Annie Ingersoll & Dottie

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    Alana McGee

    Welcome to class Annie!  This is the forum topic where you will post your questions and homework videos for feedback from the instructors.  Please take a moment to tell us about yourself, your dog and your interest in truffle hunting.

    Class begins June 1st but you already have access to the first lesson so go ahead and check that out!  You can begin posting video homework and questions June 1st.


    Hello Everyone,

    I’m glad to be joining this class with all of you! I live in Oregon, in the Willamette Valley. I got interested in truffle dog training because it is a perfect merging of my interests: dog training, edible fungi, and hiking/the outdoors. It’s a real bonus that I live in an area that has a high concentration of some edible truffle species!

    Though I’ve been training and teaching various reward-based dog activities for years, nosework is relatively new to me. I have previously taken Kristin and Alana’s online classes with my 3 year old terrier mix. She is fairly easy to work with–high drive, extremely toy motivated, very physical.

    For this class, I’ve chosen a more challenging subject… my 11 year old papillon, Dottie. She is very energetic and food motivated, and she still loves to learn new things. Don’t let her age fool you. 🙂 She doesn’t have the same drive as my other dog, however, and is more easily distracted by her environment. So this course will be a great opportunity for both of us to work on some skills.

    This photo is from a number of years ago, but it’s her best one!

    I am looking forward to seeing all of you and your dogs in action!

    Alana McGee

    Welcome, Annie and Dottie! This is going to be a very fun group of pups! Looking forward to seeing you and Dottie at work 🙂



    Dottie targets readily and reliably to the scent container (tea-ball, usually), in hand or on the floor. I am struggling with her box hides, as she thinks the boxes are toys. I was ignoring the behavior to try to teach her that there is no reward for interacting with an empty box, but it only took a couple times to see that playing with the box was plenty rewarding on its own. I would ignore her, and she would just continue to play, on and on, and more vigorously.

    So I tried a few variations. You’ll see them in the video. I thought that if I had her repeat a line of 3 where the odor was in the last box every time, then she might get the idea that she should just bypass the empty containers and proceed to the last one where the food reward will be delivered.

    I am certain that she does understand the significance of the odor, at least on some level. On a couple occasions where a target was left behind, or fell from the ledge and was to be retrieved later, she caught wind of the scent and successfully searched them out. Nothing record-breaking, but showed an understanding and desire to locate the odor, nonetheless.

    Dottie loves toys and as you can see, will self-reward with things that could pass as toys. So any tips you could give me on how to get her to slow down and be more methodical with the boxes would be welcome! I am seriously considering using cinder blocks or something she can’t move…

    Alana McGee

    Great progression, Annie!

    Dottie is a hoot to watch. Very enthusiastic. We are big fad of enthusiasm 🙂 Is she pouncing on the boxes because she thinks they are toys or because she is a savvy trick dog?

    Pouncing on boxes is fairly common. Not to worry. Truffles don’t grow in boxes 😉

    Just continue to ignore the behavior and keep your intention on rewarding the correct target. Does she do this with tea balls too? If not, you can try the same exercises with tea balls and omit the boxes. She had plenty of fun and will likely remember that “game” when we transition the game outside. Even if it only acts as a bridge between environments it is valuable.


    Thanks for your analysis Kristin!

    It’s true, I do like enthusiastic, high-drive dogs. 🙂

    You guessed right, Dottie does know a bunch of tricks and has been taught to do stuff with props, so this is part of why she plays so much with the boxes. She is just as silly with the tea balls, batting at them and chasing them around.

    You are right–I don’t want her to retrieve truffles, and didn’t have any intention of teaching her to do that. So why was I trying to get her to retrieve the box? I have no idea. I just wasn’t thinking!

    We will keep practicing 🙂

    Alana McGee

    Try using the tea balls so they are visible but inaccessible for anything other than a nose ore paw target.

    For example, wedge them under pieces of firewood so she can see them but can’t move them.


    Your suggestion to use firewood (or other more inaccessible place) is a great one! It worked. In this video, I take the box hide game outside. She loses motivation when she’s outside, so I have to work harder to keep her in the game.

    I am learning that her alerts are more subtle than my other dog. There were times that it seemed that she was being kind of spacey and not really paying attention, but as I review the video, I think she was searching and offering deliberate alerts.

