Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Thoughts on "hunt theory" in search dogs


by Susan Martinez

The drive theory for search dogs and working dogs is one that has been around for many years. We tend to create new terms in our attempts to define what exactly the dogs are doing. When I read about the success many have had using the "hunt theory" in search dogs, I wonder if the reason it has been successful is the behavior of locating people has been completely backchained to the dog simply walking upon someone and recognizing their existence, then an immediate reward occurs. Is the correct breakdown of the behavior and the marking with a reward the true reason for the success?

There are many species of animals currently being studied and anecdotal as well as empirical data to demonstrate success rates in animals who supposedly do not elicit the prey/hunt drive that we refer to when explaining K9 behavior. Which would lead one to question the validity of the drive theory and rather look at the behaviorist perceptions of why animals do what they do and how best to reinforce and train those behaviors in a systematic approach.

Here is a link to air scent horses...these are animals that graze. What motivates them to locate humans? Is it the reinforcement for the social interaction? What drives them to hunt? Is a primary reinforcer such as food the motivator? Or is there a natural curiosity to seek that new scent? Is it strengthened by the primary reinforcer?

The following example is of rats trained for mine detection. Did the trainers evaluate each animal for prey/hunt/play drives? Is there actually a criteria for testing drives in rats and would future evaluation processes take this into account? Or is it rather the trainers used the most motivating factor there marked the correct behavior and reinforced that behavior? ...The trainer is observing the behavior of the rat and rewards the animal when it indicates a buried mine. Rats indicate positions of mines by scratching or biting the surface at the spot where it sniffs the explosive device. To reward it, the trainer clicks and the animal moves to the trainer, gets a reward after which it starts searching the next lane." Of course we are discussing mammals and they have very similar characteristics...possibly we all exist as animals with particular drives. What motivates humans? If the answers were simple then teachers wouldn't have a problem in schools.

Here is yet another example of an animal that isn't a mammal yet taught to locate a particular scent. What drive are these wasps working off of? Hunt drive, forage drive? Typical associative this what we are actually doing with search dogs, horses, and rats? Wasps can be trained to detect any chemical by using their natural instincts to find food by scent. Mimicking nature, scientists feed sugar water to wasps while exposing them to the chemical scent to be tracked. During this process, wasps learn to link this chemical scent to food. This mechanism is called "typical associative learning."

And what motivates wild dolphins to work with humans to detect mines? Do they have a high prey/hunt drive? Possibly as they do hunt for their food, but why would they avoid the LIVE fish in the sea...remember they are wild...and they do have high hunt/prey drive...and instead go look for mines and tag them, then go back to the boat for FROZEN kibble? Were they also subjected to "typical associative learning" or operant conditioning that conditioned a response so strong they would give up their natural instincts and do the conditioned response for a mere morsel of frozen fish?

Here is yet another animal not really known for its drives in the prey area....yet the pig is well known for its scenting abilities and the behavior is rewarded with food as a primary reinforcer.

And another...

Over the years, researchers have trained rats, ferrets and other animals to detect explosives and drugs with success equal to that of dogs. Used to hunt truffles, pigs are well known for their olfactory acuity.

Here is one last one about sea lions.... lions are trained to detect swimmers or divers approaching military ships or piers. The animals carry a clamp in their mouths. They approach the swimmer quietly from behind and attach the clamp, which is connected to a rope, to the swimmer's leg. With the person restrained, sailors aboard ships can pull the swimmer out of the water.

One article that discusses limitations with animals due to their natural behaviors was written many years ago and is a classic: The Misbehavior of Organisms by the Brelands.

Since many of these species do not fit into a perfect category, behaviorists are looking first at the natural ability to do the behavior, then identifying a systematic training program to reinforce those behaviors. This really gives a new view to the old "drive theory" in dogs. Perhaps we should look at what we are doing in training and improve our techniques and knowledge of animal learning. Then we will have more success with the current dogs. I've seen way too many dogs washed out of programs due to poor training techniques and a lack of knowledge.


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