My dog indicates by tugging a toy hanging on my side. The toy (firehose) is not the same as my reward toy. Some handlers use the same toy for the indication and reward. This can work, but some dogs have a tendency to self-reward if you do that. I'll give my thoughts on other indications that I have seen.
Body slam: possibly dangerous with some dogs, especially in sketchy terrain. Can cause bruises or worse. Usually the handler will prep for the indication by facing toward the dog and bracing for the impact. If you are not sure whether the dog is coming back to indicate, I think you could inadvertently cue the indication by bracing yourself.
Sit at handler: usually when a dog is coming back to indicate, it is very excited and teaching it to passively sit or lie down can be more difficult than a more active indication.
Bark at handler: when the dog is tired and panting, getting the barks out can be difficult for some dogs. The bark attempts can still be quite readable though. I followed a dog team with this indication recently and was very impressed. When the handler was walking the dog would get in front of him before indicating. And when he was hung up on a big log that he was climbing over, the indication was still very obvious.
Bark and hold: great for rubble, not acceptable for the wilderness in my area. With terrain, trees, wind, rivers, etc and the dog ranging a long way, it can be impossible to hear the barking so a refind is necessary.
Touch hand at side: I don't get this one. Maybe it can work in some situations, but what if you are doing something else with your hand? How can you do it without cueing the dog?
Does a little hop and a twist then looks back with cocked head: Ok, I made this particular one up, but some people end up with an indication that is difficult to explain or read by anybody but the handler. My guess is that these people didn't start out to train the behavior, but it has evolved to something that the handler has somehow reinforced, perhaps accidentally. In my opinion it is much better to choose something clear, simple, and easy to articulate, then stick with it. When I am on a search and I have a police officer following me and I'm asked "what does your dog do when he finds someone?", I am glad that I can simply say "he tugs this toy" rather than going into some long involved explanation.
Once you have the behavior trained, proof it in all kinds of situations. The dog should be able to indicate no matter what way you are facing, or if you are preoccupied by looking at a map or talking on the radio. What if you are walking in thick brush on a steep hillside at night? Train for such situations gradually so your dog gets accustomed to indicating in non-ideal conditions and so you know when your dog may be reluctant to indicate.
There is something to be said for choosing an alert the dog is naturally inclined to do. So you should consider what indication could be best for you and your dog. Once you decide however, stick with it. You will probably need to shape the behavior over time though. By this I mean your criteria for an acceptable indication may start out fuzzy ("nudges the toy with his nose") and progresses to very clear ("bites the toy and tugs it hard"). But in training don't let it regress or you will train your dog to not give a clear indication.
Jonathan & Benny
Last edited by dog27; 11-02-2010 at 12:08 AM.