Importance of the Value of the Reinforcer

Adapted from NW120: Nosework Elements.  Taught by Stacy Barnett  Stacy’s Website:

Building value for odour and staying at source rely primarily on four components and they all tie directly to the reinforcer.

  1. High value treats that don’t crumble
  2. Ability to quickly access your treats
  3. Rapid rate of delivery
  4. Plenty of reinforcement

High value treats that don’t crumble

What does your dog like best? Cheese? Hot dogs? Steak? Lamb lung? When building value for odour, you do not want to use boring cookies! This is especially important when you get to Exteriors, the challenges for your dog increase due in part due to air flow and to natural distractions and with an increase in challenges should come an increase in the value of the reinforcer. When you work in difficult areas, it’s important to increase the value of the reward. Use particularly high value treats. When you work outside, bring out the big guns and make Exteriors a REALLY wonderful event.

When you choose a high value reinforcer, make sure it’s not crumbly. Dropping food is a fault in Nosework so you want to be able to handle the food quickly and easily without dropping any.

Using high value treats adds value to source, which leads to commitment to source and results in a very clear indication!!

Ability to quickly access your treats

It’s also important to be able to quickly get to your rewards. In Nosework, you will carry food (or toy) rewards on you throughout the career of the dog. You won’t ever be in a position to fade the use of the reward. It’s an agreement that you have with your dog. Odour ALWAYS pays. This is the foundation of odour obedience. In the higher levels, you will have multiple hides in one search area. The competition is timed. Therefore it’s really important to be able to quickly get to your rewards without digging in tight pockets. Seconds count. Two ways to carry your treats are:

  1. A bait bag (one with a spring closure works great)
  2. A vest with easy access pockets.

Also available from Love2Play Pet Supplies in Slocan Park.

Rapid rate of treat delivery

When rewarding your dog at source, you want to make sure that you can deliver the treats to your dog VERY quickly. The benefit of practicing fast, prolonged feeding is that your dog will NOT want to leave odour!  Rapid Feeding and the Red Light Green Light Game is what makes dogs STICK to odour!

For dogs that give repeated nose touches at source, rapid feeding can be used to extinguish that behaviour by making the stay at source behaviour a lot clearer verses your dog re-indicating over and over.  Rapid feeding may also be a good technique for dogs that get bored easily and only have a few searches in them.

No need to mark for each treat given. It’s sort of like a jackpot but dispensing each treat one at a time ensures that your dog is getting reinforced over and over again while smelling the odour.

Unless you are purposely proofing a stay at source behavior, just get in and feed, feed, feed, feed, feed, feed and then call the search done.  Your dog already found source so go in and give lots of reward many times in a row.

Plenty of reinforcement

The other thing that is important is to ensure your dog gets PLENTY of reinforcement for finding source.  Initially this may mean 10 or 15 treats at a time. You want to make sure that this is an activity that really pays off for your dog.

How much time should you allow your dog to search for source?

When doing full searches, you want your dog to find the hide in one minute or less. This means that for every one minute search, your dog receives a high value reward. If you find yourself searching longer than one minute, the scent puzzle in the environment that you picked is too difficult. In this case, it’s a good idea to abandon the search, give your dog an “effort cookie” and set up something that is more in the range of your dog’s current skill set.

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