    Alana McGee

    Hi Annie.

    Remember to keep in mind that when you go outside it is likely, especially in the beginning, that Dottie’s offered alerts will be more subtle due to the change in environment and the slightly unfamiliar nature of the game in this context. Dogs are all about context!

    It looks like you have her on a collar lead here. Remember to let us know if that is your desired plan of action or if you’d like some suggestions on harnesses to possibly use. You do a very nice job of allowing space on the lead, meaning not applying pressure or arresting Dottie’s movements via tension on the leash.

    We think you are correct in your self analysis of her offering slightly different search patterns and offering deliberate, and a tad more subtle alerts in this environment. They aren’t really too subtle in the search at 0:11 but it is a change in tone from the games inside, you are correct. That is to be completely expected, so nothing to be concerned about. She is engaged with you but being aware is the first step. Shifts in context of the game can do this.

    She’s doing great, but you’re right, her bubbly self isn’t quite as confident or excited in this environment.
    We love it that you take a moment to play! Play is important, and a great way to keep the entire game of truffles and everything around it fun! Whenever necessary, we are fans of play breaks.

    You can see the shift her her energy even after that short little session of play with mom.

    0:33 GREAT job at reengaging Dottie in the game. You can really see the strong bond the two of you have, and it is really nice that she looks to you for information when unsure and your communication back is very clear. Your beginning to move again in this scenario was indication and information for Dottie to keep looking.

    On the hide at 0:50 that she identifies correctly we would recommend spending a bit more time in reward at the source. Eventually you are going to want to lengthen your reward sequence to last upto 30 seconds. Truffles can take time to excavate from the ground and we want Dottie staying with you engaged with you as you are in the process of harvesting them. Spend a little more time on acknowledging this was a correct find in the future- which you do later when working with the fire logs, but begging to push your reward sequence time even a little longer.

    After the play break it is a bit hard to tell due to the camera angle on this one what that reward sequence looked like, but a jackpot now and then, especially after coming back into the game after a play break is a great way to solidify those positive associations of fun.

    The logs are great. It is clear she knows the odor. This is a new space, and there are lots of other things going on, but you can see the confidence level in understanding of the game increasing with each repetition. That was an excellent reward sequence. Look at the difference in confidence and energy put into the alert process on the 2nd log hide! This is really great. Nice body positioning on your part to be slightly askew and not ‘fronting’ Dottie applying pressure on her preventing her access to the hide.
    It wasn’t part of the video but make sure your exit form the game also has that same level of fun and energy on a job well done.

    You guys are doing great outside. You have a very nice dynamic and in this session you can see Dottie’s confidence in the game growing in this context and building a successful reward history, which is exactly what we want.


    Time to post our latest session. This session took place yesterday, when it was about 68 degrees F. It was breezy–more than I would have liked–wind 8-11 mph, with gusts up to 18 mph.

    I hadn’t received Dottie’s new harness yet, so she is still working on her collar. Of course, her harness arrived late that afternoon.

    The first two scenarios took place in my driveway, with a slope and garage on 2 sides of the search area. I added a small pile of firewood as an obstacle to affect air flow at that spot.

    In the second scenario, I moved the boxes to the base of the slope. This is also an area that is weedier and has some small downed branches.

    The last 2 scenarios take place on the edge of a Christmas tree field. On a slope, with the aid of an old stump to provide an obstacle.

    In the last scenario, she doesn’t want to leave the hot target after her reward. Yay! So I need to remember to pick up the target before rewarding. I should have been doing this anyway, so it’s good that she reminded me. 🙂

    We did have a stumbling block where our second repetition fell flat. I didn’t put it in this video, but it was a repeat of the first scenario, but with the hot target in a different spot. We entered the search area, and she just stood there looking at me, unsure of what to do. I gave the cue, walked a little, and she continued to just stand and stare, or look around. So we ran out of the search area (excitedly), we scampered about together to try to jazz her up, and we re-entered the search area and had a successful find. Any tips for handling this better? I have video of this and can post it for next week if it would help.


    Alana McGee

    Hi Annie

    The pictures are great Annie- Thank you for including them.

    Really nice approach (on both your parts) and alert from Dottie on the first scenario.

