Do You Have a Box Smasher?

Let’s talk box smashing…. I’m not talking about socially responsible recycling; I’m talking about full out canine assault on odor boxes.  Does your dog make a mess in Containers?

Picture this…. You, the handler, stand on the start line for your Container search.  You see scads of white (or brown) boxes in front of you.  Your heart begins to race.  It’s racing because you don’t know what carnage will be had when your heavy footed canine partner is through.  You know you need to call Alert FAST but what if it’s fringe odor?  What if you get a No?  If you let him destroy the boxes then it’s probably a Fault.  You release your dog into the search area and all of that negative visualization DOES indeed result in a No…. And in the unnecessary death of a few boxes.

Does this sound familiar?

Judd Box Smashing small

You have two choices to make.

(1) Do you ignore the behavior and take the Fault?  This might actually be the right answer for many teams.  Perhaps you have a very low drive dog and you're happy with whatever they give you as long as it’s an Alert!  Or perhaps you're at the point in your dog’s career where it just doesn’t make sense…. For example,  my dog, Judd, is a Box Smasher.  He’s also an Elite Champion (ELT-CH) and competing at the Master level in AKC.  Changing my criteria now may not make sense for him.

(2) Do you take the plunge and change the behavior?  Changing the behavior involves changing criteria and managing arousal states along with an element of being able to read your dog more effectively.

Ideally of course we train for a passive indication from the beginning!  However, retraining IS possible!

What if you have a less confident dog?  Here’s the good news…. Clarity begets Confidence.  If your dog truly understands what will result in a reward, his overall anxiety (and thus arousal) will subside to a degree.  By giving your dogs the decoder ring that unlocks the Reward Cookie from the handler, your dog has now become more autonomous and therefore, confident!  

What do I mean by that?  Well picture a situation where you have a big project due at work which will result in a substantial increase to your annual bonus.  The trouble is that your boss has been extremely vague regarding what he actually WANTS as a result of the project.  How confident are you one this situation?  Likely not very.

Picture this also.  For most nosework dogs, they have started their careers interacting with boxes.  Whether that be eating food from them or using them as “game boxes”, playing the shell game.  Both approaches emphasize an arousal increase that can be due to the excitement of boxes as a contextual cue.  Let’s face it!  Boxes are FUN!!!  So are driving Corvettes although I wouldn’t put my nephew behind the wheel of one until he’s something like…. I don’t know…. 50???  Instead, my nephew would need a solid foundation in driving before trying out the Corvette.  For many drivers though, they wouldn’t get in trouble in a Corvette but for some they could easily smash it up.  Some dogs just are more inclined to smash boxes.

I make criteria very clear with the dog when I’m retraining (well I admit that I’m MUCH better now at doing this right in the first place!).  To help the dog, I step away from boxes until I have a behavior that is solid and fluent.  I use metal switch boxes with a mud ring screwed on.  I place odor inside the metal box and shape an indication.  This gives the dog a very big hint because it’s easy to encourage the dog to place his nose inside the metal box.  From here, we gradually transition to boxes and then build generalization skills.  

Smashing boxes CAN be fixed and you CAN avoid that Fault.  This method is extremely useful and effective.  If you’d like to try it but you need a little more handholding and detail, I’m teaching a class that starts on June 1 called Box Smashers Anonymous.  It’s an online class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  Registration is OPEN! Click here for more information, including a helpful sample lecture!

AKC for Less Confident Dogs?

This weekend my very timid and shy Miniature American Shepherd named Why debuted in AKC Scent Work.  Why has a NW1, L1C and L1V… he really struggles with searching in new locations although we have worked on it for years.  I was on the cusp of retiring him entirely from competition.

Why blew me away this weekend.

I entered him in 2 of the 4 offered trials at the Greater Louisville Dog Training Club AKC Scent Work trial in Louisville, KY.  He did all of the Novice classes offered each of the morning trials during the 2 day trial.  He Q’d in 8/8 runs.

And he earned High in Trial for Novice in both trials!

The interesting thing is that this weekend has given me a little more insight into the beauty of AKC for sensitive dogs (when the trial site is suitable).  This isn’t something I expected and quite honestly I entered him on a whim just because he was going to be in the van anyway!

Why Louisville Ribbons

I originally hadn’t planned on trialing either Why, or my older Standard Poodle, Joey in AKC.  My two Labradors, Brava and Judd, have already been competing (successfully) in this venue since October of last year…. Judd was Second Overall at the AKC Inaugural Scent Work Trial at the Eukanuba Performance Games last September.  To be honest, I was blindsided this weekend by the realization that AKC is AWESOME for my other dogs!

The fabulous realization came when I finally put 2 and 2 together…. In AKC you don’t need to enter every class or work your dog for the entire day.  You can have one rough search and your day isn’t shot.  You keep your Q’s!

In AKC, they don’t cater to the “reactive” or the “special” dog…. I have to state that.  However, if you have a well managed dog who wants to play, this might actually be an awesome opportunity for you.  Just be smart in picking the trial location.  This weekend we were at a camp.  Had this been run in conjunction with a large Conformation trial, I probably would NOT have entered him.  That wouldn’t have been the right setup for a timid, shy dog like Why.  However, this was perfect…

I’m so pleased that AKC Scent Work is exploding!  And I’m truly proud of the program.

If you have sat out in the “wait and see” crowd, I encourage you to give it a shot!  AKC Scent Work is FUN, challenging and rewarding!!

Happy Sniffing!!

(Why was adopted from MARS, Mini Aussie Rescue and Support…. A nationwide breed rescue for Miniature American Shepherds)

© Stacy Barnett 2015