Between coming down with a cold and being sick for a week, then being away for a conference, having guests for the weekend and now getting caught up, I haven’t done much training over the last two weeks.   I am now re-grouping so that I can get back into a training routine.  As I was thinking about what to write, I realized that it has been awhile since I highlighted my training with Marley.

It is so easy to focus on Loki in these blogs.  She is faster to pick up new behaviours than Marley, and has a variety of challenges that are constantly being worked on.  Marley on the other hand is my beloved dog; he is gentle, good natured, gets along well with other dogs, doesn’t counter surf, the list goes on.  The two biggest training challenges I have with Marley are:

  • Getting him to focus on me.  He absolutely loves the outdoors, watching the world go by and is easily distracted when we train
  • He doesn’t handle pressure well.

To have a successful session with Marley I need to keep the sessions short; sometimes as short as one or two repetitions.   For me to know how long each session can be, I really need to observe Marley and let his body language tell me.  I still struggle with this but am getting better at both observing Marley and then acting on what I observe.

Our current project is to put both our clockwise (Turn) and counter clockwise (Spin) behaviours on a verbal cue.   We are making progress with Spin but Turn is presenting some challenges.  Prior to adding the verbal cue, he could Spin and Turn easily with a hand signal.  Now that Spin with a verbal cue is underway, I am finding that Marley will still offer a Spin (a behaviour that has received a lot of recent reinforcement) instead of watching my hand signal.  As you can see from the video, he is confused about what I want and then gets easily stressed.  If I don’t clue in and stop at the first sign of stress, he will exhibit displacement behaviours that even I can’t miss!  In the video, I ended the first session, trained Loki and then went back to Marley.  For his final session, we did two repetitions of Turn and that was it for the evening.

Going forward, I need to think about how I can work on Turn so that Marley can be successful.  I may try doing single repetition sessions of Turn throughout the day and use a target stick instead of the hand signal.  So new cue (Spin), old cue (hand signal), and new cue (Turn), old cue (target stick) may present enough distinction that Marley’s success rate will improve.  I will give this a try and keep you posted.

Thanks for reading and happy training


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.


Train for Rewards Blog Party

I am so proud of Loki today.  We were walking along the lower Galena Trail this morning and just before getting back to the car, Marley found a nice deer bone.  I was about 10 feet away when I realized that Marley was lying on the ground chewing on the bone and Loki was standing politely behind him.  I called Loki, she came and we had a huge treat party.  We played ‘catch’ and ‘get yer treats’ for almost five minutes while Marley enjoyed his chew.  This made my day!!

Five years ago as we were leaving the shelter with our newly adopted dog, the shelter owner casually called out the Loki was a resource guarder.  Being an inexperienced dog owner I didn’t understand the importance of that statement.  Part way home, Mike and I stopped and picked up a treat for both dogs.  They were sitting side by side in the vehicle when we presented the treats.  Well Loki turned on Marley with a ferocious snarl.  After getting her home, it took one or two incidents of her pinning Marley to the ground for me to realize that I had a problem.  With help from Jeanne Shaw of Love2Play and doing some research on the internet, I was able to start a simple management program while I started the process of teaching Loki that when good things happen to Marley, good things happen to Loki.

I found a wide variety of excellent articles on the internet with the following three being the most helpful for me:

How to Prevent Resource Guarding in a Multiple-dog Household

How to React When Your Dog Begins Resource Guarding Against Other Dogs

Resource Guarding, Dog to Dog

Over time Loki learned impulse control and how to relax around Marley when food and toys were available.  As time went on, I could offer treats with both dogs sitting side by side, I could play with Marley and a toy while Loki waited her turn, and I could take a food bowl away from Loki without her curling her lip at me.

Today though, Loki gave me the greatest gift possible; a totally relaxed dog, politely waiting while Marley enjoyed an extremely high value outdoor treasure.

Last week I did a few novel interior searches with Loki.  Leaving familiar areas to do searches helps our dogs generalize the skills that they are learning.  Generalizing skills applies to nosework as well as basic behaviours such as SIT, DOWN, recalls, and so on.  Unlike humans our dogs learn in context.  The best example of what this means for our dogs and how we can understand the difference between how dogs learn and how people learn came from an article written by Melissa Alexander called “Generalization”

Generalization is the ability to apply a concept to a situation different from the one it was initially learned in. Humans do this quite easily and quite naturally. For example, when you learned to write, you didn’t have to relearn the process when you went from school to home, changed from notebook paper to poster board, or switched from pencils to ballpoint pens. Generalization is “big picture.”

Discrimination, by contrast, is the ability to focus on the smaller picture – the details. Humans generalize more easily than they discriminate.

Dogs are master discriminators. “Sit” doesn’t necessarily mean “put your bum on the ground” to a dog. Sit may mean “Put your bum on the ground directly in front of mom when she is in the kitchen standing next to counter wearing a bait bag and holding a clicker and cookie.” Now that’s discrimination!

