We strongly encourage all dog owners to be thinking trainers, considering whether a piece of training advice will work for them and their dogs. Training Scent Work is no exception.
Perhaps a certain exercise caught your eye, but after thinking about it, you determine you would need further customization for it to work for you. Do so!
Or, maybe after thinking about it, you find out the ultimate result would be hopelessly in conflict with your overall training goals. In that case, leave that exercise or piece of training advice behind.
It is far better to be a thoughtful, mindful and discerning trainer than one who simply latches onto every piece of advice that is thrown about. This includes the exercises and training advice we provide here through Scent Work University.
It is true. Not every exercise or piece of training advice will fit neatly into the needs of every single dog and handler team. Being critical, discerning, and willing to modify or customize as necessary, are essential traits for any dog handler/trainer.
Personally, I love when our clients send us questions about various training topics we have discussed or covered in our online courses, seminars, webinars or eBooks, it shows that they are thinking!
We recently received such a question related to a few exercises we posited in the 50 Sniffy Fun Challenges and Winter Sniffy Fun Challenges eBooks, where a hide was to stay in the same location over a series of runs while other elements were changed (additional hides added in, fans brought in to change the air flow, start line changed, etc.). The question was this: could doing this result in the dog thinking it would be okay to “re-find” a hide they already found, especially at a trial?
Given that we have access to amazingly talented and experienced instructors, I posed the question to them (better than simply pontificating about this topic myself!).
Here is the wonderful discussion which resulted:
DIANNA SANTOS: Could using this type of hide, that is not moved in multiple runs in the same training exercise, cause an issue where a dog thinks they are expected to re-find a hide over-and-over again, especially in the context of trialing?
MICHAEL MCMANUS: Maybe, but my dogs are all allowed to re-find hides. I consider that a core component to developing stickiness on odor. I do agree with the idea of doing it sparingly. I do plenty of exercises where the hide doesn't move and other things change around it. But I'm using the fact that the dog has an expectation to get to the same point for reinforcement as a training tool to build confidence. It's a very specific training drill to use in very specific situations. Definitely shouldn't be overdone.
NATALIE MCMANUS: I wouldn’t necessarily want to do that all the time, but with significant changes to the search area I'm not sure it entirely counts as a re-find in the way people are generally concerned about it.
I also don’t want my dog to think that because they found a bench hide in room 1 they aren’t allowed to find a mirrored bench hide in room 2.
That being said, I often move hides at least slightly when I'm doing building up the search area exercises. Except for specific drills that involve creating extra strong expectations to help the dog overcome problem solving and confidence setups. And then I make the point of breaking the expectation to make sure they are still incentivized to use their nose first and foremost.
The devil is in the details on this question in my opinion.
Also, I think that it's more of the handler's job to keep track of finds, re-finds, and the search area.
MICHELLE DORAM: I think this sort of exercise should be done sparingly and in the introducing converging puzzles phase. In that situation, it’s skill building and not much of an influence on trial behavior.
The subject of repaying or not varies by instructor, and in my honest opinion, “it depends” on where the dog is in learning, the environment, and other factors.
These days, developing the skill needed at elite trialing with close converging hides is done much earlier and repaying is necessary and more difficult with pairing because someone’s got to be prepared to drop another bite on an odor. With primary, the puzzle gets easier as the bites are removed.
Agree with Natalie on moving the original hide slightly (e.g. if it’s on a chair, turn the chair 45 degrees and 12’’ away).
The big takeaway is this: This type of exercise, where a hide is not moving from run-to-run, has its place but it needs to be done sparingly and with purpose. The exercises posed in the eBooks were attempting to do just that: allow the dog and/or the handler to enjoy a specific learning opportunity.
That being said, doing this type of exercise is NOT an end-all-and-be-all, and as such, does NOT negate the need for handlers to work on countless other essential skills!
A few of these essential skills would include:
- ensuring the dog is able to continue searching,
- teaching the dog to stick with challenging puzzles and not simply quitting on them for easier ones, and
- ensuring the handler can keep track of where they have been within a search area.
Training is like juggling...there are always multiple balls up in the air at any given moment!
If this exercise of not moving a hide run-to-run was NOT done thoughtfully or mindfully AND done to death, there could indeed be inadvertent consequences.
If nothing else, this discussion highlights the need for us to be mindful and thoughtful trainers when working with our dogs. Exercises must be done with a purpose.
We should ask ourselves:
- What skills am I attempting to work on with this hide placement?
- What should the dog have learned having gone through this search?
- What are my overall training goals and where does this exercise and hide placement fit into that overall theme or plan?
- By being thoughtful and mindful trainers, we can avoid finding ourselves in a situation where we need to unpeel the onion of issues that seemingly sprouted up out of nowhere!
- Keep thinking, analyzing and asking those questions - your dog will thank you!
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!