    What’s nice about this approach is she is being thoughtful while also taking cues from you in terms of directional searching, naturally. She checked the wood pile first- it is how you entered the scene, but notice the moment you shift your intention she also redirects her focus towards your orientation. There is great power in intention as a form of communication. Just something to note. The visual clues are very much clue for her at this point, but that is perfectly okay and by design. It provides structure to a game. She has a nice thoughtful independence while still following your signals. Really nice genuine rewards on the alert at 0:20. We like you mini play after the find. The scampering fingers.

    0:44 Nice! You allowed her to make choices there and respected those choices. She even then brought it to you after that. Well done, really don’t have much to comment on here. You handled it well. She didn’t provide you an opportunity to move faster to the source, because in under a second she brought it towards you, and you went to source then, which is just fine. We all know she does this occasionally. She’s being very clear with her signals on alert in this case and it makes us smile. There is nothing wrong with that. Once the targets are buried this particular behavior will be more difficult to manifest, but you may find eventually, she will excavate and bring/ spit truffles at you on occasion.

    As for handling a situation like you describe better: You have good impulses. The key idea, when possible, is to reset in such a scenario- which is what it sounds like you did. Something about the environment or scenario didn’t compute.
    Take your time in a reset in such a scenario. You can play very easy hand/ truffle targeting games prior to re-engaging as well. We call that ‘priming’ Get her comfortable, have her happy. At this stage we’d rather not push frustration and endurance and risk shutting down a sensitive dog. The key is when you do re-engage in the scenario is the win/ find should be an epic party/ jackpot. Provide Dottie the opportunity to succeed through independent choices, but understand the time limits on that (it realistically will be under 30 seconds at this point based on the videos we have seen), and be ready to manufacture a success for that epic party if you feel she is starting to flag.

    Later in field when we run into such scenarios where a complete reset (as in completely remove from environment) is difficult you can rely on those base ‘priming’ or foundational games as a reset button of sorts. There are many ways to offer a reset, but the goal is to create a break, do something else, engaging the mind or body in a different set of activities, and then once she (AND you) are settled and relaxed, try to reproach. This is also where having that extra target comes in handy. Not just in offering hand target foundational games, but as a means to manufacture success in stressful situations. Dogs are sensitive to being wrong, and if you can manufacture a success, with genuine excitement and reward on your part if the hide is too difficult (for whatever reason) then you both win, and not finding the planted hide, is really not an issue. At this stage it is about building confidence and providing positive reward histories.

    Again, your instincts to reset are right on the money. Next time try to offer some easy foundational games with that extra target before you reengaged, and when you do be ready to jackpot/ party the moment she does alert on the target, because WOW Dottie, you’re awesome! Genuine is the key. Also then reflect on why she might have struggled with that one hide. Were you approaching differently? Was there some other added stimulus? Just think about it and see if you can come up with a few possibilities as to why the situation may have proved more difficult.

    • This reply was modified 9 years ago by Alana McGee. Reason: typos
    Alana McGee

    Also 2:03 GOOD on praising the search here. You do a good job of building up the value for the second hide in this scenario when you read that she is slightly less sure. We might suggest you have an elongated treat party/jackpot on that one as Dottie was less comfortable with it and those are the moments we want to strengthen as positive responses. You do a nice job of a series of rewards here, but making it a slightly bigger event for her to solidify the learning experience. The playing right after this we think is a nice touch to that, and a perfect moment to stop. It IS awesome she stayed at source, even though that wasn’t your intention. That gets paid! Well done.


    Well, the Week 3 exercises were definitely not our forte.

    First, I want to apologize for the screeching dog in the background–that is Tuesday hearing and smelling what we are doing.

    In this video, Dottie starts out really well, doing a methodical search through the “sippy cups” to find the one with odor. I was pretty tickled.

    In the second rep, I try to elicit a repeated alert–but this isn’t as successful as I hoped. Would love to have some suggestions here.

    In the third rep, she is confused. Spends a lot of time looking at me, and is mostly just kicking the cups around to see if that will result in a reward. Her understanding of “searching” through the cups seems to have been lost in this rep. She does indeed find the right cup, but it was not through a systematic search.

