You set-up a challenging training search for your dog. It was designed to be a learning opportunity. A chance to stretch them, all while setting them up to succeed. Wouldn't you know it, they nailed it!
You give them a reward and end your session.
What you do next is really important. Are you maximizing on this?
"Jeez, what are you talking about NOW Santos?"
What immediately follows a training session of any variety directly affects what you did in that training session.
Let's take this out of realm of Scent Work for a moment: you just worked on recalls for instance and your dog was a total rockstar. What did you do afterwards? Did you stick them in a crate and go to work? Did you do their nails or give them a bath? Maybe you hopped on the computer or completely ignored them to binge watch your favorite show for hours on end. How much you want to bet your recall is not going to be as great the next time around?
"WHY?! I gave them a (treat, toy, verbal praise, play, etc) when they came to me! I did the reward thing!"
Good, you should! But, you missed an important piece: what resulted immediately after that activity.
Dogs are contextual little creatures. They pick up on patterns. Put 2 and 2 together and you get four, that sort of thing.
So, when you have a really good recall training session, and you reward them and THEN you do something they do not like (disappear to go to work, chop off their toes, torture them with the bubbly water stuff or worship the glowing box thing), in their mind that behavior of coming to you doesn't work in their favor. It causes you to do things they do not like.
"Fine, I guess. But what does this have to do with Scent Work?"
The same premise applies.
Think of it this way: you are at work, tackling a really difficult project your boss assigned to you. They have said that if you get this project figured out and wrapped up, they will give you a $25.00 Starbucks gift certificate. Sweet! You work and toil, and finally crack the code! So proud of yourself, you present the solution to your boss. They seem pleased and sure enough, they hand over the gift certificate. Yay!
Then, they walk off without so much as a word. No recognition to the rest of the team. No possibility of a promotion or raise. No acknowledgment of what you accomplished. Instead, they say over their shoulder right before they slam the door of their office, "Remember you've got those other 5 projects that are due on Monday. Get them on my desk, stat."
How would you feel? Defeated?
How likely are you to put that much time, energy and effort into the next project? Not very likely, right?
Alright, now let's change things a bit. Let's say your boss was still pleased by your work on that project, and that they gave you the Starbucks gift certificate. Only this time, they called in the rest of your team to go over how you solved this problem, highlighting your brilliance and saying how you just earned a bonus as a result. They go on, saying they cannot wait to see what you come up with in regard to those other 5 projects, and invites the other team members to chip in.
Not the same experience or feeling at all, right?
The immediate reward is exactly the same: a $25.00 gift certificate. But what happens afterwards could not be more vastly different.
Stepping out of the corporate world and back into the Scent Work one, how can you use this approach in your training? Identify special high-value activities that can be whipped out as exclamation points to your training. Does your dog love to play a certain game? I mean, LOVE, as in you give a hint that is what you are going to do and your dog begins to bounce around with dilated pupils, muscles firing up, tongue lolled out and tail wagging a mile a minute? Incorporate that game after your Scent Work training session, and only then. Don't waste it! Leverage this powerful tool you have to make your point: dog, you were brilliant in this training session, just wait till we do this again next time, you're going to kill it!
Use what you know about learning and training to your advantage: if you want to strengthen a behavior, then reward it. In our case, persistence in working out an odor problem, displaying true odor obedience, having the ability to push through learning stress to see a problem through...these are all behaviors we definitely want to strengthen, and therefore we should reward them.
Evaluate how you are wrapping up on your Scent Work training sessions. Are you giving your dog the high-five they deserve, or leaving them with a feeling that all of their hard work wasn't really worth it in the end?
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!