About three months ago, I got the chance to spend a few days embedded with State Farm's fascinating Arson Dog Training Program in and around Alfred, Maine. Since meeting Hero Dog Award winner Jerry Means (an experienced arson dog handler) at the first Hero Dog Awards a couple years ago, I'd been hearing about the amazing work these working dogs do all over the country.
I'd also heard from many who know me that I would love seeing how the 3-man training team works using exclusively positive reinforcement to train these incredibly high-drive working dogs. I get so tired of hearing proponents of punishment-based training methods drone on about how positive reinforcement is nice for little puppies, but isn't strong enough to train big dogs with high energy and a propensity to truly 'work.'
Of course those of us who follow modern science know that such claims are nonsense, but thanks to my opportunity to witness the results achieved by the Arson Dog Program using positive training, we now have proof.
Arson or 'accelerant detection' dogs are an integral part of fire investigations and help determine whether a fire was accidental or set intentionally. Although working dogs frequently make headlines, arson dogs fly under the radar and are seldom thought of as part of a crime-fighting K-9 elite. So I was thrilled to have the chance to learn more about these amazing dogs, the people who train them, and the handlers who dedicate their lives to them.
Accelerant detection dogs are trained to sniff out accelerants like gasoline and propane, and to alert their handler to the presence of the accelerant. Their alert is typically to sit at the location where they smell the odor. State Farm’s arson dogs are Labrador Retrievers or Lab mixes chosen from animal shelters or from service dog programs, and the dogs used in this type of work are highly food and praise-motivated and truly love the job they do.
We're thrilled to share the power of these amazing animals and the dedication of the people who train and handle them with the public with the launch of our all-new Arson Dogs web series. Join us as we follow the journey of these truly one-of-a-kind dogs and real heroes.
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