“You got that one”
A familiar phrase you’ve probably heard or used during an advanced nosework search. It’s what we might say when our dog goes back to a found hide. Although there are different approaches to handling found hides, the most common one is to not reward again. They can get “sticky” and won’t leave a hide to find another. When we are being timed, we don’t always have time for our dogs to re-indicate. When you get to the higher levels with closer hides they need to learn to leave one and find another.
It’s the least graceful thing I see in the sport of Nosework. Professional detection teams don’t encounter this situation, as they don’t leave a hide after finding one. Professional handlers ALWAYS pay at source. It’s critical to their job/training.
It got me thinking … do dogs really know what this phrase means? Is there a better way to handle this, especially at a trial and for new teams?
After watching many new teams compete recently, it occurred to me that with trial nerves and a possibly distracted dog, we need to protect their value for odor and motivation for the game. If we can’t manage them going back, they would be better served if we rewarded the found hide again. Let’s take a deeper look into this.
With the onset of many new scent detection organizations, access to trials has exponentially increased. This is allowing teams to move more quickly up the competition levels. Teams can move up to the next level on their very first trial weekend and may not be ready for the new challenges they will face. As much as I believe teams should go at a slower pace before competing, we can come up with other approaches and strategies to help.
I’ve always hated not feeding again at source, but have accepted it as a training method and dogs for the most part, don’t re-indicate – they know once it’s been found, it won’t be reinforced again. Each hide has a unique scent stamp so they can and do learn which ones have been paid and which haven’t.
I’m very careful to not let my dogs go back. You HAVE to remember where you found a hide. You need to place them far enough apart when starting and run ON leash to help with management. I never pulled them off a found hide, or said “no” and maybe only once I said “leave it” – GASP, yes, early on I recall saying that in a flustered moment.
It’s really fascinating to watch a dog who truly knows which ones they have found! Here is a short container video of Drac doing a “high” distractor search. Most of the cold containers have a food distractor. There are 3 hides. Notice how he never re-indicates and even snaps away or bumps around the from ones (watch for pop up circles for found hides).
When I started out, I got great advice to work mostly on single hides and to space out multiple hides to minimize situations where dogs would go back or get caught between odors, and at the same time learning there are MORE out there to find. I had the luxury of time when I first started with such few trial opportunities at that time. We had time to really establish the skills and understanding before trialing. It was actually TOO long between trials and now I find it’s TOO soon. We can control a happy medium now and ensure our dogs have the skills and trial strategies when competing and still be able to get out and trial in a reasonable amount of time.
Let’s take a look at the potential issues to feed again or not …
Not rewarding on found hides
- Can demotivate a trial nervous dog who keeps getting back to the hide and is pulled off – causing confusion and demotivation.
- Is a withdrawal from the odor back, that will need more deposits to build it back up again.
- Dog indicates, handler does not read it or call it. Dog may not indicate again if they have learned a hide will not be rewarded again. Trust issues start to take root.
Rewarding again on found hides
- Dog will get sticky at the hide and won’t work to find another.
- Will lose time with dog going back to try and get reinforced again. Easier to go to the one already found then to hunt for another!
- Dog won’t learn to focus on finding another.
- Especially challenging when hides get closer in the higher levels and dogs have to solve 2+ odors close to each other.
What can we do instead?
At our best we can manage our dog not going back – especially at the beginning of their learning. What I see in blind or trial searches is that access to the found hide is not managed well and dogs are allowed back to the found hide over and over and over and over again. The dog may be pulled off, told “no” or “leave it” and you start to see a downward spiral. Making matters worse, the dog then finds the next hide and the handler does not see it or trust enough to call. There are only so many times our dog will tells us where the hides are and now they are learning odor doesn’t always pay and will lose confidence to indicate.
What are our training options??
- Manage where your dog has found a hide by keeping them on leash and take an active role in covering areas that have not been searched.
- Reward again if you mismanaged your dog going back when they are still learning the ins and outs of multiple hides.
- Place your hides further apart and add more hides (3-5 hides). The more your dog learns the game of finding MORE, the sooner they will learn found hides are no longer “active” and reinforcement can be found at the next one.
- Know where your hides are! This is not the time to add in the component of running blind hides.
- Always praise when rewarding your dog at source. This will transition to using only praise if they go back to a found hide.
- Early on we can pick up the hide during a transition from 1 to multiple hides.
What are our trialing options?
- Manage where your dog has found a hide by keeping them on leash and take an active role in covering the area that has not been searched.
- Reward your dog again at the found hide if you accidentally led them back. This may help you remember to not let your dog return to that location again. You train more than you trial, so the few times you may do this at a trial shouldn’t derail the overall premise.
- Let your dog search. Don’t crowd and don’t repeat your search cue. This is showing your nervousness and will affect your dog’s ability to locate odor on their own.
- Trust your dog. Go with your gut to call a change of behavior. Don’t risk demotivating your dog by second guessing what they are telling you.
- If you are unable to truly read your dog at source, take a break from trialing and go back to foundations.
Another interesting idea … a while back I saw a team who preemptively paid when the dog was heading back to a found hide. I really like this concept – yep, I’ll feed you before you find it again so you can stay in the game to find the rest!
Know your dog. Know their training history. Know what will cause them to lose motivation and decide what can you do to protect their value for odor.
Practice, practice, practice multiple hides. Run them KNOWN. Have a routine. Be consistent with how you release your dog to find more. Improve your handling. Do NOT let them go back to found hides. Place hides they can easily find so they WANT to find the new one. This would also be a good time to back off on the major pay out at source. If your dog tends to be sticky at a hide, feed less on first one and more on next one.
And remember, always be an advocate for your dog. Throw the “rules” out if you feel your dog needs more motivation, and this includes rewarding again at source!