Reliable scent dogs must ignore food, toy, and environmental distractions to find target odor. This video shows the Table Distraction Game we play with our scent dogs away from odor, to teach them to ignore a bowl of food by default.
It’s a stress-free complement to training sniffer dogs to pass by distractions, go to a target and stay there, without any assistance from the handler. It only takes 3 minutes, using the food your dog would have eaten regardless.
INTRODUCE YOUR DOG TO TARGETING A TABLE
If you haven’t already, teach your dog to go to, or “target”, a table (watch https://youtu.be/zLiStNrTvMM), gradually increasing distance (https://youtu.be/jsSgJHWE7So). Deliver a random number of rewards on the table (or table substitute) and then give your release cue e.g. “ok, get it”, then toss a piece of food onto the ground to restart the exercise.
The demo dog is Jager, a 5 month old Brittany Spaniel, currently training for bed bug detection. The table we’re using in the video is a KLIMB dog training platform (available from Clean Run & Amazon). You can substitute a piece of smooth wood, an agility table, a dog bed, matt, platform, cardboard box, agility step, Bosu balance trainer (from FitterFirst or Costco), barrel, hat, frisbee or whatever you have on hand. The table should be big enough that the dog can comfortably lie down on it. Nonslip bottoms help for dogs that are afraid on unstable surfaces that move unpredictably.
TABLE PLUS DISTRACTIONS
Once your dog is consistently offering going to the table, make it harder by adding a distracting bowl of food as shown in the video.
- Start by placing a portion of your dog’s dinner in his food bowl. Sit on the floor between the table and the bowl of food.
- When your dog ignores the food and puts 4 paws on the table, deliver food to him on the table.
*If your dog is unsure, you can kickstart the process by putting a piece of food on the table to lure him onto it. But get rid of the lure as soon as possible.*
- Deliver a random number of food rewards (approx. 2-8, or whatever your dog likes)
- Say your release work e.g. “ok, get it”, then show him a piece of food and toss it so it rolls away from the table
- Look at the table, say nothing and wait for your dog to return to the table
- If the dog tries to steal the food, cover the bowl with your hand. Wait until he goes to the table.
- Reward placement is critical. To build value for the table, the rewards should happen at the table.
- Choose a food with a color that is significantly different than your floor so it’s easy to see.
- Don’t use any word to command the dog to go to the table. It should become a default behavior. You are cuing the table by sitting close to it and looking at it. Resist the urge to help the dog or repeat yourself. Give the dog a chance to figure out how to earn the reward.
- The position the dog takes on the table doesn’t matter. He can sit, stand or down as long as 4 paws are on the table
You’ll notice this sequence resembles how we reward dogs when they put their nose at source (see https://youtu.be/8-OLP9Zht5w). We deliver a random number of rewards then lure the dog away with food. Over time, the dog should offer to go source (or the table) as it becomes highly rewarding. Don’t make it harder until the dog is very confident at this stage.
Progressing Table Distractions
The next step is moving the bowl of food closer to the table. Try jingling the food, shaking the bowl, dropping food on the ground. Eventually try positioning the bowl on the path the dog must take to get to the table, so he has to run past the food to get to the table.
Try it out at home with your scent dog and whatever table you have on hand, and let us know how you make out!
Why are we doing this, and how did we get there? Learn more about distraction training below.
WHY SNIFFER DOGS NEED TO IGNORE DISTRACTIONS
Scent work is a continuum. Most trainers start by pairing food or toy rewards with target odor. Then remove the food or toy and the dog learns to find odor only. And finally, the dog must ignore distractions (food, toy, and environmental) to find target odor https://youtu.be/RLUCnyPduYY .
Novice teams are frequently unprepared for distractions, and dogs commonly offer false alerts on distractions, when no odor is present.
You can prevent false alerts by training distractions before you have a problem during a search by systematic distraction training. Distraction training is a great foundation for scent work and all dogsports, resulting in a more reliable performance you can count on, confidence, clarity and fun.
OTHER DISTRACTION GAMES
Here are other games we play to teach dogs to ignore food distractions. These games help sniffer dogs to ignore distractions, focus, and improve impulse control.
1 Cookie Zen aka Mugging https://youtu.be/CfLY6aUIazY Show your puppy your open handful of food, and wait until he stops trying to steal it to deliver a piece to him. Watch this video.
2 Cookie Zen Part 2 https://youtu.be/FinlH_Jfxkg Place a handful of food on the floor. When the dog tries to steal it, cover the food with your hand. When he stops trying to steal it, deliver a piece to him. Start with low value treats closer to you then to your dog. Work up to high value treats closer and closer to the dog until it’s on his paws or body.
4 Red light green light game – the dog must ignore food in the handler’s hand to put his nose at source (the hole in the hot box) https://youtu.be/-K2NsQ0-EJA.
DISTRACTION IS A DRIVE PROBLEM
“Distraction” is a drive problem in disguise. If the distraction is more rewarding to the dog than scent work then the dog will be distracted. For example, if your dog is more interested in the food crumbs dropped on the floor of a training center than searching for target odor, he’ll choose to sniff the ground instead of searching for odor. Exterior searches can be extremely difficult, since many dogs would rather sniff animal droppings and doggy odors in the grass, rather than searching for odor. But if you offer incredible rewards for finding target odor, searching becomes inherently rewarding over time. After many repetitions, the properly motivated scent dog will pass by crumbs of food and animal droppings to earn his reward by finding and indicating source.
Novice dogs won’t usually run past a snake or their favorite ball to find odor. You need to break it down into small achievable steps.
FIRST, MOTIVATE YOUR DOG TO FIND TARGET ODOR
The first and most important thing is to make scent so incredibly rewarding for the dog that he’d be crazy to leave scent. In the imprinting stage, we build value for the target odor. Only when commitment to odor is strong do we make it harder by introducing challenges such as distractions. In an earlier video, we showed our process of training distractions, including dogs who run over top of distractions to find target odor.
You can play fun games away from nosework to complement your nosework training and teach the dog to ignore distractions. Distraction training away from nosework means that any mistakes you make are “cheaper” then if you made them in the presence of odor. In contrast, if you correct your dog for noticing distractions (or any other mistake) while he’s searching for odor, it’s very “expensive” because you can turn him off of nosework.
Follow our blog to watch our bed bug detection puppies progress through the steps in distraction training for sniffer dogs.