Reply To: Bev Maahs & Wolfy

Alana McGee

Hi Bev

If you want to teach a formal passive alert, you certainly can. And if it works for you and you don’t notice it adding stress, go for it. And this is what you would likely do for competition nose work. But remember, truffles don’t grow in boxes, so it isn’t a behavior you’ll see manifest in the same way once we get to burying. Digging is fine, with the caveat that uncontrolled over excited digging can damage truffles, and for orchards (and sometimes in the wild), is not necessarily ideal.

What we suggest is you reward the initial alert (whatever it is- slapping the box, what have you) and then you can cue a down. We try to always encourage students to use their dog’s natural tendencies to their advantage, as in stressful situations (which truffle hunting is simply from the compounding of external/environmental stimuli) that is the behavior that will be mostly likely to manifest by default. If you build confidence in that behavior it can become a solid part of the alert behavior chain. But it isn’t your only tool in the tool box 😉

Alerts again, are not just one moment in time, but eventually are several moments & behaviors strung together. We often will back-chain them as well, so keep that in mind.

With many dogs having obedience commands interspersed with alert behavior chains it can become stressful later. You know Wolfy best, and so that is something you can judge, but often we try to encourage away from strict obedience commands as a part of truffle hunting in alerts. If it works for you guys based on your history with rally etc, then go for it- and it may be more of a :”wolfy please lie down while we look for this truffle together”…. as opposed to “Wolfy lie down, stay there until I am done finding truffle”. It is in the interpretation, and without seeing it- it is hard to say. You do however want him engaged with you throughout the process.

What we would suggest if you do this (as an eventual alert behavior chain) would be whatever Wolfy’s initial alert is (slapping the box), then ask/ encourage/ lure a down and then a nose-touch for a re-alert. This will allow a more passive precise alert than Wolfy using his feet for all aspects of the alert.

I have a dog like this as well. Very “handsy”. A great exercise for this, just to strengthen using the nose as a pushing mechanism over using the feet as a primary alerting tool (although we’d love to see video of this behavior) involves a yoga mat (or towel) and some treats.

You’d lay the mat out flat and every 6 to 8 inches place a couple of high value treats, with a jackpot at one end, varying distance from the middle of the mat. You then roll this up so the treats are all sandwiched in-between the layers of mat (or towel). Then you introduce Wolfy to the mat from the angle wherein the mat if unrolled, rolls away from him- like a red carpet unfurling before movie star.

It discourages using feet as if they paw it, the mat does not respond by unrolling in that direction. It encourages pushing with the nose and this skill can be transferred to nose targeting truffles- or truffle targets in boxes. Try it if you think he’s being overly slap happy. Nose touches are far more precise end alert behaviors that foot touches usually, but all are useful parts of the chain. Does that make sense?