Barking Indication - How to Start Training

Aug 08, 2020

Ever wondered how to deal with situations where your dog finds target odor but you can't see them? How will you know they've found source? Will your dog let you know, or come back to find you? This post show how to start training an indication with barking, so you can easily locate your dog while they indicate target odor at a distance.


Barking is useful for sniffer dogs who work at a distance, so the handler can't see them when they find and indicate source, such as searching debris piles for Search and Rescue. Barking tells you the dog has found target odor and helps you to locate them. When combined with a sit/down stay while staring at source, you'll know exactly where to find your dog, and the source of target odor. 

In the video above, I use cheese to start training BB to bark. BB is my 9-year-old bed bug detection dog who's already trained for a passive, silent sit/down indication. (Most facilities do not like bed bug dogs to bark.) In the video, I'm rewarding her for barking at food, so that shouldn't jeapordize on the job performance, where I won't be teasing her with food. This setup is specifically to show you how to get started.  


Only the handler can control the environment, so set yourself up for success by carefully planning. Many dogs bark in frustration, and we'll use that tendency to our advantage. Pick the time and scenario where your dog is most likely to bark. For BB, that's when I get home from work and let her into the front yard.

Pick the reward your dog likes most: food or toy. If your dog is motivated by balls and toys, try teasing the dog with toy play to start training the barking (no cheese required). Or if your dog prefers food, tease them with food like the video. 


Let's assume your dog is proficient at finding source, and you want to train this indication behavior chain:

sit/down + freeze + stare at source + bark, until released.

Start by breaking the final performance down into small, achievable baby steps. At first, reward any pieces of that behavior chain, by themselves. So, reward barking by itself at first. Use food/toy placement above the head to help lure the dog into a sit or stare at the food/toy, and reward that. Eventually, you'll get all of the components at the same time and you can jackpot.


In the first session training your dog to bark, reward any minor vocalization e.g. huffing, puffing, whining, exhaling, or quiet barks. Be patient! You can just hang out for 2-5 minutes and notice when your dog barks, then click and reward.

If I could redo the session, I might have closed my eyes to help me notice when BB made smaller noises. 

If your dog wanders away, you can leash the dog. Or like the video, break up your training with some play to keep the dog in the game. If you make your criteria too hard too fast, your dog may simply quit. So you need to find ways to help your dog make noises that you can reward!


Once your dog is barking at the food, insert it into a food stuffed toy (e.g. lotus ball). You can stop rewarding quieter vocalization and only reward louder barks. Repeat until your dog is barking as you'd like for your indication, gradually adding one challenge at a time. 

For example, here's a video of Solo indicating (sit + freeze + stare at source) for 12 seconds:

Next, hide the toy so the dog has to find it and indicate. Learn all the steps in our online course, Show Me - Maximize Indication Motivation.


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