Sunday, January 20, 2013
A K9 Nose Work® Odor Workout
Flip through any magazine and you're bound to find a little article on health & fitness: five tips for toning thighs, getting in shape for the new year, etc. It's about time K9 Nose Work teams get their quick guide to toning up the sniffing and handling in 2013!
1. Speedy Searches to Strengthen the Sniffer - If you have a small space or a bare space, or just one vehicle, you can change things up and run some searches designed to build intensity in your dog's searching and to promote a fluid leash handling style for you, the handler. You'll need a training buddy to help with some of these searches.
In a small space - like an office or classroom - have your training buddy place one or two odors in the search environment for your dog to find. As your dog finds an odor, you'll direct your dog to keep searching and your training buddy will pick up that odor and change its placement in the search area. The searching will continue without interruption for a few minutes or until the odors have each moved three or four times. What your dog gets from this kind of search is lots of reward and lots of expectation of reward, which builds intensity. Your dog also gets to discriminate between lingering odor and source odor as the hides move around. And, you get to work on leash handling skills as he darts around the environment, chasing the odor.
In a bare space - if you have a parking lot or an empty field to work, you can use the same moving odor game as above, or you can keep the odor placement fixed in a pattern - like a line - and build intensity. With as few as four hides, spaced about eight feet apart, you can have your dog charging towards odor in no time! You'll want to make sure he doesn't stray too far from the line, and that he finds each hide before moving on to the next one in line - all this can be accomplished by keeping a taut, short leash and using yourself as an anchor to make sure your dog doesn't blow by odors one, two and three to get to odor four. Work the line of hides back and forth three or four times before taking a break. Notice how your dog will try to race down the line once he realizes the hides haven't moved - just when you think he's no longer using his nose, he'll do a head snap right as he's passing an odor. If you have a helper, get her to pick up the odors as your dog finds them and let him search down the line with no hides, then place just one hide for him as he's returning. The detailing and thoroughness of your dog's sniffing will be so intense you'll change his name to Dyson!
With one vehicle - sticking with the continuous search style of the earlier examples, a training buddy is most helpful here. Place a single hide on the vehicle and begin searching, when your dog finds the hide, reward him and continue searching, then have your training buddy step in and move the hide. Change the direction you and your dog go around the vehicle a few times, experiment with searching a hide that only moves within a few feet of its original placement or have the hide move from one side of the vehicle to the other. Just like the line search, remove the hide at one point and let your dog search around the vehicle before replacing the hide. With this kind of search, see if you can tell when your dog is sniffing the lingering odor from a previous placement of the hide versus when he's working the source odor. Observing his behavior change can help you tell the difference between sniffing and investigating pooling or trapping odor and sniffing odor that leads to the source - the hide - in a blind search situation.
2. The Handler Hold at the Threshold - Every search has a beginning, but not every team begins searching from the start. Both dogs and handlers need to practice giving the whole search area importance, especially when it's so easy to enthusiastically charge into a search area and believe you've covered what's behind you. These searches will really condition you and your dog to pay close attention to the search area before either of you takes a step.
In a doorway - if you have a doorway to search, you can work on threshold searching. Place a hide just inside of the doorway you're going to search and have the door open. Approach the doorway with your dog on leash and stop a few feet from the threshold. Wait several seconds to see if your dog shows any behavior change that would indicate he's caught odor. If you can't tell, look for your dog to focus his attention on the doorway. Once you've seen some odor interest from your dog, release him to search the doorway, but only give him enough leash to get his head past the threshold. If he's working the odor, support him with more leash, but don't let him wander deep into the room. As soon as he finds the hide, reward him and take a quick break. Move the hide to the opposite side of the doorway (if this is the side the door is hung on, place the odor where your dog could reach it right at the edge of the door frame under the door) and repeat the search. Really try to watch your dog and time his release to his behavior change - it should be more obvious now that he has an expectation of finding a hide and being rewarded. Change up this search by placing the odor a little higher at the threshold. Tip: use museum putty to stick your hide to the wall.
In a large area - some searches begin in a large, open area, but that doesn't mean there can't be hides near the threshold. To begin this kind of search, set a hide a few feet in and five or so feet to one side of where you'll start. Experiment with how different the search is if you're walking forward as your dog begins searching versus hanging back and allowing your dog to search without you pushing him from behind like a tidal wave. By staying put at the threshold, you'll give your dog a better chance to search the whole area from the start, and you'll have a better chance to watch your dog for behavior changes that signal he's caught odor.
3. Container Circuit Training - Try setting up several container searches indoors and outdoors that you and your dog can run consecutively. Make the container searches different by using different types of containers, different numbers of containers, different patterns, and different numbers of hides. The goal here is to build some stamina and intensity, and to keep your dog on his toes. This is especially useful for dogs who get a little obsessed with the containers themselves and, if searching the same area over and over with changing hide placement, might tend to give too much attention (biting, pawing, pushing, alerting on) to odor-free containers.
4. The Odor Stretch - You can set this search up indoors or outdoors - although, it's best to run it in an area where you can let your dog off leash. Set out three hides: two low hides on either side of a higher hide (three feet off the ground), and space them out about fifteen feet. Start at one end or the other of the line of hides and let your dog work. What is most likely to happen is that the two lower hides will draw your dog away from committing to the higher hide. This is a great exercise for observing how your dog makes choices in the presence of multiple odors, what he looks like when he catches odor from one hide, then leaves it to find another hide, and how your placement in a search area affects things.
This is the kind of search where you can let your dog take some time to work out the problem. Once he's found the low hides, try not to let him go back to either hide unless it seems like he's a little frustrated and could use a reward before being put back on the challenge of sourcing the high hide. Experiment with placing yourself in the search area; try moving way out away from the wall - high odor sometimes drifts and falls away from the source - or try standing in front of whichever low hide your dog just found and facing towards the high hide to help keep your dog from getting stuck on the hide he's already found.
Have fun keeping your dog's sniffer in top shape!