Paying the Alert or Paying the Find?
While playing the K9 Nose Work® game, your dog crosses the invisible line of odor and does an immediate head snap toward the hidden odor. She then moves her head (and nose!) back and forth until her nose comes in contact with the hidden source of odor. You have placed the hide, so you know exactly where it is located. Do you jump in quickly while her nose is still at source or do you wait until she "tells" you where the hide is? I like to pay both behaviors and I encourage my students to do the same.
Students of K9 Nose Work® may struggle with the concept of why it is important to reward “the find” versus rewarding “the alert”. Here is my definition of both: “The Alert” occurs when your dog acquires the target odor and performs a behavior that communicates to the handler that he has found the target and expects a reward (the demand to be paid). The behavior may be a look-back, paw scratch, sit, down or a nose freeze. “The Find” occurs when your dog acquires the target odor but has yet to communicate to the handler (by demanding) that he has found it.
I want you to picture a scale – when you pay both the Alert and the Find equally, you will have a training program that is in harmony with the dog. Rewarding the dog for both the alert and the find, will strengthen your dog’s overall commitment to odor and his actual alert.
If you are in the habit of consistently paying the Alert (I fondly call it the 21 Gun Salute) you can expect some training fall-out to occur. Your dog may offer the Alert behavior under times of stress (handler’s stress, too) during competition. Your dog may become tired of constantly having to tell the human they have found source and may decide to walk odor (diminishes odor importance). The handler becomes so used to the alert, they are unable to read the dog until he performs the final response – which means you are using Cliff Notes to read the story.
When consistently paying “The Find” (super hero quick) you may expect some training fall-out to occur. When the search is blind for the handler, the K9 may leave the target odor when his reward isn’t delivered within a nanosecond of finding the blind hide. The dog may think his handler knows where odor is and will not develop the stick and stay tenacity required to get his payment. If you are in the habit of saying “Yes!” as the dog finds the hide and you neglect to say it, your dog may walk off odor.
To have a dog that consistently stays at source you must pay the “Alert” and pay the “Find” in equal measure. Praising your dog while you are actively feeding your dog multiple pieces of food (or playing tug for those of you with toy reward dogs) at source, is the key to the stick and stay success you will witness with seasoned K9 Nose Work® dogs. If you find that you are physically too slow to pay your dog quickly, pair your hides with a squishy piece of food the dog needs to lick off the tin. Play it safe, by using a very large tin your dog can not swallow (large mint tin).
If you have any questions on how to implement this kind of training plan contact me or your Certified Nose Work Instructor and they will have a training plan that will work for you. Remember, anytime spent with your dog playing the game of K9 Nose Work® should be a fun!
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