Training Emotion in Nosework for Peak Performance

Yes!  You can train emotion in Nosework!

Typically, when we think of training, we think of Skills Training.  Skills training has its purpose however it’s only a piece of a good, solid foundation.  Good foundations also include the confidence and motivation to perform.  To develop confidence and motivation, we need to balance emotion and arousal.

optimum state

Essentially we are looking to train at the Optimum State!

Let’s break this down….

From Wikipedia:

Arousal is the physiological and psychological state of being awoken or of sense organs stimulated to a point of perception. It involves activation of the reticular activating system in the brainstem, the autonomic nervous system, and the endocrine system, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure and a condition of sensory alertness, mobility, and readiness to respond….

….  Arousal is important in regulating consciousness, attention, and information processing

We want the dog at the optimum state of arousal so that he can be attentive and “in drive”.  In this state, he is neither anxious nor bored and is primed and ready to search.

So what we are trying to do is to control the optimum state of arousal.  We know from the Yerkes-Dodson Law that there is an optimum state of arousal at which performance is at it’s greatest.  At too high arousal, the dog is anxious and may exhibit frantic behaviors.  At too low arousal, the dog may seem distracted, bored, even disinterested.

We also know that through Conditioned Emotional Response (CER), the dog can develop an emotional association to a situation.  This is the beauty of training emotion.  We can work to develop a positive CER by putting the dog in confidence building situations and we can modulate motivation by affecting state of arousal.  So with the optimum state of arousal and a positive association to Nosework, we can tip the balance in our favor and train a focused, happy dog.

Things to keep in mind:

1.)  Never train a frightened dog…  always train “under threshold”

2.)  Train when you are in positive state of mind…  energized and optimistic

3.)  Avoid over-facing your dog by taking into consideration potential air flow complications before you set your hides

4.)  Consider your dog’s energy level starting from leaving the car or crate, all the way to the start line and then back to the car.  Either increase or lower excitement levels as necessary.

5.)  Train new skills in a comfortable, known environment before you “take it on the road”

So HOW can we train this??

One exercise is to:

- Set up an EASY search in a known or easy location

- Take the dog out of the car and acclimate him to the area briefly (5 or 10 minutes depending on what the dog needs)

- PARTY to the start line, use personal play or other engagement techniques to increase the dog’s attitude

- RETURN TO THE CAR!  (yes, you read that right…)

- Repeat the party to the start line but this time you can search!

- PARTY on the way back to the car

This exercise is WONDERFUL.  (1) It increases anticipation for the search thereby increasing motivation.  (2) It helps the dog to acclimate.  (3) It associates FUN with approaching the start line.

Here’s an example of this exercise.  I love this video.  This is a student with a “lower drive” Newfoundland.  I say Lower Drive because that is typically what she would be labled.  However, I prefer the terms “in drive” and “not in drive” and “high natural energy” and “low natural energy”.  In this case, this dog has a tendency to have a low natural energy and not to be in drive.  We have been working using this exercise and the results have been nothing but spectacular.  She is engaged, in drive and focused on the search…  and she’s starting to haul her owner to the start line!!  What is beautiful is that this Newfoundland is tapping into love for the sport.

So you can see that we are affecting the balance between emotion and arousal with this Newfoundland in a very positive way!

Yes!  You CAN train emotion in Nosework!

Happy Sniffing!!

© Stacy Barnett 2015