Generalization is considerably more challenging for dogs (except for negative experiences, which they generalize easily, though often inappropriately, as an instinctive survival mechanism). Dogs must work as hard to learn to generalize as humans must work to discriminate.

So the more novel environments that you can explore with your dog and practice what you are learning, the easier it will be for your dog to understand that the skills they are learning apply anywhere.

Our biggest novel environment search came on Sunday at the Kootenay Scent Hounds trial.  I am happy to say that Loki earned us another nosework ribbon!! When training, I know where the hide is and Loki’s job is to find the hide.  In a trial, neither of us know where the hide is and once Loki finds the hide, my job is to recognize that she found it. I missed her initial indication on our first search so the search took a little longer but we both nailed it on our second search!! Way to go Loki!

Thanks for reading and happy training.

Training sessions can be planned to run for an hour with lots of breaks but often shorter training sessions make for better learning and its easier to fit short training sessions into a busy day!  An interesting study found that “…what this research was showing is that a dog who had gone through a training session, and then immediately after got another training session to learn a new task, was less likely to remember that original training. In comparison the dogs that had gotten a break of some sort, either to nap, exercise, or play, actually had better memory and performance a week later.”

Fitting in a short training session can be easy to do.  My short training sessions happen right after dinner.  After dinner is finished, both of my dogs always get a little something from the table.  The after dinner treat is something they look forward to each evening (a high value reinforcer!).  I use this to my advantage and will often conduct a one repetion training session with the reward being the treat from the table.  Here is one video of Marley (48 seconds) and one video of Loki (56 seconds) showing one of our short sessions.  They were resting while we had dinner so I had them perform a few hand touches and catch the treat to warm them up before I gave the cue ‘spin’.  The reward was the special after dinner treat and training was finished.

Thanks for reading and happy training.

When Loki was first introduced to nosework, it was using a different method than I am using now.  The first method didn’t build hunt drive nor did it build value for odour.  As a result, Loki started to show an aversion to searching for birch; the game just wasn’t fun anymore.  Over the last six months, I have been re-building value for searching for the odour of birch and for the fun of playing the nosework game.

As of this week, I am now focusing on anise.  Anise is the odour that she will be searching for at the trial on May 28th.  She has searched for anise before and has earned her UKC Advance Container, and Advance Exterior titles searching for the odour of anise.  On the 28th, if all goes well, she will earn her UKC Advanced Interior title.

Loki easily switched back to searching for Anise.  On Saturday, we did a search in a familiar but novel location (my parent’s kitchen) and on Sunday, we went to the gym and did multiple searches of objects.  She easily identified source each time.  My job over the next couple of weeks will be to:

  • Work on building her desire to stay at source
  • Continue to learn to read my dog’s body language especially the sudden change of behaviour which is a definite indicator that she has found the scent.

During the trial, I am confident that Loki will be able to easily identify the source of the odour.  The challenge will be for me; can I tell when she has found it!!

Thanks for reading and happy training.

This week didn’t amount to much training time due to being away for three days but on Sunday, I sat down and completed 10 days worth of training plans!  After I finished my planning, I spent 1/2 an hour working with Marley and Loki.  This morning after my morning walk with the dogs, we spent 20 minutes working on the second one.

My focus for the month of May will be nosework; especially for Loki.  We are registered with Kootenay Scent Hounds to participate in the two Advance Interior trials on Sunday May 28th.  If Loki passes both, we will have another ribbon to hang on her kennel.

On Sunday, our training continues to focus on building value for odour.  I introduced a toy distraction, then a low value food distraction (kibble) and built up to a high value food distraction (canned tripe).  I was happy to see that Loki had no problem ignoring the lower value distractions in favour of odour.  For the final search, I put some canned tripe in a small dish and put the dish in a box with holes on three sides. She spent a few seconds at the box with canned tripe (the 10 sec mark) but moved away on her own to find odour.  She was heavily rewarded for that excellent decision.  When working with distractions, it is important to set up the distraction so that she can NEVER get to the food or toy.  I want her to learn that only odour pays.

Thanks for reading and happy training.

Well this week came and went with only two days of training.  The excuses are many but for me it came down to not taking the time last Sunday to write out 5-10 days of my daily session plans.  I managed to do one session on Apr 18th mainly because I had written out the steps in last week’s blog!!   With both Marley and Loki, I worked through steps 1, 2 and 4.

Step 1:  Working outside place the article on the ground:

  • Cue the nose touch
  • Cue the down
  • Reward heavily at first to build value for lying down at the article

Step 2:  Practice the article indication game outside just like I did in the house; add the cue ‘search’

Step 3:  Put each dog on leash and practice the game

Step 4:  Play the game but place the article against the gate

Here are the videos of Marley and Loki.  At the end of each segment, you see the routine I have put in place to tell my dogs the training session is over.

I will be away from Wednesday to Friday this week but before I go, I will do steps 1 – 4 and add in step 5 and assess.

