When Barley and I first started working with a trainer, she told me that Barley and I were an amazing team and suggested we try agility. Our lives haven't been the same since. Our communication has improved (of course, as the video shows, it's not always perfect) and we've had so much fun learning to connect in a new way.
A few years later, Barley and I found ourselves in a reactive dog class after a run-in with a neighbor dog. When we finished that class, our trainer suggested we take the second class in their reactive dog sequence: noseworks. This has been the most practical training for our everyday life, so for today, we're focusing on this sport.
Our trainer told us that sniffing is a self-soothing behavior for dogs that will help them relax in stressful situations. Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz has a whole chapter on the inner workings of a dog's nose and how sniffing helps dogs understand their world. Barley sometimes forgets to interact with her world through smell and works herself into a tizzy by constantly scanning the world around her with her eyes. Our trainer thought that teaching her to use her nose might help her be more relaxed.
While we haven't competed in noseworks--although that might be changing soon--it has helped Barley immensely with learning to focus on things other than other dogs.
Long time readers know that Barley has struggled with adjusting to living next door to dino dogs. We've made some small progress with training, but Barley still hates them. We had a huge celebration on Easter, though.
Being the neighborhood's crazy dog lady, I set up an egg hunt in the backyard. Barley, Rye, and I filled 20 eggs in the kitchen and then I went out to set up half of them for Barley to find with plans to set up the other 10 for Rye to look for afterwards.
When I went out to hide the eggs, I saw that the dino dogs were outside and I thought about waiting until later, but Barley had seen me stuff the eggs and she was ready to hunt for them immediately. I could see her dancing around on the other side of the storm door just barely containing herself until it was time to start her search. I knew the dino dogs were out before Barley did, so I had a better chance of keeping her focused than if she'd spotted them first, so I went ahead with setting up the eggs.
Since Barely's been sniffing out snacks for a long time, I put the 10 eggs all over the yard--some out in the open and others under plants and other things in the yard from one end of the yard to the other. Then it was time to let Barley get to work.
Since I knew the dino dogs were out, I could keep her attention on the way out the door with some lamb lung treats. As soon as her feet hit the patio, I told her to find it and she went to work. At the same time, the dino dogs came charging up to the fence. I was so proud of Barley--she started to go over to the fence and let out a bark, but as soon as she heard me remind her to find it, she went right back to work. (Ignore Rye's incessant barking--she was unhappy about being left inside.)
After Barley found her first egg, she was completely focused on finding the rest of them and didn't worry about the dino dogs again--even when she moved on to the eggs that were closer to that side of the yard.
When we first started noseworks training, we started by building value for the command we were going to use--in our case, find it. To do that, we tossed a treat on the floor and said find it. The dogs started to learn to look for treats when we said find it. Eventually we added in boxes and after they got used to that the dogs didn't see the treats being placed in and near boxes. We continued building by adding in odors with the treats and then just using the odors. When we're out on walks and Barley gets excited about something, I refocus her by going all the way back to the beginning.
By tossing a treat out in front of her and telling her to find it, she gets a quick reminder to quit scanning with her eyes and start sniffing with her nose. This is one of the ways we've been getting back on track after encounters with our new nemesis. It's amazing how quickly Barley connects back to me when we do this.
Rye is starting to work in similar ways as well. She gets very nervous when we're in new places, so by tossing a treat and telling her to find it, her focus shifts to our new game instead of whatever is worrying her. Usually, after we've done this 5 or 6 times, she's able to walk in a more relaxed way instead of scurrying around with her tail between her legs.
Noseworks training has helped me build my dogs' focus and confidence. With two border collie mixes, I have dogs that need jobs and searching for treats and odors is a job that's really fun for both of them.
We hope you'll join us for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, which begins on the first Monday of the month and goes all week. This month our theme is dog sports, but we welcome any positive training posts. Be sure to check out all of the other bloggers linking up with us to see how they're incorporating positive training into their lives, too!