Maintaining performance in searching dogs: Evidence from a rat model that training to detect a second (irrelevant) stimulus can maintain search and detection responding.
Thrailkill EA., Porritt F., Kacelnik A., Bouton ME.
Scent-detecting dogs perform a sequence, or chain, of behaviors that, at minimum, includes searching followed by a detection behavior that signals the presence of a target stimulus to the handler. However, when working, dogs often engage in prolonged periods of searching without encountering a target. It is therefore important for trainers to use methods that promote persistent search behavior and target detection accuracy. Laboratory models can provide insights to the important variables that influence search persistence and accuracy. The present experiments examined a rat model of detection dog behavior. Two experiments assessed the use of practice with a single target stimulus to maintain search and detection of another previously-trained target. In Experiment 1, after learning a search→detection chain with two auditory targets, rats received either brief or extended training with only one of the targets before being tested for detection of both targets in extinction. The results suggest that single-target training strengthened the ability of the other target to control the detection behavior. Experiment 2 found that even infrequent target encounters were still effective at maintaining detection behavior to the other trained target. Importantly, the treatment was effective when the target stimuli were from different sensory modalities. Overall, the results support the utility of the rat model of search-dog behavior for evaluating novel training methods. We suggest several useful procedures for enhancing search persistence and accuracy in detection dogs that can be implemented in training protocols.