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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Positive Training - Nosework!

Today, we are participating in the Positive Training Blog Hop. I've focused on two things this month: 1) increasing Shyla's toy drive so I can use play more effectively as a training reward, and 2) introducing both dogs to nosework.

To increase Shyla's toy drive, I've recently done some unorthodox things like asking her to briefly tug a toy with me before I put her food bowl down for her to eat a meal. The idea is to "transfer the value" of food to tugging her toy, by closely associating them. It seems to be working beautifully.

I often toss her toy as part of our play, and she retrieves it, just like in the photo below. This morning, it was 9°F but I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of our frosty world that I wanted to stay out and play/train with Shyla all day! All of our training is centered around playing so it's fun!

Our biggest progress has been in nosework. We've taken a Fenzi on-line course that is an introduction to nosework, and it's been fabulous!!!

In this course, the goal is very simple. We want to teach our dogs to find a certain scent and to "alert" on it to tell us that the scent is there. We've focused on containers, one of which has scent in it. We took baby steps over the past 5 weeks to teach the dogs to hold their nose on the container with the scent. The underlying method was that the dogs got "paid" in the form of treats and praise whenever they identified and held their nose on the scent. It is purely positive training - no reprimands ever!

I made a video of each of our dogs doing nosework yesterday. They've come a very long way from being pure novices 5 weeks ago. Just to prep you for the video, there are 11 boxes on the floor, one of which contains 3 q-tips with birch scent on them. The dog needs to find the box with the scent and keep their nose on that box to alert me.

You can see that the dogs LOVE this game. In fact, a week ago, R got so excited about finding the scent that he pounced on the box and destroyed it! I had to do some rudimentary work to teach him to curb his enthusiasm!

We also have done what are called "interior searches", where I hide a small tin containing birch scent anywhere in one room. The tin has a magnet so I can hang it from metal things, like the metal legs on our kitchen stools. I tell the dog to "search" which tells the dog to find the scent somewhere in the room. When the dog finds the scent, she plants her nose as close to the source as she can. That has also been super fun, and it will be our next nosework video!

If you feel like learning something new with your dog, I highly recommend the Fenzi courses. You can take them quite inexpensively if you want. I took the nosework one as a "bronze" student, and it was only $65. I think that's a great value for how much we learned.

My hope is that nosework training will help keep R sane during the sedentary recovery from his upcoming elbow surgery.


  1. That's such fun and fabulous nose work, bravo!

  2. Good job! Do you think a hard headed Scottie but lovable could learn a cool trick like that?

    Aroo to you,

  3. Very cool! They do love it!

    I am sure my guys, esp. Jimmy, would love it! He already loves to hunt things down with his nose.

  4. Wowzers that is amazing. Momma says I should work on this. Seems my nose needs some work, I'm not all that good at smelling stuffs, not even treats.

  5. You can definitely see that they are enjoying themselves.

  6. I've been trying to increase Phoenix's tug drive! I might try that before I put her food down, too! Thanks for the tip!

    I loved that video of them doing NW! They look like they really enjoy it and are sticking to the scent! That's awesome! Great job!

  7. That looks so fun! R's vocalizations when Shyla was working were hilarious! Do they wear the harness so they know it's time to work?

  8. We have watch scent trials and been amazed at the skill of some dogs. We never did any training, but our Ellie was always our scent hound and Lucy our sight hound. Loved the video. It's so great to see dogs having so much fun learning new tasks.

  9. When Hailey took her scent class we had to have her be out of eye or ear shot because she totally cheated.

  10. Passed with flying colours, is this how they teach dogs for airport and border control duties? also prisons? Well done to them both and to you for all the training.

  11. Yes, Blueberry - the harnesses are to tell them that they are doing scent work. In the future, they'll be doing outdoor searches so they'll really need that reminder so they get revved up to find the scent rather than chase the squirrels :)

  12. Nancy J - I'm not certain that all those kinds of organizations have moved to purely positive training. Years ago, I trained and worked with a search and rescue dog. With the guidance of experts, I trained her to "air scent" lost people. Back in those days, a combination of positive training and "corrections" was used to teach a dog all the skills needed to follow a scent. I don't know how much that has changed yet.

    Having used both methods, I think the positive one is much more effective and more fun.

    1. When I did S&R with Tynan around 15 years ago, corrections were occasionally used but the courses we took were transitioning to 100% positive (since all science was pointing to 100% positive training working better!) Tales and Tails share about their S&R training and stories every Saturday and their work is 100% positive. A Dog In The Mountains has shared her 100% positive S&R training stories too. I think it just depends on the program. Hopefully, someday, no dogs will be intimidated into doing their jobs!

  13. That was so much fun to watch!!! And what a great plan for R's future time in rehab. We wondered about the harnesses too.

  14. That is so cool to see! R really is enthusiastic, LOL! I want to take some Fenzi courses with Nola this year.

  15. You must know what I have to say about this. (Girl, why did you quit SAR)

    I am with you on the positive reinforcement and that is how we trained the SAR dogs. With all the work you do with your dogs, you really should make yourself available to the SAR world again. Even if it is only for local searches.

    For a short period of time, I used Jamie only on request from the sheriff for evidence work. Less stressful than full time searching but it did make you feel like you and your dog were under a microscope.

    That is some excellent cadaver training you got there. (Small bones, blood, flesh)

  16. that was fun to watch! they both enjoy it!!

  17. OMD! That looks like soooo much fun!!! AND you gets lots of treaties too??!!! win-win!!! I thinks I would break all the boxes and tear them up, hehehe...lots of pre-training would be in order for me to break my love of paper products! ☺
    butts, if there were some margarita scented swabs under there...well...
    Ruby ♥

  18. Nosework is just the best... except for the waiting your turn! In all the Nosework classes we have taken, I have always loved watching dogs with zero impulse control both during and while waiting their turn to sniff, become completely different dogs. All it takes is a "job." And a whole lot of positivity!

    What a great idea for getting Shyla more excited about toys/playtime. Do you use a special/exclusive to training toy? I have learned in many training workshops that allowing the dog to choose an extra special toy that is then used only as a training reward, is paramount to a toy/playtime being an exciting reward.

    Thank you for joining the hop. You and your dogs are always a shining example of the beautiful rewards quality, positive time together begets.

  19. Wow - what a fun video to watch! Both pups are doing fabulously and you can clearly see that they love the scent work!

  20. that was great to watch you! thanks for the link, we will visit that site immediately :o)

  21. I had to smile at R's vocal attitude!

  22. Sounds like a fun training session! Yes, we doggies like to learn this stuff!

    Keep Calm & Bark On!

    Murphy & Stanley

  23. Pee ess - I showed mom the video cuz she only gives us 1 treat for doing something right. We will work on training her with this video BOL!

  24. R and Shyla have good sniffers! Oh they did so good! We enjoyed watching them,,,, we were getting excited!
    This little puggy know how to find food,, but thats about it.
    Thank you for sharing KB.


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