Many dogs have subtle indications. Their handlers frequently say they “need to learn to read their dog better”. Reading your dog is a good thing. But if you’d like a more solid indication, it’s easy to train. You can teach your dog to perform an obvious, unmistakable, confident, independent indication, and we’d be delighted to show you how to make it happen.
Don’t get me wrong. The only right way is YOUR way. If you’re happy with the indication you have, that’s right for you and I support your choice. If you want to train a more obvious indication, we can help you train to get there. The first step is to envision an indication you love.
I wish for each handler and dog to become the best team you can be. When a dog with a trained indication drops into the down position or freezes like a statue with full attention directed at the source, it is exhilarating for the team, the judge and the audience. You don’t need to remain a bystander watching your dog. You can expect more out of you and your dog, then train to reach your full potential.
Problems are easier to prevent, than to fix by retraining later. During times of stress, dogs (and humans) tend to revert to the behaviors learned first. A systematic approach should break down all the complex elements of nosework into achievable chunks, teach each separately, and then combine the components into a complete performance. In our classes, we teach the dog to search in the scent detection lab. Once dogs are proficient at searching for odor, then we train an indication. We proof the separate components, then combine into the complete performance.
Many handlers don’t train with a plan and some common problems may occur. For example, the dog digs, bites, barks or repeatedly looks at his handler. A well-intentioned handler may reward the dog while he’s performing undesirable behaviors, since he doesn’t want the dog to get discouraged. He may show the dog where source is, and reward the dog there. The dog inadvertently learns that when he’s confused, the handler will fix things and give rewards, whatever behaviors were offered. When they attempt difficult searches with distractions, the dog may quit. A handler may call a false alert when the dog was sniffing at a distraction, which resembled his subtle indication, and lose trust in his dog as a result. If the handler blames problems on the method employed, he may retrain using a new method or new indication, compounding the problem. When the handler keeps changing his expectations, it’s confusing to the dog and difficult to succeed.
Keep in mind that every dog with a solid indication began with no indication. Every time you rehearse a behavior, good or bad, you are building muscle memory and strengthening that behavior, whether you reward or not. You can choose the indication you want and train your dog to automatically perform it, using muscle memory to your advantage. A trained indication should be tying your shoes: you don’t need to think about what to do since you’ve succeeded so many times and your body performs the task automatically.
Training a rock solid indication takes many, many repetitions. It takes time, patience, and hundreds of rewards! In just 8 weeks, if you train 2 to 5 sessions each day, limiting each session to 3 minutes maximum, you can achieve a massive improvement in your dog’s indication.
To begin, we’ll show you what the ideal final performance could look like. We’ll present a few great options for indications. If you want to train a rock solid indication, you must choose one indication behavior and stick to your criteria!
In the training phase, we want to make the indication behavior so highly rewarding the dog would be crazy to do anything else. You’ll practice known searches on a single hot box. You’ll reward the dog, often, with fantastic food rewards. We’ll set your dog up for success and remove the possibility of errors such as false alerts. You will still be able to read your dog, but you’ll be building muscle memory to support a rock solid indication.
Once the indication is solid, only then should you introduce a new challenge. That means you should only introduce one new challenge at a time! We’ll show you how to progress step by step while building confidence and enjoying the journey.
The indication should be fully proofed before you start blind searches. Don’t get greedy! When your dog isn’t performing as expected, you need to be more rewarding. We’ll show you how. Your dog doesn’t need to be the fastest learner to be a great nosework partner. Every team learns differently, has different physicalities and prefers different rewards. We’ll help you to adjust your training when you run into difficulties, so you get back on track quickly.
Don’t just give up and see what happens. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to train a rock solid indication. You’ll never know what you can achieve unless you try. It’s up to you.
In response to student requests, our new online course: “Show Me – 8 Weeks to a Rock Solid Indication” opens Nov. 2016. In the meantime, please enjoy some free excerpts. Upcoming posts feature a litter of 6 week old puppies at their first nosework training sessions.