Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Scentwork for Show Dogs: Stage 1

In my last post I talked about the need for training to keep a show dog (this includes obedience dogs!) safe in a world where not everyone is sympathetic to crating practices. Whether the person releasing the catch is an animal-rights activist or a child looking for a playmate doesn't matter to the health and well-being of your dog! Today we look at the first stage in training your dog to find the person most likely to be at every one of his shows. I will assume it is my reader, and simply say "You."

First, you need a good recall on your dog -- not a formal front sit, but the ability to bring him to you without too much stress about distractions. Since a conformation dog is usually trained to work for food treats already, he'll learn to trot to you for "Here!" and a goodie pretty quickly. If he then glues himself to you instead of wandering off to let you call him again, fling another treat with a "Find it!" or "Get it!" command. After a few days, you can start the next stage.

Hopefully your dog already has a "Wait!" at his crate door. If not, it may be worth establishing one, even if it means rapping his nose with the door a couple of times. For one thing, it makes your life much easier if you can collar him as he stands nicely inside instead of lassoing him as he bolts past you. If you have a good wait, also, it's much easier to practice the find-you game alone at least part of the time.

Here goes -- either on a wait command or with the crate door closed and a helper on alert, go about ten feet from the crate and duck partway behind some object. Call the dog when you are partway visible, so that you can see if he's wandering utterly elsewhere and wave food as needed. Tree trunks are fine, doors are fine, but work in a familiar place with few distractions at first. Do some of your training outdoors on plain mowed grass, and some in your house or, if you have access to one, an empty training room.

On your outdoor trainings, work with an awareness of the wind. Sometimes you should be upwind, some downwind, some crosswind. When your dog is reliably coming to you, go entirely behind the obstacle before you call, and have the dog wait longer. Experiment with having a helper release the dog and no recall. This way, you learn if he pops out or stays in. Gradually increase distance and hide time. Different breeds will show different innate preferences for searching out their human: most scent hounds will drop their noses to the ground, while many herding and sporting breeds will quarter with their heads high, seeking air scent. Since a dog has different dominant senses from a human, you will probably see a transition from using sight to using scent early in the training.

If you cannot get the dog to seek you out at all without calling him, and he instead stays nicely in his crate, congratulations! Practice in more interesting places until you're sure he'll stick even at the commotion of a show, and skip my next two posts.

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