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Don’t Be Afraid to Play!

Nose work is a great sport where you can carry your reward right with you into the trialing environment and that allows your training and your trialing to be seamless…………….unless you want to use toys. I have a toyaholic dog, a high drive BC that loves to tug. The struggle in NW comes in when you want to use your toy to trial, but find it either interferes with your search (dog looking at you for that reach to the toy), or it interferes with keeping your reward from disturbing the training area (dog tugs wildly or pulls away from handler with toy).

I love using toys for rewards in NW, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind to be successful:

Control the toy! That toy is gold to your dog and giving it to your dog before they have located the source will diminish your alert behavior. I always recommend a clicker as a marker to let the dog know the toy is coming, because……

Movement toward the toy will draw your dog away from odor. If you do not use a secondary reinforcer (clicker/noise/word), your dog’s first signal that reinforcement is available will be your movement and so any reach toward that toy will become your “click”, not what you want to worry about in a trial.

Teach your dog to wait at source. I do not like my dog to wildly turn to me for the toy at the click, I like the dog to calmly wait for the toy to be delivered. You may want to train a nose target, but even if you do not, having a dog that will wait for delivery of reward is a lot easier to manage in a lot of search areas.

The click is not the end. The click allows you to tell the dog “that is a rewardable behavior” but it does not end or stop the reinforcement. Remember #1! Controlling the delivery of the toy by moving the reward in as the dog is still maintaining alert behavior allows you to control the dog’s actions before the presentation.

Think about what your dog finds reinforcing. As a trainer identify the ultimate reinforcement of the toy for the dog. Some dogs want to possess the toy, some want to actually interact with you, and some dogs want a chase game. The easiest one to control is the dog that wants to play with you, but even if that is not the case, you can still control the reinforcement delivery to benefit your nose work alert.

Don’t get stuck in have to. You can have a toy dog and still use food and you can have a food dog and still use play, just decide ahead of time your training plan. For example, if you know that once you bring out a toy your dog will not eat food, but you want to work a skill set and use food rewards, plan to do that skill set first and use play rewards after that.

I always enjoy playing with my dogs, it makes the work seem like play and the two become intertwined in our relationship. Work/play/work/play, starts to become play/play/play/play.

Think about how you can successfully incorporate play in your training and you may find that your NW training goes up a whole new level.

Happy training!

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