What are you rewarding? It’s a simple question but not a simple answer.  Are you rewarding the Find or the Alert?

Do you find yourself saying “Show Me” to your dog?

This is a common error that a lot of handlers make, especially more novice handlers.  It’s a habit that needs to be broken, but why?  Why is it important?


First let’s explore what a behavior chain is.

Paul Chance refers to a Behavior Chain as “A series of related behaviors, the last of which produces reinforcement.”

With a behavior chain, each behavior essentially rewards the next.  This means that breaking the behavior chain to re-cue an alert actually punishes the find. So you can actually extinguish the sourcing behavior!  …and it has the added issue that it decreases the confidence that the dog has in both the handler AND his skills!

WOW, say what??

There’s an added problem.

The Alert becomes a PROMPTED BEHAVIOR.  That means that when you re-cue you start a behavior chain that begins with “Show Me” and ends with an Alert.  Which ultimately could mean false alerts.  Be careful what you reward!

So why do people do this?

(1) handlers aren’t sure of the dog’s body language enough to call Alert, and

(2) the handler is trying to develop a stronger alert.

So how else can this backfire?

Well re-cueing the search after the dog has actually found the hide will increase anxiety and decrease the confidence that the dog has in the handler.

So what if we feel the UNDYING need to say “Show Me”… what do we do?

(1) we can work known hides and get in quickly and reward,

(2) we can start rewarding the FIND rather than the ALERT,

(3) we can increase motivation and odor obedience separately, and

(4) we can get better at reading our dog!

So what does this mean?  TRUST YOUR DOG.

A special thank you to Deborah Jones, Ph.D. for helping me think though some of the more complicated aspects of learning and behavior!