Top 5 Scent Work Tips on Training Your Down Indication

Here’s our Top 5 Tips on proofing your down indication for K9 Nosework.

Tip #1) Always mark or reward finding source. Then you can give extra rewards for the down indication.

Watch what happens at 0:18 seconds in the video if you don’t reward the dog for finding source. He offers undesirable behaviors, including looking at the handler, pawing, leaving source, bopping and moving the box. That’s lots of stuff you don’t want, and none of the down indication you do want. Compare with what happens at 0:48 when you do reward him for finding source. He stays at source, lies down and you have opportunities to give extra rewards s for the down indication. Over time, dogs trained this way hold such value for source that they stay there, so it’s much easier to tell the precise location of source. And the muscle memory between finding source and offering the down indication becomes automatic, for a fast, confident, reliable indication.

Tip #2) Don’t worry about how to get your dog staying down at source. Instead, build the value. Make it worthwhile. In fact, make source so crazy rewarding your dog doesn’t want to leave, and you have to lure him away.

Watch 1:10 to see how the process starts out with a little Brittany Spaniel puppy. Also, check out our video on how to start shaping the down indication with a puppy at one hot box:

With his adult parents (Boo & BB, shown at 1:28), we’re playing fun down races, away from odor. I only reward the fastest downs, and ignore slow downs. This makes down fast and full of drive and fun. Dogs are social learners. Competition can be an incentive. For the record, I think Boo is faster in more races, but sometimes cheats by anticipating the down before I give the cue. BB’s drive level is lower, but she listens carefully and really wants to please me. Both are enjoyable to work with.

Tip #3) Imagine YOUR ideal performance. Every dog is unique. For example, big dogs need more physical space, so, get out of the way. It might take 3 or 4 feet of space, so that your dog can lie down. This fantastic Leonberger is as close to source as physically possible. We reward her for finding source (a difficult scent puzzle by itself), then she offers the down indication and we celebrate. It’s a fantastic performance.

You’ll never change a Whippet into a Chihuahua. Both can be enjoyable to watch and fun to work with. Love the dog you have, and trust him to do his best performing the behaviours you’ve taught him.

Tip #4) You can only work on one thing at a time. So introduce one small, achievable challenge at a time. Generalisation is key to reliable scent dog performance. The more places you practice successfully, the more likely it is that when it comes time to test your skills in competition that you’ll succeed. Try training in all environmental conditions you’d reasonably expect: hot, cold, wet, dry, windy, etc. The more difficult the challenge is for your dog, the higher value the reward should be.Appropriate challenges are determined by the individual reinforcement history of your dog, at that stage in his training, in that environment. If the challenge you choose causes your dog to quit, spin, bite or dig, it’s probably too difficult.

For beginners, start by offering only 1 hot box, in every room of your house. Do not skip this step! Control the environment. Remove all distractions and start the dog 2 feet away from the box. You need to be ready to deliver the reward ASAP. Your dog should go directly to the box and find source. Reward finding it. Offer extra rewards for lying down. Once your dog is having fun and doing a great job, then increase the challenge by moving the box to your garage, back yard, or the sidewalk in front of your house. Gradually work on increasing small microchallenges when your dog is ready.

Here are some ideas for advanced challenges you might consider for very experienced dogs:

  • What if I’m upstairs on a different floor from the box?
  • Indicating at a distance. What if I sit in the chair when I give your search cue.
  • What if I jog away while you’re searching? This is a really hard challenge, so only introduce it if you think that your dog is ready. The further away you are, the more important it is to mark the dog for finding source, and in this case, the
    friend rewards the dog
  • What if I layer barriers between you and me and source? For example, put an expen around the hot box, with an open door.
  • What if there’s puddles or shoes around the hot box? In the video, I placed hides 2 hours before class, then there was a rain storm. There was also a rainbow. But it made for challenging searches.

Don’t “overface” your dog, offering impossible challenges, thereby setting yourself up for failure. Don’t proof your dog with situations that may scare or hurt him or you will lose trust. Work up to advanced challenges when your dog is ready, not to a timeline for upcoming competition you want to enter.

Don’t get into a rut of repeating the same mistakes. That’s not fun. If your dog is offers an undesirable behavior twice in a row, stop your practice. Think of how you can make it easier e.g. going back to exactly what the dog succeeded at last time. If you can’t think of what to do next, or you’re simply in a grouchy mood, take a break from training and go for a walk together. You’ll progress faster, and enjoy the journey more.

Tip #5) Be more rewarding. Have fun. Sometimes the recipe isn’t as important as the mood. If you’re not having fun, you must be doing something wrong and you need to fix it. Training your dog to lie down should be fun for you and your dog. Try acting goofy. Learn to play without any toys or food. Praise like you mean it.

Sometimes toss the reward at source (provided that your aim is good and you know for play that it’s fun for the dog rather than scary.) Yes, it contaminates the search area. But it’s fun, and highly motivational. When doing this, use easily visible pieces of food in a colour that contrasts with the surface, or the dogs favourite toy.

For more ideas on proofing a rock-solid indication behavior watch

Do you have a favourite tip for training your down indication for nosework? Do share.

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2 thoughts on “Top 5 Scent Work Tips on Training Your Down Indication”

  1. Pingback: How to Train Your Dog to Sit at Scent – Part 2 Scent Puppy Foundation, Hunter's Heart, Canada

  2. Pingback: How to Train Your Dog a Sit Indication – Part 2 Scent Puppy Foundation, Hunter's Heart, Canada

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