I am currently sitting in an airport, after Thanksgiving, waiting to fly home to a state that is in a cold snap. Leaving sunny Florida, albeit in a good mood! Why? Because I was just on Facebook on the FDSA Alumni Nosework page! A question was asked by one of our students about why we don’t pair food with odor. In some circles this would be a fight waiting to happen, a figurative red flag in front of a bull. Not in this community! I am frequently impressed, over and over again, with the respect that FDSA students have for each other and for other ideas. I was inspired to write an article about RESPECT, specifically regarding training methods in Nosework.
My response to the original question was two-fold… I thought I would share my responses here. Why? Because I think it’s important for people to understand what we stand for at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and why it more like a family than a school.
In response to the question about methodology…
at FDSA, we will never say that another [nosework] method doesn’t work…. our main thing is… is the dog AND the handler treated with respect and kindness and is the training R+ while caring for the dog’s emotions… THAT is truly what we care about. It’s the reason why many CNWI’s have taken our courses (and why many come to my seminars or host me for seminars)…. So what you won’t get is an argument about whether or not pairing will or won’t work… it does work… we just prefer to teach it another way because of the impact that operant learning (which can’t be divorced from classical conditioning) has on the dog’s learning processes….
In response to a comment about why a trainer may choose to pair with some students:
I’ve been talking with Denise and we definitely understand that for some teams, starting right on odor might not be the right thing to do. That’s actually one of the reasons why I’ve developed NW170 for this term… In that class we are introducing the foundations which will help a team to be extremely successful in NW101, without the pressure of introducing odor. We still aren’t “pairing” but we ARE allowing confidence, motivation and skills to develop before adding in the additional complexities of odor. I think it’s going to be super also for instructors who want “a little more” to teach to their students but who may not be using odor at the lowest levels
But what is MOST important…
You see, what is more important than whether or not you pair food with odor, is whether you are kind and respectful to the dog… and to each other. It’s not about who is right and who isn’t. Does the dog search with confidence? Is the dog enjoying himself? Are you learning? If the answer to these questions are YES, then you aren’t wrong! Sure, every trainer, even those at FDSA, will have preferences about what will work best…. but as long as you feel respected and your dog’s emotional well-being is being cared for, that’s a good thing! And in a time where we have Social Media to contend with, good things are really important to remember!
Do you pair food with odor? Do you prefer not to? In the end, it doesn’t matter. RESPECT matters, for both canine and human. Once we get past that, it’s all just a matter of good training. At FDSA we are about respect and good training. Yes, it’s really THAT simple!
If you aren’t yet involved in our community and you’re interested, registration for the December session is currently open. We offer classes in all disciplines, all R+, all with kind and respectful instructors. Our current class schedule can be found at:
Until then, listen to your dog… pay attention to his emotions… RESPECT him…. and you will be on the right path!
Wow……….while I understood and allowed for this approach in other dog sports(obedience,agility) after reading this I must admit I had become a nosework “snob”. Thanks for the “look in the mirror”. “Live and let live” makes life so much easier always…….sigh of relief.
Debbi…. it’s SO EASY to get caught up into “my way is the best way”… what I DO love about this sport though is that nearly all of the ways that this sport can be trained are respectful to the dog…. you really can’t effectively “force” a dog to search! Dogs only search through choice. 🙂
“we just prefer to teach it another way because of the impact that operant learning (which can’t be divorced from classical conditioning) has on the dog’s learning processes….”
Can you expand on the above? Are not both using pairing food with odor and the “Fenzi” method using operant learning?
The FDSA method doesn’t pair food with odor… there is a specific cause and effect relationship between an action and reward. When you are strictly pairing food with odor, the dog learns differently. Although it is primarily a classical conditioning relationship, there is of course SOME causation going on. You can’t separate that. The difference is in timing the reward. There are 4 chances to time a reward and there have been studies related to the strength of learning with respect to timing. You can reward (1) before the unconditioned stimulus, (2) at the same time as the unconditioned stimulus, (3) directly after the unconditioned stimulus or (4) with a significant delay from the unconditioned stimulus. The strength of learning is highest with #3 (which is equivalent to using a “marker” and then rewarding). Next highest is #2 (which is equivalent to “pairing”). 3rd highest is #4 (equivalent to a reward without a “marker”). Lastly is #1 which no one actually uses in nosework as that would basically mean giving the dog a cookie before he finds odor. That type of learning is eventual at best. Hope this helps!!
I know this is an old post, but do you happen to have a link to these studies? Thanks!