Nosework, treats and building value

One of Susan Garrett’s training mantras is ‘build the value’.  If you want your dog to value something such as enjoying going into their crate, you need to build value for that activity.  The question is how?  It is hard for people new to reward based training to realize the power in that enticing treat, that favourite toy or the permission to sniff that amazing fire hydrant.

Building value starts with the rewards we use.  Dry, tasteless food can build value for those highly food motivated dogs but for pickier eaters, stinky treats such as fresh chicken, garlic infused sausages, a frozen Kong stuffed with cheese and beef may be required!   How do you know what will work for your dog? The only way to know is to pay attention to your dog; observe what works and what doesn’t work in different situations.  The higher the value of the treat or toy to your dog, the greater the value that will transfer over to the behaviour you are rewarding.  If you can make the process of delivering that reward fun for your dog through play, jackpots, and games, you can increase that value even more.

What does this have to do with nosework?  I realized the true power of the above when I started training one of my dogs in canine nosework.  Let’s face it, why would a dog be remotely interested in tracking down a q-tip, stuffed in a straw, scented with some odour that no self respecting dog would bother with in the wild?  The initial method I learned for training nosework had many flaws one of which was to give my dog just one treat each time she found odour.  It didn’t take long before Loki started to find the whole process unrewarding.  Rather than bounding with joy into the search area she started avoiding the area.  I was frustrated because I thought this game was supposed to be fun??!!  What was I doing wrong??

Well, with a switch to the NACSW method of training, I started to use food and boxes to build value for searching.  In time, I added odour into the mix and rewarded each find with lots of treats; occasionally up to 15 seconds of feeding treats at source.  It didn’t take long for me to see the value for odour grow and Loki went from a dog who avoided the game to one who enjoys playing the search game with me.

Watch this video to see the difference it made for Loki and for I!

This experience has helped me to see the importance of building value for what we want our dogs to do.  High value rewards combined with fun delivery can make the difference between a dog who goes through the motions versus a dog who is actively engaged in the process.

For further reading on the role of rewards in your training, check out Eileen Anderson’s post ‘There is Hope: One Trainer’s Journey from Liverwurst to Kibble’ and Lori Chamberland’s article When Good Training Goes Badly: Troubleshooting Your Training’

Thanks for reading and happy training.


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