The amazing story behind K9 innovations

The amazing story behind the invention of the Kong toy begins with a devoted dog owner named Joe Markham. Over 40 years ago, Joe faced a challenge – his beloved German Shepherd, Fritz, had a habit of biting on rocks and sticks, which had caused serious damage to his teeth. Determined to find a solution, Joe embarked on a mission to create a toy that would keep Fritz entertained and prevent him from damaging his teeth further. One day, while working on his vehicle, Joe accidentally dropped an axle stop with an attached bracket on the ground. To his surprise, Fritz immediately grabbed hold of it and started playing with it joyfully. Seeing his dog’s excitement, Joe couldn’t help but be amused by the unexpected turn of events. He turned to his friend and proudly asked, “What do you think of my new dog toy?”

Though not too impressed by its appearance, his friend humorously remarked, “Actually, it’s not too pretty. It looks like an earplug from King Kong.” Little did they know, those words would mark the birth of the iconic Kong toy we know today. And so, thanks to Joe’s creative thinking and his furry friend’s enthusiasm, the Kong toy came into existence. It has since become a beloved and trusted companion for countless dogs, providing them with hours of entertainment and promoting healthy dental habits.

In the story around innovation and discovery, the allure often lies in the details, the hidden stories that breathe life into what we use or do. Let me share the story of the Kong – an example that mirrors countless others, revealing the story of hard work, sleepless nights, and a lot of testing by some pioneer K9 trainers.  

The Kong Detection Method

I was first introduced to the Kong training method during a session at the Norwegian Army K9 training school, I thought it was at the end of the 90s. I visited them with Bob Bailey to talk about giving directionals to dogs while clearing IED. The guys informed me of a fascinating training regimen from the Norwegian People Aid (NPA). To my knowledge, they pioneered using the tiniest Kong fragments to train their renowned mine detection dogs.

Norway Military Dog School

This groundbreaking method was silently borrowed, rebranded, and then presented as a unique course by others, neglecting to credit the trailblazing efforts of the NPA. As it gained traction among the general training community, the once-groundbreaking technique soon became the “standard.” Many became practitioners, but few knew its roots, history, and innovative reasoning behind the NPA’s approach.

Imitation, the sincerest form of flattery

This isn’t an isolated incident. Throughout history, countless methods, tactics, and tools get replicated. It’s flattering, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, the problem arises when credit is amiss. For instance, I created the radio and laser directional program in 1996, built meticulously from the ground up, and witnessed myriad imitations. I spent three years developing it, had many sleepless nights and failures, and was blessed to work with Marian and Bob Bailey, who helped me work out all the details. So now, each time an orange cone is sighted, it’s a nod to my original protocol – perhaps unbeknownst to many. It was a system I introduced to special forces across the globe. And while it’s gratifying to witness my brainchild being emulated, signifying its efficacy, there’s a distinction to be made. You can replicate a concept or a system, but the essence, the enthusiasm, and the passion that fueled its inception remain inimitable. Have you ever wondered about the origin of the orange cone? That’s a story I’ve chosen to unravel in my forthcoming book, Dog Training Decoded. It’s printed at this moment and will be available in English soon. Or visit me at the Cyno-Ops 2023 event in France in December, where I will do a special keynote about how and why this program started, about the struggles, sleepless nights, inventions, and spin-offs from this program. 

The chicken training workshops

Another clear example is the chicken training workshops, which Marian and Bob Bailey originally invented. They felt they needed to not only explain the theory about classical and operant conditioning. They also wanted to train the trainers the apply what they had just learned. Use these fundamentals in training instead of only understanding the theory. That’s why they started their famous chicken training workshops. Their workshops were not about training chickens! The goal was to learn, understand, apply operant conditioning, and train your mechanical skills. 

