I’ve heard this almost as often as I have heard that their dog has a “great nose”. They hide the same scent article over and over in all of the same places and their dog is a complete rock star. He GETS it, you say! He totally knows what he is doing….he KNOWS the scent you tell me emphatically, but he just falls apart when we try to do the same thing out in the real world.
If I were a horse trainer I would look at you dead in the eye and ask you if you had done your ground work.
I call them the basics, or the fundamentals, but if they are truly rock solid then a dog has a much better chance of success when you hit the field.
1. Does your dog know what the marker means? This is actually not entirely important down the road, but it tells me if you followed a process that ensures the best possible outcome for your dog. If your dog (or you for that matter) does not know what the marker means then you have already made things harder for yourself and your dog.
2. Can your dog touch a target? Again, only relevent to show that you followed a reliable process.
3. Does your dog alert 100% of the time on a visual target?
4. Does your dog alert 100% of the time on a hidden target? What about a target that is blind to you? This is VERY important. If your dog cannot find targets that you do not know the location of, then what you may have is a very solid case of Mr. Ed syndrome. Not irreversable, but the first step is to admit you have a problem.
Ok so it appears you have laid a good foundation, but the other half of this process is to make sure that foundation holds up to pressure, before you move to the field.
5. Does your dog alert 100% on targets that you do not know the location of, in the presence of mice, scat, rain, squirrels etc? Ahhhhhh that may be the rub!
So this maybe where your training has fallen down……or perhaps not. If yes, your dog CAN do this, then what else could the problem be?
1. Your target scents are not authentic enough. (very likely)
2. Your dog thinks that the scent will always be inside (name your container). (not entirely improbable)
3. Your dog thinks that there will always be recently disrupted soil to clue him/her (also very likely).
These are a few of the primary points of failure when moving from a “training” environment to a “production” environment. And frankly, some dogs are going to struggle. Some will be less than interested in playing this game. At some point you might have to say “ok, lets try flyball” and leave it at that.
Not every kid wants to play the piano, and it is really hard (or not very nice) to try to make one of those kids a piano virtuoso. Relax, smile and go with the flow if it doesn’t work out. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. :)