False Alerts and the Final Response

Those of you who know me either through my blog, through my instruction, by seeing me at trials or just seeing me on Facebook know that my position on Final Responses is “JUST SAY NO”….  what do I mean by that?  Don’t do it!  It’s the path that leads to the Dark Side.  I think Yoda phrased it well when he said, “Once you start down the path of the Dark Side, forever will it dominate your destiny.”  I know he wasn’t thinking about Final Responses as the path to False Alerts…  but his insight was brilliant nonetheless.

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Luke: “Yoda, IS the dark side stronger?”

Yoda: “No.  Quicker, easier perhaps, but not stronger.”

Ok….  yes, I’m one of those nerds that can quote Star Wars…  LOVE!!  And yes, the original 3 were WAY better than the New School Star Wars, but THAT is totally not on topic….

Final Responses are the Dark Side.  Why?  Because they are the #1 cause of False Alerts….  and oh man, are they tempting!  They are “quicker, easier perhaps”.  What do I mean by that?  Folks are thinking “No!  My final response took TIME to acquire!”….  yep!  That crutch was carefully honed, it was!  What I mean is that encouraging a Final Response (whether selected as in training a Passive Alert, or simply encouraged through reinforcement), is desired as something to read in lieu of reading the dog’s body language.  SO MANY PEOPLE ask me how to strengthen their dogs’ alerts!  Don’t do it people!!

The "Light Side” is learning how to read your dog’s search language…  it’s the interpretation of all things unconscious to the dog.  Did you see a Change of Behavior?  Did you see interest in a smaller area that looks like sourcing of target odor?  Is your dog trying to reach something?  THIS IS THE POWER OF OBSERVATION.  By taking on the responsibility of reading your dog, you can virtually eliminate false alerts.  (That’s not to say that we will ever misinterpret or straight out not see the change…  but what it DOES mean is that when we see these behaviors we can TRUST THE DOG.)

So what’s so wrong with a Final Response?

Here’s the thing…  Final Responses are CONSCIOUS BEHAVIORS.  Your dog understands that this conscious behavior results in a cookie.  In encouraging a Final Response, you’ve given your dog a tool.  This tool can either provide that much desired neon sign that says “CALL ALERT HERE HANDLER” or it can be a tool that the dog uses to stop a search by choice.  Oh, but wouldn’t it be nice if our dogs could show us that neon sign so that we could be SURE of the call?  No….    Why?  Well because our dogs are supremely intelligent.  They KNOW what results in reward.  That tool can be used at any time in the search to stop the search.  We would hope that they are stopping the search because they’ve sourced the hide, but that’s not always the case.

Why would a dog CHOOSE to stop a search?

This could be for a number of reasons….  the dog is stressed…  the hide is too hard… the dog wants to please the handler…  or maybe just out of optimism that it will result in a cookie.

BTW….  this is WHY Final Responses should NEVER, EVER be taught to low drive or timid dogs…  DRIVE and ONLY DRIVE can overcome the reasons why a dog would choose to stop a search.  If you have an Ultra High Drive Dog and you want a cool looking Final Response GO FOR IT.  Seriously.  Do.  It will lower the damage that your Ultra High Drive Dog will do to the search area.  The other dogs?  Well, they just don’t have much of an impetus to destroy the search area trying to get to source.  It’s highly unlikely that you will get faulted in NACSW with a lower drive dog.  Sure in venues that encourage a final response you might lose points, but you can go into the search knowing that a Yes is more valuable then a No, and a Yes is going to be more likely in your case!  (In the case of those venues, I simply write the Alert as “Nose Orients to Source”…  the dog has to sniff the hide no matter what…  POOF!  LOOPHOLE!!)  Keep in mind that the concept of a Passive Alert was developed by handlers of cherry picked, purpose bred dogs with DRIVE and RESILIENCE….  the concept of the Passive Alert was never intended to be used on the Pet Dog…. and let’s face it, 99.9% of the dogs competing in Nosework were NOT bred and selected for the sport based on Drive and Resilience! And NO ONE is going to die if you get a No.  You might feel that way walking away from the search area but it’s simply not true!  

Conscious behaviors are the ultimate Opt Out button.  The result?  False Alerts.

But wouldn’t it be COOL to have that Neon Sign?  Not so much.

Why?  Well here’s the thing…  once you have a Final Response you tend to trust that Final Response.  You wait for it to hit you over the head before you actually call Alert.  So where is the downside in being “sure”?

First of all, the Final Response is the only Conscious part of the behavior chain AND it’s the Last Part.  That means that it’s the first thing to go away.  Stressed dog?  Green dog?  Relying on a Final Response may mean two things: (1) you miss a reward opportunity because your dog never gave you that Neon Sign, or (2) the dog gives you the Neon Sign with sole purpose of ending the search.  Either result is a bad one.  The first case is actually the worst case…  the dog finds the hide and doesn’t get a reward?  Bad Training that will ultimately extinguish the search entirely.  The second case is False Alert and a No.

So what now?  What do you do if you HAVE a Final Response?  Should you quit Nosework???  NO!!!  Darth Vader found the Light Side ultimately….  so can you!  All you have to do is LEARN TO READ YOUR DOG….  and when you get that Neon Sign, evaluate it before calling it.  Did you get all of the unconscious search behavior first?  If the answer is Yes, then you can probably trust the Alert.  And…  Learning to Read Your Dog has another upside…  you won’t miss reward opportunities!

Let’s say you are already a Jedi Knight and you read your dog and trust your dog…  will you ever get a No?  Yeah.  You’re HUMAN!  But it’s always better to know that the No is yours and yours ONLY and not a training issue.

Jedi Knight in Training?  Don’t be tempted by the Dark Side!

Happy Sniffing!!!

© Stacy Barnett 2015