For many people large areas are overwhelming. That’s absolutely normal if suddenly you find yourself in the start line of huge parking lot, or factory that is supposed to be cleaned in a certain time.
The truth is key to covering large area lies in proper planning. They can be equally difficult or easy as small areas, for both we need plan. Large areas may require a bit more planning in terms of how to walk around them and also careful strategy to make sure we both cleared everything that was necessary to check, but we didn’t stay too long in one place.
What I consider essential when analyzing how to prepare team for large areas.
I try to from the very beginning when I’m working with the dog to prepare him for no was work, my goal is to create very independent dog. By independent I mean a dog who can search on his own without being directed by the handler, can work at a distance but in the same time also a dog who learned to listen to cues if they are necessary. I would say it’s a combination of independence and teamwork that creates the best teams.
I value this independence greatly, that’s why during early stages I always run searches off leash,. Handler often stays on start line, never enters the area before the dog. That’s why my very first searches are usually thresholds with strong concentration of other even visible hides.
What can go wrong?
- Staying too long in the one part of the area. This can result in false alerts if your dog won’t move on his own. Quitting the area: dog peeing because the search is done (well done Gacek, for teaching me about this!). Loosing your precious time, decreasing rate of reinforcement.
- Moving too fast. Missing a hide. Some puzzles require more detailing. That’s how it works. How scent travels is dependent on so many variables. We should be aware that some hides will not be as accessible as the others and may require more thorough checking.
- Clear procedure at the start line:
That’s one of the things I’ve talked about and my previous article. Clear start line procedures are extremely important components of the search chain of behaviors. They start the whole chain. As you know each chain is it strongest as its weakest link. Which means if your start line is not solid, so is the rest of the chain. The very beginning of a behavior chain so complex as search pattern needs a good start. We want to see a dog that passes the start line already working.
- Clarity in the search.
This point consists of few other subtasks:
- Understanding body language of the dog:
This is extremely important part of the training. Handler needs to be able to reach behavior changes in body language to be able to understand cues. Changes in dog’s behavior are handlers cue to either stay longer in the area, move faster, redirect a dog (I do this only in one case: if the dog left the area and is checking a location that I know is not in play), wait for the dog, call alert, finish the search. Nosework is a team sport because it requires very careful observational skills from the handler. Dog is responsible for finding hides, but handler has to be able to organize the search to make it most efficient. Can you tell if your dog has just hit the scent cone? What does it look it? What subtle changes can you see in his behavior?
- Clear cues from both handler in the dog when particular place is cleared.
Have you considered what are the cues your dog gives you to tell that the area has been cleaned, and it’s time for both of you to move to a different part of it? Also have you considered, what are the cues, you give to your dog, that tell him if this part does not belong to the search area and it’s not worth checking. This one is very tricky! We have to be careful calling our dogs. Because sometimes dogs need to leave the search area to be able to work the scent cone. In such case we shouldn’t call. As handlers we have to be able to tell the difference if they are working and in odor, or if they are just checking the area without actually working on some puzzle.
You can see in this video that Gacek’s cue for me that area is cleaned is his proximity to me. If he works on the puzzle he is on his own, when he gets closer to me I know I can move around the area with him. If we walked through the whole area and he stays close – end of search.
Let’s analyze few important points from this search
0:11 Gacek changes direction, he is in odor. Quickly after he finds two hides close to each other and we move forward. He walks closely to me until 0:49/0:50 he starts to move quickly to the right, I know he is in odor. He finds two more hides. We move on, and he is staying close to me till the end of the search, he checks visible points more closely, like the bushes around 2:50 but he is not leaving my side. Around 3:00 he still stays near me and we have covered whole area. I call it finish.
- Task analysis.
We shouldn’t forget that nosework consists of behaviors.
Search pattern is a very special chain of behaviors. Very important part of teaching this chain is to break down each component into small, teachable unit. Doing task analysis would be a crucial element of each nosework training. That means that if you introduce large areas, you need to treat it as a new skill to be learner, new environmental conditions, that this chain of behaviors is supposed to be performed in. In relation to large areas it often means longer duration of certain behaviors in the chain. If until now you have worked on searches that required 30 second search behavior after start line and before alert behavior, it would wise to gradually increase that time, without adding any more challenges. Large areas are very difficult for some teams, because often there are long time period to access reinforcement. Search behavior requires longer duration. Sometimes large areas will consist of one hide, and if that one hide is at the end of the area, it means a dog is required to search blank parts for a while (not finding anything in the first parts of the area), if there are more hides the situation is a bit different and from my experience easier or more difficult, depending on the skill level. Convergence, ability to continue the search after found hide, not returning to the found hide even, if it means searching blank areas for a longer time. Remember each type of puzzle requires different set of skills. Do not take them for granted, nosework is not different than agility or obedience, but still we often skip the task analysis part, and breaking those patterns into teachable units is a priceless element for every successful nosework team.
- Single hide or multiple hides in large area.
For a long time I’m working just a single hides. Even with more advanced dogs that can do multiple hides I tend to have greater ration of single to multiple hides. But when it comes to large areas it may be wise to work on multiple hides at the beginning. This requires introducing large areas to more advanced dogs, that can do multiple hides.
Why multiple hides? Because we can reduce the time of search without contact with reinforcement. If there is only one hide on a large area, it means a vast majority of the area is blank. This means no reinforcement available for the dog.
- Ability to divide the area into smaller compartments
Large area can seem overwhelming before we divided into small compartments. Making sense out of the big large locations is the first step to successfully run the search. We need to find some characteristic features in each party of the location.
This is very important to make sure we covered whole area and also to make sure that we didn’t stay too long in one place. Very often large locations that have very similar structure all over the place are difficult because we may get lost walking through it. Parking lots are a great example of search areas that seem confusing for some teams. It’s also very important to know the boundaries of the area so that in the middle of the storage we don’t have to ask people whether or not this part still in the game.
Like I had to do right here in 1:27
This time a little bit about one of my dogs. Gacek is my nosework dog. He is the best partner I could have imagined. His methodological approach to every search area, precision and ability to solve any puzzle never stops to amaze me. I love every minute of our training together, our communication, trust and clarity in what we both do.I can really say that he is the founding father of the First Polish Nosework Association (of which I am the founder and CEO). Without him I wouldn’t dive so deep in the world of scent detection and created Nosework Polska. Gacek to mój pies noseworkowy. To najlepszy partner jakiego mogłabym sobie wymarzyć. Jego precyzja, umiejetność rozwiązywania każdej łamigłówki, metodologiczne podejście to każdego obszaru przeszukania nie przestają mnie zaskakiwać. Każda minuta spędzona razem na treningu, nasza komunikacja, zaufanie jest dla mnie ogromną radością. Prawdę mówiąc gdyby nie Gacek to nie powstałoby Nosework Polska – pierwsza w Polsce organizacja Nosework, której jestem założycielem i prezesem. Gacek jest tak naprawdę ojcem założycielem, bo bez niego nie zaangażowałabym się tak w świat psiej detekcji.
Opublikowany przez Agnieszka Janarek – Animal Trainer Środa, 18 kwietnia 2018
It also prevents her from leaving some parts without checking them.
To sum up! Consider large areas a good puzzle for working on clarity of your search chain:
- Clarity of cues, both yours and your dog’s
- Clarity in plan: what you have covered, what is left
- Clarity of training skills: if you work on introducing large areas, don’t add another challenge in the same time
- Clarity of foundations: alert behavior, skills of moving to another hide, skills of working for a longer