Blog Blip: Evolving your Nosework Training Approaches

April 19, 2020

I’ll be doing a series of short blogs – a blip in your day when the extra time we thought we all had is now full with ALL THE THINGS being offered and shared online due to COVID-19. Hope you have a minute in your day for a glimpse into my training thoughts!

Rethinking Old Approaches

With any type of training, we should evolve in our approaches and handling. We don’t have to change everything, but usually there are a few things we can refine and provide more clarity for our dogs. It also can be a bad habit we developed that had good reason initially but now is causing another issue. Over time, we become better trainers and sport competition levels become more challenging. When we are open to change and trying new approaches, we’ll be even more ready to succeed in new challenges ahead!

Here are 3 examples:

  1. Backing up when your dog is honing into odor.
  2. Leaving hides out when first training multiple hides.
  3. Saying “You found that one, find another”.

Initial Logic

Let’s break down each one.

  1. The initial reason for backing up was so we did not not step forward and crowd our dog. Backing up is STILL ok if you find you are very close to your dog, but it should not be in response to deciding to call an alert. There was also a time when it was advised to move your feet around. We saw lots of this with people dancing their feet back and forth as the dog honed into odor. One of the reasons this was suggested was so that we didn’t talk our dogs into a hide if we stopped. That can be a problem if in training we always stop when we know where the hide is. So to fix THAT problem, it was advised to keep moving our feet so that our stopping would not talk our dog into talking us into calling “Alert”.
  1. I would go straight from single hides to leaving multiple hides out in a search because I was told to never have odor on my body. I also believed that to teach a dog to leave one hide to find another, you had to leave the hides out. This approach also worked well with my dogs.
  1. “You found that one”. When going back to multiple hides, we wanted a way to tell the dog that this hide won’t pay again. It’s also a very human thing to want to have this human conversation which sounds perfectly clear to us. But is it helpful to the dog?

Refining The Approach

  1. When moving with our dogs around a search area, it’s best to slow up when they slow up, stop when they stop, move when they move, turn when they turn, etc. We should also not crowd. There is no need to dance our feet, back up or walk forward to test our dog at source. We want to trust our dog and observe. Here’s a video example of how my backing up has become a cue for my dog to talk me into an alert!
Backing up has become a cue to my dog to hold to a location, even if not odor. The container “no” did have a tennis ball in it! It wasn’t the ball that got him, likely all the other dog droll and disturbance from other ball interested dogs!
  1. A while ago, my good friend Holly Bushard suggested that picking up the hide was a helpful transition step for the dog learning to move on to find more. If they came back to the hide location again, which they often do, the hide is gone. By not finding the hide again they start to learn it’s not beneficial to go back and will learn to go hunt for more! The old hide will not distract them from hunting for another! Well, if that isn’t the most logical thing I’ve ever heard! And coming from a background of splitting down behaviors and not lumping – DUH why had I not done that? The reason? I could not get my head around the old adage to never have odor on you. How could you pick it up and have odor on you!? Well, you can! Just put it in your pocket. It will be fine! I even knew that not all dogs could easily move off hides or would consistently go back to found hides. This intermediate step is a very good change for any dog!!

  1. There are many ways to help our dog understand that going back to a found hide may not pay again. We work through that in many steps like the one above. Once we are at a level that would benefit our search to not reward again, we need to practice cueing our dog to find more! Saying “you found that one” likely doesn’t mean anything to our dog. It becomes a NRM (non reinforcement marker) as they don’t get reinforced. All we need to do is praise them and cue them to find another! Instead of telling them what they already did, it’s more effective and clear to tell them what to do, to find another. You can praise your dog and then cue them to keep searching, “Good girl. Find another”. In the example below I am clear to praise her for finding odor (again) and to then “Find Another”.
At 33s, you’ll hear me say “good girl, find another”.

What have you changed in your training approaches over the years?

If you missed my previous Blog Blip on Reinforcement Delivery, or the series of blips, check it out!



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