“My dog lies!”… I hear this all the time when I’m judging and teaching. When I’m judging, I see a dog indicate on the correct box. The team apparently has a history of mistrust because the handler will tell the dog “You lie. Let’s check the other boxes.” IF the team is lucky, the dog will come back and reindicate. At that point the handler finally believes the dog and calls “Alert”.

When I hear this phrase while teaching a seminar, the comment, “My dog lies” usually happens close to the sentence “I want a stronger alert”. If you find that you’ve used these sentences, this blog is for you!

In fact, I’ve heard this comment SO many times that I sometimes share the following slide in my seminars. This is the deadly cycle of subtle alerts.

So at this point, you might be thinking, “GREAT! I need a stronger alert!”

If so, we need to alter your thinking a little. We need to break the cycle, but the answer is NOT a stronger alert.

Have you heard the phrase, “Trust Your Dog?” Probably. It’s one of the most over-used phrases in Nosework. Do I agree with it? Yep. Do I think it causes problems? Yep. I love the phrase… but I think it’s one sided. You see… you not only have to trust the dog… but the dog has to also TRUST YOU. If you find yourself saying that your dog lies or that you need a stronger alert, you have a trust issue. You absolutely do not have an alert issue. And if you have a “lying” issue, your trust issue has snowballed and you are in some serious trouble. This is actually why I wanted to write this blog. (For more information on Trust, please also read “Yes, But Does Your Dog Trust YOU?

Here’s the thing.

  • Dogs do what they are reinforced for.
  • Your dog wants to please you more than they want to find odor (this is actually a proven fact!)
  • Dogs will only find odor and tell you about it if they actually know that that is what they are being asked to do
  • Occasionally a dog will make a mistake that might point to a hole in their training or capabilities.
  • The word, “Alert” never comes out of the dog’s mouth.

So if you are reading this, you might be wondering, “Ok. Now what?” Let’s talk about the first step.

Call Alert, even if you think your dog is wrong!

It’s incredibly important to believe your dog EVEN IF YOU THINK HE ISN’T CORRECT. That’s right… risk the Q! The thing is, your dog’s long-term confidence in his own searching ability far outweighs the importance of that class or that search or that title. It’s essential to prioritize your faith in him, even if he is wrong, over passing the search. You see, your dog is learning too. He’s not infallible and he wants to do his best. If you question him, he will question himself. Once a dog starts to question his own abilities, you are headed down a very deep, dark hole that is difficult to crawl out of.

I did just this this past weekend with my Standard Poodle, Joey. Joey was competing at NW3. In NW3, you don’t know how many hides there are and you have to pass all six searches in the day in order to title. Joey is getting older (he’s 11.5 years old) and the pressure is on! Our first searches were Interiors. We performed all three interior searches, calling Finish after finding one hide in each room. Although in NW3 you don’t know until the end of the day if you pass, I had a very good feeling that we were correct!

Our second element was Vehicles, Usually Joey is strongest on Vehicles and Exteriors. He quickly found the first hide. As he came around the second vehicle he caught odor and wrapped around to the back of the vehicle. He very clearly alerted on the hitch. Unfortunately, he was fooled by blowing odor that got caught up on the hitch assembly. We got a “No”! And you know what? It’s ok! We will get to try again. In the meantime though, I trusted him and I called Alert when he clearly thought the hide was on the hitch. I never second guessed him and I have to say that I would make the exact same call today. Our mutual trust and his self confidence is far more valuable than a title ribbon, even at NW3!

So…. if your dog Alerts… CALL IT!

Eliminate Blind Hides in your training

The second thing you can do if you feel that your dog is hard to read or is subtle, completely eliminate blind hides from your training. You will as a result, start to always reward your dog at the hide. You will find that it becomes easier to read your dog, and your dog’s self confidence will blossom because he will have a clearer understanding of when he is correct. That self confidence will result in “stronger alerts”. Couple that with an improved ability to read your dog, you have the formula for a successful team!

So go out there and TRUST YOUR DOG!!