Reply To: Annie & Ashley

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Alana McGee

Having general questions here in this forum is fine we think, but if you have specific questions about a lesson going forward, we think it would be advantageous for you and other silver students to post in that week?s Discussion forum as you may not be the only one with that question.

In answer to your questions:

Do we use visual cues, seems everything is verbal.

We do use visual cues, but verbal cues just come more naturally from some handlers. I have absolutely nothing against using visual and verbal, and if you want to do that, go right ahead! I can?t think of reason why that would not be situationally appropriate.

Other verbal commands
Every dog is different, and I personally have slightly different cues/ commands for each one (some in other languages- to a dog, a cue is a cue, they don?t care what language it is). My personal list for all 4 dogs lumped into one list (this is likely missing a few): a begin searching cue, a waiting cue, directional checking (covered in FE530), a precision cue, emergency stop, re-alert, drop it (one of them does a mouth retrieve), look behind you (trailings- we cover this in FE530 I think), take a break, all done, ready, slow down, gentle etc? There are lots and the cues you have will evolve more as you begin to work in an actual forested setting and you see how your canine responds to various stimuli. Often times there are cues that are not directly ?truffle? related that apply in the field to move us around obstacles, like ‘please go around the log in that direction’ etc…

Each and every one of my dogs has different areas we work on in the field and in training. They all have different styles of working and some have varied cues that are specific to them.

The commands you have right now are great. Precision re-alerting is a key one.

Is it better to just let her discover on her own these places or can we start by guiding her on where to search?

We call this ?Directionals’, and we do cover it in FE530.

If you want to transition into truffle hunting at all, we urge you to be cautious with this as it is a more advanced skill because in truffle hunting you don?t want your dog to rely on you strictly for information.

Directionals can be helpful/useful, but we don?t want them to be a crutch. For mushroom hunting this is a little more relaxed, but the same issue applies. It is great if you can direct her to check an area you think likely for a certain species of mushroom, but you would like her to be searching independently, regardless. For now I would say it is fine to use the logs in hides, but refrain from actually pointing it out to her. Allow her to explore the areas on her own.

Most dogs pick up directionals VERY quickly, as in many other facets of life with us, we point at things and they orient themselves towards that object. Just be careful, you don?t want Ashley constantly looking to for the next direction.

Rewarding Try
If the dog has caught the scent and they are a foot away or so, and they are zeroing
in on it,
1. do I praise that they caught a scent of the target (rewarding try) and then party when
they locate it and alert on it?
2. or do I let her alert on the target before rewarding/party – so I don’t break her concentration

This is going to depend on Ashley. It is perfectly fine and advisable to offer encouragement if you can see her working on it (but remember to try to keep chatter to a minimum level).

In some cases we highly recommend this, as scenarios can be tough and we do want to acknowledge that the dog has located odor and is just struggling to pinpoint, and praise them for working on it, but it is going to be situational. If Ashley is so sensitive every time you speak she breaks concentration, then I might give her more opportunity to figure it out before you say anything. But yes, always party when she finds it.

You are right on the money- if it is a difficult hide and you can see the difference of when she is on odor vs not, yes, encourage and praise the searching. We don?t want you to constantly be chatting with your dog though. That is just noise.
I would give her a ‘free’ command and allow her to just relax.

Do you have this already? If so, that. If not, I would even recommend bringing a toy and playing a small game with her while you are picking and giving her a chance to relax. Again, this is what we call the ‘off button’. The problem with collecting (but this is again, going to depend on Ashley) is you don?t want her alerting on every mushroom you cut, so teaching her to take a break is even more critical. I commend you for building it in now, and yes we think that is a good idea. Just practice it!

Another way to accomplish this can be through gear changes and ritual. If you have a harness she wears for mushrooming, take it off during these times meaning she begins to associate the gear with working, and when it is off, it is free time.
I’m guessing she might watch us
pick and interact and we will make that fun.
That is fine too, and we recommend it. If she likes tug or ball, I would honestly suggest bringing a toy with you. Just remember to be aware of your surroundings and keep her close, you don?t want her injuring herself playing.

Adding new Odor
We cover this later in this or FE530, but in general we like to have an established behavior pattern/ chain of alerts etc before adding more odors. Doesn?t mean you can?t do it sooner, at a stage like now. Just make sure you then practice at all levels using all of the odors you hope to work with later. Also when introducing a new odor- start all the way at the beginning and imprint etc. You will likely go faster through the stages as the searching behaviors are already learned, but start all new odors with imprinting.

Your Idea on Timing, is a great one 🙂 We actually have a handler exercise during the course that is very similar to this.

Your imprinting with a meal is just fine. The idea is to pair with reward. Just make sure that the reward is of high enough value. Kibble doesn?t always cut it 🙂 That is basic imprinting though. Present, Sniff, click, reward.