    Then I removed the cup with odor, and put the odor in a different sippy cup. (I pulled the first cup that held odor out of the exercise to avoid confusion.) This was pretty much a disaster. No searching, lots of staring at me, seems to have really lost the understanding of the game. I would like to post video of this during week 4, even though it is a week 3 exercise because it is a good example of the wall we keep hitting, and I need guidance! I am just as confused as she is with how to proceed when we hit this wall. Maybe I should go back to a line of boxes (on leash) when this happens? Will be glad to get your input once I post that video.

    Thanks Alana and Kristin!

    Alana McGee

    Hi Annie.

    Dottie’s first search is BRILLIANT! She even took it upon herself to increase the search area and really target the truffle odor! Excellent! Well done getting down on the ground with her for the reward and letting her see what is inside the container!

    For the second one, you do a very nice job of remaining calm and patient. It is very easy for these situations to get a bit frantic and you do a great job of staying grounded with intention on the game. Well done. That said, we are curious if you played tug with Dottie between repetitions. Let us know.

    For the third hide, you are (once again) very patient. Good for you. She is confused and does not understand the game. We agree she is having a hard time understanding the “game” when the visual ID is present.

    So, let’s make it easier on her and remove the visuals for a session since they seem to be a distraction. Go ahead and place the target out of sight and just see what we get. Be prepared to praise her (if it won’t distract her) as soon as you see her hit the odor and start to locate. Then start to move in to find the target *with* her but allowing her to lead. Have a party and play tug. After the first one, you probably won’t need to move in as quickly. Do 2-3 hides and finish. Go ahead and post that video so we can see what it looks like. If she appears to have no idea what you are asking of her, then simply abandon the exercise and we will try another approach.

    This really isn’t a “wall” with Dottie. She is super smart and trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. She likely needs a novel set up each time she searches with visual aids. This isn’t abnormal and you are handling the situation very well. Try the hides without visual IDs as suggested above and then we can revisit this idea of teaching her how to search the visuals. We really only need her to understand that game of searching containers so you can transfer the game to different environments so not to worry! It will be just fine 🙂

    Really motivated dogs (Callie included) often don’t spend much time with boxes and visual aids. This is a pretty normal part of the process.


    Thank you for the great feedback. I am feeling very relieved to hear that I shouldn’t worry about these periods of confusion too much. In the previous video, I didn’t play tug/toy games with her after each find, rather I did it about every other one.

    In this new scenario, I hid the odor around the den, and she did pretty well. I am posting that video here. In this particular session, she sometimes wanted the toy, and sometimes preferred treats, so I just rewarded her with what she wanted most in that moment. But, yes, more play rewards were offered this time around. (You won’t see much of this since I trimmed it out of the video to save time.)

    A couple things: The video is dark at times; sorry for that. Also, I had to hold the camera, which means you can’t see me, and you have to hear me blathering on to Dottie. Maybe it’s helpful for you to hear me, but you’ll probably want to turn it down. 🙂

    A quick synopsis: I hid two targets in the room, one under the black chest, one under the hearth. The first find was awesome. I didn’t take her out of the room to start the search for the second hide–I just cued her to search again. This is where you’ll see the confusion, and even frustration on her part. (1:35-1:55) So I encourage her to walk with me a bit, and when she picks up on the odor, she goes back into search mode. So we overcame it, but not without stumbling a bit. In the subsequent reps, I took her out of the room and then sent her back in in the effort to create a “reset” so she’d charge in with more understanding. Doing this definitely helped.

    I apologize that the video is 22 seconds over the limit. 🙁 I wanted to include the middle rep where she shows confusion and frustration.

    I think that she really doesn’t seem to understand the cue (“find ’em”) very well. I’m thinking that she paired the cue with kicking around the targets and containers, rather than pairing it specifically with searching for odor. So I think I need to teach the cue without using things she can kick and chase. Perhaps room searches like this one may help that? Even if so, I’d like to do some more fundamental exercises to strengthen and clarify the cue without things she can kick and chase.

    Lastly, she mouths (and at one point chews!) the targets (mesh tea bags) way too much, but I was too happy with the searches to be thinking about this. (Shame on me–I should be paying attention and helping her develop a better alert!) My plan is to go back to the clicker and click when she is nosing the target (or lightly pawing), so she is interrupted and rewarded before she actually picks up the target.

    Thanks in advance for your feedback!

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 12 months ago by Annie.
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