  • Step 5:  Put two hot dogs on the ground approximately 12” apart leading up to the article

This week, I will also focus on nosework.  I have entered Loki in a local UKC Nosework trial hosted by the Kootenay Scent Hounds (you can find them on Facebook) coming up on the 28th of May.  I am hoping to get our Advance Interior title.  We can do it, I just need to get my plan on paper!

Thanks for reading and happy training!

I have always wanted to teach Marley to track.  I bought a few books but they sat on my shelf collecting dust.  A few years ago, I purchased a DVD call Tracking 2nd Edition Hydration Intensified Tracking Training by Steve and Jennifer White.  I liked the approach and last year I started working sporadically with Marley and Loki.  Steve White presented the concept of training tracking in modules: 1) nose down on pavement, 2) article indication.

I was working with both dogs on keeping their nose down on pavement outside and working on building value for article indication inside.

This week I decided that it was time to combine the two skills so I went outside.  The first thing I did was to play the article game without the track (touch article with nose and lie down).  Then I tethered the working dog and laid a short 12’ track with hot dogs spaced every 12” leading up to the article. Both dogs did well following the hot dog trail but when they reached the article, they didn’t know what to do.  I cued the DOWN but it took some prompting and re-cueing to get the behaviour.   Here is the video.

I am not surprised by the results because dogs are not generalists; they are very context specific (see the end of the article for an example).

Neither dog understood the concept: lie down at the article after following a hot dog track.  The problem was too many components (criteria) were changed all at once.  What was different?

Article Indication Track with article indication
Desired behaviour:  touch article with nose and lie down with article between front paws Desired behaviour:  Follow a track to the article, touch the article with nose and lie down with article between front paws

What was different?

Indoors Outdoors
Article tossed Article at the end of a track
Off-leash On-leash
Less distractions More distractions
Article not near a barrier Article near a barrier
Cued ‘search’ No cue

Training Mantra

Failure is information, not disobedience; it shows you situations where your dog doesn’t yet understanding what you are asking.

The initial transition was too hard for both of my dogs.  So here is my plan to help my dogs succeed:

Step 1:  Working outside place the article on the ground:

  • Cue the nose touch
  • Cue the down
  • Reward heavily at first to build value for lying down at the article

Step 2:  Practice the article indication game outside just like I did in the house; add the cue ‘search’

Step 3:  Put each dog on leash and practice the game

Step 4:  Play the game but place the article against the gate

Step 5:  Put two hot dogs on the ground approximately 12” apart leading up to the article

Step 6:  Try a 12’ track with hotdogs spaced 12” on average with the article against the gate

The plan may need to change as we go along.  At any step, if Marley or Loki struggle with the behaviour, I will need to break it down even more.  There are always ways to help our dogs succeed!

Thanks for reading and happy training.

*An example of context specific training:

In your kitchen, wearing your bathroom, holding a piece of toast in you left hand and saying the sound ‘SIT’. Dog understands put bottom on ground.

Change one or more of those components: you are at the front door, wearing your gardening outfit, holding a leash and saying the sound ‘SIT’.  Your dog gives you the ‘what are you talking about look’ or as we know it ‘my dog knows this behaviour why is he being so disobedient?’

The good news is that the more you practice in different locations, wearing different clothes, different times of the day etc. the easier it will be for your dog to learn that the sound ‘SIT’ means bottom on ground anytime anywhere.

Right at the time we got Loki, I signed up for the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Professional Dog Training program; it was a six month program with four weekend workshops.  I signed up and naively wondered why it would take six months to learn how to train dogs!  Well it is five years later and learning about dogs, learning to train dogs and learning to teach people how to train their dogs has become a lifelong obsession.

During the KPA training, they constantly emphasized the importance of keeping a training log.  I tried different methods during the class but didn’t stick with any of them.  I signed up for Susan Garrett’s Recallers program.  She has a simple way to track your training.  I liked noting what went well and what needed work but I was still inconsistent in journaling my training sessions.

The biggest hurdle to consistent training was that I didn’t do any pre-planning prior to a training session.  6:00pm would come along (the time I generally set aside for training) and I found myself looking at my dogs thinking what should I train??  I usually ended up doing a spontaneous session working on whatever came to mind and not always making much progress.

Just recently, I came across a video by Hannah Brannigan reviewing the method she uses to track her training.  I downloaded her e-book because components of her method were similar to what I was experimenting with and so far so good!

What I have found really helpful is spending time at least one night a week completing the session sheets.  I fill out 5 – 10 of the sheets thinking about what I would like to train over the next one to two weeks.  Now when I want to train, I go to my first available sheet and there is my plan for the session all laid out. It has made fitting training sessions into my day much easier.

Once I have completed a training session, I make a few notes (including what went well and what may needed work), record what was trained in the monthly overview and I am done.

My next post will give you the first glimpse into one of my training sessions with my dogs.

Thanks for reading and happy training.