The concept of imprinting search skills in the SAR K9 through hunt drive is not a novel idea. It is utilized in every other scent detection discipline. However, it is not uncommon in the training process of the live find SAR K9 to see the imprinting process done through other drives, in most cases, prey drive, and just mentioning the concept of imprinting in hunt drive creates controversy between those who favor the traditionally accepted method and the hunt drive approach associated with the other scent detection disciplines and utilized by those with a background in scent detection training. The hunt drive imprinting process is far more time consuming due to the additional steps required to achieve optimum results. It is far too easy to send a victim running away from a young pup or green dog, vocalizing and enticing the dog to pursue. There is both visual and auditory stimulation, neither of which is a component of the hunt drive of the canine. Hunt drive is an olfactory drive, plain and simple.
The canid in the wild uses both prey (visual) and hunt (olfactory) in order to survive. Usually, the hunt drive is utilized to track down the prey. When in close range, this switches to prey drive, and the visual acquisition as well as the chase component come into play. In search work, however, there is no chase, no visual acquisition of the subject at the start of a search, and no high- pitched vocalization on the victim’s part to stimulate the dog. All there is, we hope, to stimulate the canine, is the scent of the victim, and the canine needs to use its nose to acquire that.
So, if we train the canine to rely on all of this stimulus, especially in the imprinting phase of the training process, and then subject the canine to an entirely different scenario, where the only stimulus that the canine has to it disposal is the scent of the victim, then this creates conflict. The canine, rather than starting out motivated in prey and switching to hunt drive at some point, has to skip the initial step, and start out in hunt.
It is a proven fact through research both in humans and canines, that when subjected to stressful situations, both revert back to the foundation of their training and react according to the way they were trained. In this case, if the canine gets into a stressful situation, as is expected to happen in the chaotic environment of a search mission, it would be expected that it revert back to its foundation training. In the case of the canine with its foundation in prey drive, it will begin to look for the victim, and rely on the presence of other prey-oriented stimulus in order to perform effectively. When none of that is present, the result will be diminished performance or completely shutting down. Displacement behaviors can also be observed as the canine attempts to cope with the stress. In the case of the canine with its foundation in hunt drive, the behaviors are quite different. Throughout the training process, the canine has learned that the only means of getting the reward is to use its nose. The lack of scent actually stimulates the canine to hunt more intensely for the presence of scent, rather than prompting displacement and other stress associated behaviors.
So, how is this done?
Well, the process to imprint human scent in hunt drive is no different from imprinting other types of scent detection training. The critical part is the first step, the scent recognition phase. When imprinting, for instance, for cadaver, the scent source is concealed in a block lined up among other blocks, all spread apart a reasonable distance. When the canine shows any behavior change indicating that it has recognized the presence of the scent, it receives immediate reward at the source of the scent. Since the scent source is inanimate, this requires the handler/trainer to have impeccable timing and good aim to ensure that the right behavior is rewarded at the right time right at the source of the scent.