Did I get your attention with that headline? I hope I did! There is an epidemic out there and it’s an epidemic of great proportions. All over the Nosework community, there are CHEAP HANDLERS. A Cheap Handler doles out reinforcers to their dog like they won’t be able to get another bag of treats and need to stretch out the current bag until the end of the next decade. Cheap Handlers all over are giving ONE treat and “Search Again”…
And guess what? A ton of these dogs are searching like One Cookie Dogs. Maybe their handlers want more motivation and don’t know how to get it or maybe they just don’t know that there is more dog in there? These same handlers often struggle with their dogs in novel or interesting search areas or when there are distractions in containers or the search area.
Here’s a Test
Ok… answer these questions (truthfully):
- If you find a job that you love doing, would you be just as happy earning minimum wage as a six figure salary?
- Do you believe in being paid what you are worth?
- Do you remember a time where you lost motivation because the effort was just way more than what you got out of it?
I am assuming (in general) that you like to be paid appropriately for your vocation. I know I do! And guess what? So does your dog!
If you reinforce excessively, you will get excessive effort. If you reward in excess of what the dog expects, you will actually generate a dopamine release the NEXT time your dog does the activity that produces the reinforcer. EXCESS compared to expectation is KEY if you want to tap into a dopamine release. Susan Garrett has an GREAT podcast that talks about the science of dopamine in addition to references to papers and studies (Episode 174: Dopamine In Dog Training: Anticipation, Rewards, And The Transfer Of Value).
I take this to heart with my dogs and I believe that it is CORE to their motivation and odor obedience. If you want a motivated and odor obedience dog you MUST pay appropriately.
If you can’t feed a lot you need to BE a lot
Let’s face it… it’s NOT about just shoveling in the food. You have a relationship with your dog. YOU are a powerful reinforcer. The most important thing in the world to your dog is YOU. You can give your rewards a supercharge with some amazing praise during the delivery. Reinforcement is additive. It’s NOT about the cookie… it’s also about YOU.
Here’s an example of a recent training session with Why when he was preparing for his first Elite trial. Pay attention to the reward… and how excessive it is…. this is a single, straightforward hide.
When you trial, you just have to dial it back a tiny bit…
Granted, we can’t reward for 45 seconds or a minute for every hide at a trial.. however we can STILL make a fuss over the dog. At a trial, I still take the time for a heavy reinforcement, especially with a dog who needs it. I just shorten the session a little.
After the training session above, Why debuted in Elite. In this search he found 7 out of 8 hides and placed 5th in this search (unknown number). I just didn’t get him to the area where the 8th hide was located. (We did have one “No” that was due to trapped odor… the scenting conditions were fairly complex). Watch how I reward him at every hide….