I’ve taken the leap and started a blog, and what else would I blog about except dog training? I was teaching a Nose Work class recently and saw one of my student’s dogs watching the handler as it was searching. This is a huge red flag for me, why would a dog that was searching for scent need help from a handler that has a comparatively weak sense of smell? The answer of course is that the dog was getting valuable information about where the hide was from something that the handler was doing. When we took away the physical cues that the handler was giving the dog, (we had her pretend to find the source in the wrong spot), the dog had a hard time. The handler was very upset, what to do?
Problems in dog training are always like that, right? Things are going along great, and then something changes and you have a problem. In Nose Work your dog starts blowing by the source or in obedience your dog that was solid on stays starts breaking them. I have learned to skip the hours of agony over why my dog isn’t performing correctly anymore. I tell my students that your beautiful stays went the same place that money you lose in the stock market goes, far away, who knows where? You had it yesterday and now it’s gone.
Fixing problems in training means going back to your foundation exercises and re-visiting how you taught the dog in the first place. It’s why it’s important not to skip steps in teaching a skill or behavior. If you don’t have a strong foundation that has built understanding in the dog of how to perform, you’ll have a hard time fixing any training problem you come across. In the case of my student, we set up some training exercises where the dog was unable to get any information from the handler, we had her stand far away from the dog while searching, and the dog was able to realize that she was no longer going to help with the search and it was up to him to find the odor source.
So, take your time in training and always return to your foundation exercises when you run into some problem. Don’t view it as going backwards in training; view it as building toward a stronger performance. I regularly go back and breakdown exercises for my dogs. Really that communication is what I enjoy most in training.
Here’s a short video of some problem solving advice for Nose Work. It’s really just good dog training for any sport.