Dunning Kruger Effect in detection training

We often discuss the Dunning Kruger effect when I meet detection dog trainers during my workshops. Because watching an experienced detection dog combination work seems so easy. The trainer gently handles the dog through a search area, moves in a structured way, and communicates calmly. The mechanical skills that the trainer uses to handle the leash, the bridge signal, and the reinforcement procedure are almost not noticed by the observers. The beautiful perfect passive alert is like a moment in time where everything stands still while the dog is fully focused on the place where the odor is coming from. And this is just a small part of detection training.

The world of detection training is fascinating in all assets. There are so many questions, and we still need more answers. I’m glad that science is helping us to unravel many of these questions. At the same time, there are a lot of paradigms.

Paradigms are used to help people understand complex or abstract concepts by providing a framework of information that can be used to explain the concept more concretely. This makes understanding and discussing the concept easier, which is especially useful when training detection dogs. For example, if a trainer is teaching a dog to detect explosives, they may use a paradigm of a specific type of odor to explain how the dog should use its sense of smell to locate the explosives. This helps the trainer better explain the concept to the dog so that it can learn the skills it needs to detect explosives accurately. Paradigms are used in training detection dogs because they provide a structure and context for the trainer to work within. This helps ensure that the dog is being taught effectively and consistently.

Over the years, we have learned a lot about training. Classical and operant conditioning learning theories are well known in the K9 world, and we can teach this to others trainers. Our mechanical skills as dog trainers are becoming better. And we have developed many intelligent training devices that help us train more efficiently and effectively, from simple training devices like clickers to odor delivery devices, odor detection boxes, odor imprint machines, olfactory machines, and scent wheels equipped with intelligent sensors. We have gained new insights into the training technique by gathering and analyzing data. We have done more research about the tactics that dogs will use to solve puzzles. And nowadays, we can even use MRI scans to see what is happening in the dog’s brain when it smells a conditioned odor like narcotics or explosives.

But in the professional K9 world, there are still a lot of questions and few answers. We must be honest; there is still so much we don’t know! And paradigms will help us to train dogs and other trainers. They give us structure. However, if paradigms are biased or not true, they can harm the training process. To weed out any biased or untruthful paradigms, trainers should carefully examine the research on which they are basing the paradigms. They should also consult with experts in the field to ensure that the paradigms they use are accurate and up-to-date. And that is not easy! You need to be able to reflect not only on the dog’s behavior but also on your behavior.

You have to keep track of the latest research, follow the leading scientists, and gather and analyze your data to see what is happening because the only reliable answer will come from your data.

To weed out some of these paradigms, I educate participants in my workshops to build their training on the five fundamentals;


From this strong fundament, I will dive into biases and wrong paradigms that keep trainers prisoners in some training method or philosophy. A big disappointment, but there is no Simon Prins method. I use classical and operant conditioning. Of course, I use some smart training devices which I designed myself. These products will make my life as a trainer easier; I can train faster, more efficiently, and effectively. And yes, I developed innovative training protocols like the radio-guided directional dogs equipped with special cameras and sensors. When I built the protocols from scratch, starting in 1996, nobody was doing this. My building blocks for designing these innovative protocols were classical and operant conditioning methods. And all of this, in combination with the newest electronics like sensors, camera systems, radio systems, and remote reinforcement devices. And for me, seeing that so many people and special forces worldwide are using these techniques to train their dogs for all sorts of beautiful K9 applications is very reinforcing.

Last weekends I gave detection workshops in the Netherlands and Austria. The ACT! Detection workshop provides the trainer with new insights into the latest science. A nice combination of theory and bringing what you just learned directly into practice with your dog in different detection exercises. Trainers learn how much time and energy they need to invest in the fundamentals. Because there is no room for short cuts in the detection world. We evaluate and train toward the best passive alert for your dog. Of course, there is much information about odor, handling odor, contamination, and how to solve detection problems. We highlight learning theory, odor imprinting methods, how to collect data and see reinforcement as a process. And all of this boiled down to paying much attention to the fundamentals. Because with understanding and applying these fundamentals, you can go faster toward the next level of training. Awareness of the Dunning Kruger effect will be an extra stimulant to focus on the fundamentals, which can help you become a confident trainer. This will help you train your dog professionally, which will be very effective and efficient and give you more pleasure and understanding about the fantastic world of detection.

ACT! Is operating worldwide. You can find more information on my website www.simonprins.com about the ACT! innovative training products and workshops about detection, odor recognition testing, tracking, scent wheel training, laser training, and radio-directional dogs. If you are interested in the ACT, Masterclass, don’t hesitate to contact me so I can provide you with the specific Masterclass you need for your organization! 

Any questions or comments?

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