For some dogs, scent articles are really challenging. We teach them what we want (select the one that smells like me), they select correctly (yay!) and then…
They stare at you. Standing at the pile. Failing to bring it back.
Waiting for a sign. Something. Anything. A twitch from you, to let them know that they have selected the right one and should bring it in.
If you’re in the ring, you stand helplessly waiting. If you’re in training, you’re conflicted. One side of you wants to call the dog in and tell them “yes, you are right!” But the other side of you knows that this is simply exacerbating the problem; your dog is not confident about completing the entire exercise.
What can you do?
Once your dog knows scent articles and is selecting the correct article the vast majority of the time, then it’s time to let your dog take responsibility for the entire process – from the selection to the return.
In the following video, Brito is being asked to select the correct article and return…but I am no longer in his line of sight, so there is no way for him to use my body language, facial expressions, or extra cues to give him feedback. I am simply not there, so he needs to make a choice and execute it – from start to finish.
This is the first time that I’ve done this exercise with Brito, so we start as normal, and then I leave the room after he is warmed up. In the final send I expect a formal front. In the future I’ll be out of sight from the first send. And eventually, when I want to make this into a game, then I’ll start hiding after I send him. At that point, after finding the correct article, he’ll have to find me as well. My older dogs loved that game!
I’ve cut this video down to only a few repetitions; in the full session I sent him around ten times. Note that there are only four articles -that is because I want to build his confidence and ensure success! If he picks up his courage and brings me an article, I will accept it – right or wrong! If you punish your dog (whatever that means to you) for bringing you the wrong one, then you will defeat the purpose of this exercise; this exercise is to get your dog to make a choice and carry it through.
The message to the dog should be: select an article. Pick it up. Bring it back. I’m not available to help you.
If your dog is bringing you the wrong articles, then do not proceed. Reward your dog for bringing you the wrong one, and then go back to training the scenting behavior to find the weakness in your training. You do not have a “confidence with the return” problem – you have a “finding the right one” problem.
This is polishing training; not scent discrimination. It’s designed to give your dog sureness and confidence in their abilities. If you use it with a dog that is not confident about the actual scenting portion then you will make matters worse.