with compulsion, when the compulsion is absent the dogs compulsion to perform will be greatly diminished.

The drive levels and nervous system necessary to absorb the described training almost always will be found in a patrol dog. Less frequently they are found in a single purpose detection dog.

Selecting the Dual Purpose Dog

Before testing a dog for potential as a patrol dog I will look for some behavior that may make him a candidate for a dual-purpose dog.

The normal “natural” play and retrieving behaviors are important. More important than the dog quickly running and searching for the thrown or hidden object, is the behavior of the dog while searching and/or bringing the article back to the handler. During this exercise it is quite easy to see how much the dog is working over play and how much over compulsion. The dog trained properly with compulsion exhibits an intensity to find, retrieve, and return to the handler in a consistent no nonsense manner. The dog only having fun can exhibit similar behavior, but the intensity brought on by measured discipline is absent. Even with less ‘play’ drive the disciplined dog will be much more consistent and less distracted.

The disciplined dog will readily search even when more interesting drives are stimulated, such as an agitator in the area. When enticed to channel their energies in a self-serving direction, this dog can receive a dose of negative reinforcement commiserate with his drive level and behavior with positive results. A good handler can actually set these scenarios up to ensure he can control the retrieving behavior regardless of what he may encounter in the field.

Training the Dual Purpose Dog
The odor association and searching techniques you use with a single purpose dog are no different with a dual-purpose dog. The major difference will be the ability to reinforce behavior with compulsion. This means the search is finished when the handler decides, not the dog!


The notion that a dog will attempt to revert to a more interesting behavior (biting) while being utilized as a detection dog is the same as pointing out a dog may prefer apprehension exercises to obedience and tracking. A good handler simply applies the right amount of compulsion and the behavior the handler desires is exhibited. If this is not possible the team should not be in service.

A medium size agency that cross trains their dogs can count on having a detection dog on duty almost around the clock. When he is not looking for drugs he can assist in curtailing other criminal activity.

In U.S. vs. Place, the U.S. Supreme Court states:
“Temporary detention of luggage based upon a reasonable suspicion the luggage contains narcotics, is not in violation of constitutional proscriptions unless the detention time exceeds what is reasonable.”

The detention time in this case was 90 minutes. A dog on the scene and this decision would not have been rendered.

The possibility to go in too much greater depth on this subject is obvious. I write as food for thought for agencies or persons considering cross training and have only heard the negative side. I am absolutely not opposed to single purpose detection dogs. Agencies with the activity to keep drug dogs busy daily should have as many as they need.

In some cases the selection of these dogs could more closely replicate the type of dog described in this article. This information is not theoretical. We have provided many single purpose and dual purpose dogs to agencies throughout the United States. The best have always been high drive level dogs in patrol as well as detection.

Adlerhorst International, Inc.
Riverside, California

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