Designing innovative training products

Besides designing protocols, I love to design Innovative and high-quality training products because they are important for setting your dog up for success. These products, which you can find in my online shop at can help you ensure that your dog is learning the criteria in a safe, effective, and for detection dogs in a ‘clean’ way. They can also provide a fun and engaging way for your dog to learn. Using interactive scent wheels, treat dispensers, odor boxes, line-ups, and odor delivery devices can help keep training interesting and exciting for your dog. Combining these products with good training protocols will make a huge difference. In this way, you can train your dog step by step. My training protocols are like Lego blocks, which we all played with as children: they come in different sizes, shapes, and colors, and everything can be connected. With some imagination and mechanical skill, you can assemble the Lego bricks and build whatever you want: from a small car to a Lego house to an entire Lego city with airplanes.

Build behavior like lego blocks

In animal training, I build chains of behavior like this. Let’s take the example of building a house; you can only put a roof on it once the walls are finished, and the walls can only be built once the foundations are laid. Also, you must remember that before you pour concrete on the floor, you must call electricians, plumbing, and heating contractors. Because if you have yet to lay the pipes and wiring beforehand, it will be later, once the concrete has hardened, too late for that. If you have to break it open because you forgot a line, you can damage or weaken the entire foundation. 

House building and animal training, therefore, both start with a plan. When we built our first houses with Lego in childhood, we always started with a base plate where we could place all the elements we had already assembled or prepared. Our fantasy world came true, and we could build in three dimensions thanks to the base plate. Suddenly it was no longer evident to other children what we had created, and they could play along in a role that they liked. You could be a police officer, a pilot, or a fireman in our Lego city. The big picture no longer existed only in our heads but became apparent to others. Also, here is the parallel with animal training. At first, we start training alone with our dog in the safe environment of our house, our backyard, or a private training place. After a while, we will present ourselves as a combination of the world around us. In the dog training club, a contest, or in the real operational world like police, military, customs, bed bug, wildlife, medical detection, or whatever job we do with our dogs. Or, as President Roosevelt explained to us in his famous speech on April 23, 1910, then you step into the Arena. We need to be ready then, feel comfortable and be able to rely on our strong fundament and well-conditioned behaviors. 

You need a strong foundation

A strong foundation also means that you know and respect the roles of others that are necessary for the job. We understand how much skill, time, effort, and perseverance it took to build from this fantasy world into the real world. A strong foundation is created during the reflection and planning phase and during training. Only then can you act and start the actual construction process.

Training your dog is similar; this approach is essential to having a healthy, reliable, and happy dog. It can help ensure that your dog behaves correctly, is safe around other animals and people, and is a well-mannered family member. As with any training, it is crucial to use criteria when training your dog.

Criteria is a set of rules or guidelines you should follow when training your dog. These criteria can be anything from basic commands, detection of odors, how to deal with distractions, or to more complex behaviors.

When using criteria, you are setting your dog up for success by allowing your dog to learn the behaviors you expect consistently and organizationally. It also helps your dog to understand the consequences of not following the criteria. When using criteria to train your dog, taking small steps to reach your training goals is important. This will help your dog understand the criteria more easily and will make it easier for them to master the behaviors you are asking for. Taking small steps also allows you to make sure that your dog is responding positively to the training. This will lead to a good understanding of what you are asking your dog to do. 

Small steps and criteria

During my workshops, I focus on teaching trainers the importance of these small steps by helping them to design their training plans with clear criteria.

Helping them to collect training data and to analyze this. I will show examples of these so-called building blocks and specific behaviors. Building those strong chains of behaviors fast to perform complex tasks is easy with strong conditioning behaviors. On top of this, I add 25 years of operational experience from special forces. This real-life experience brought me to start Simon Prins ACT! All my work is based on science and built on classical and operant conditioning principles. I have always loved creating special equipment to train dogs and trainers more effectively and efficiently. You will find many beautiful and efficient products in my online shop. I love to use these products to ensure dogs and trainers benefit from a positive training approach.

Whatever story you encounter, whatever training program you see or use, try to step into the shoes of the person who invented it to get to their soul and energy! Enjoy training! 

ACT! Is operating worldwide. You can find more information on my website 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 workshops, don’t hesitate to contact me so I can provide you with the specific workshop you need for your organization! 

Any questions or comments?

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to send me an e-mail. 

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