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My Dog Knows the Scent But…

2011_04_LoriJesterI’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.2011_01_OTF_HollyFinn1

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. :)

How to Train a Truffle Dog

Training a truffle dog is not a linear process. It is more of a three steps forward and two steps back undertaking. Come to our truffle dog training class to get more information about the process and have an opportunity to practice and have questions answered. It is far easier to start the journey correctly than backtrack and try to “fix” mistakes made along the way. We begin every class by reviewing the first three steps and then focusing on the details of one or two of the remaining steps. You will only practice on the steps that your dog is ready for and not move forward until your ready.

In a nutshell:2011_01_OTF_HollyFinn2

Step 1 – Select your reward, marker and alert.
Step 2 – Load the Marker
Step 3 – Mark the Target
Step 4 – Lure/Shape the Alert
Step 5 – Generalize the Target
Step 6 – Reduce/Remove Visual Queue
Step 7 – Proof off of Distractions

What this looks like in detail:

Step 1 – Select your reward, marker and alert
In our truffle dog class we usually help determine what the reward and marker will be prior to beginning our training. They can be changed, but it is helpful to have a clear idea of what these are in the beginning and how to use them. We will also discuss when it is appropriate to change them. The alert usually is introduced week two or three if it hasn’t spontaneously developed during training.

Step 2 – Load the Marker
Week one the first three days of training will involve loading the marker. For ground based scent detection training there is a very specific way to do this and optimize your training down the road. We will give a marker and a reward but in a very particular fashion. Come to class and we will demonstrate what this looks like.

Step 3 – Mark the Target
Once we have the marker loaded, usually by day four of the first week, we will introduce a target. In class we will discuss what articles make the best initial targets and why. It might not be the same for every dog and involves factors such as temperament, inclination to paw or mouth a target and more. We may or may not introduce scent at this point, but it will not delay progress if we do not introduce scent until week two.

Week two will involve marking the target in a variety of distraction free environments WITH NO HIDING!!! And by this week we will be using a target scent. It may not be our final scent, but it will be a similar as is practical. Again, using a substitute target scent will not delay progress.

Step 4 – Lure/Shape the Alert
If all prior steps have been completed properly most dogs spontaneously introduce their own alert during week two.  If not, by week three we will discuss how to select an alert that is best for you and your dog, depending on your dogs breed, your hunting goals and your dogs disposition and behaviors.  We will develop a queue for the alert and we will practice the alert independent from other training lessons.

Step 5 – Generalize the Target
By now you will be marking a target in a variety of locations, you will have selected and queued an alert if necessary and you will be using a placebo scent. This week is all about moving that further and further away from your living room. You will begin practicing in wooded parks and locations similar to the truffle hunting habitat. If there are any issues that arise we will step back and sort them out prior to moving forward.

Step 6 – Reduce/Remove Visual Queue
Our visual target will become smaller and smaller as we continue to generalize the environment. At any point the dog falters we will move back a step or two, focus on our timing and environmental control and only move forward when the dog is absolutely reliable.

Step 7 – Proof off of Distractions
This is the final step of training and the most difficult. It involves taking the dog into environments similar to where we will be hunting truffles and creating opportunities that are as realistic as possible. We will use blind hides and buried scent in the field and in a controlled environment we will introduce as many distractions as possible. Distractions used at this stage will be those realistically found in a truffle habitat and include mice, scat, and depending on the dog, sticks. :)

 

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