Clean Run - June 2012 - (Page 44)

Why Dogs Sniff and What to Do About It By Tracy Sklenar Sniffing is a common behavior that many handlers struggle with in their agility dogs. There are many reasons why dogs might sniff rather than drive around the course with focus, and it is our job as their trainers and handlers to teach the dog to perform without sniffing. In this article, we will assess several of the reasons why dogs might sniff on course, and present options to motivate them to keep their noses off the ground. Many of these issues are related to the others, so be prepared to have a multifaceted approach to teaching your dog to run without sniffing. We can really only guess at the “why” of sniffing; and, while training, we should not allow ourselves to get caught thinking about the dog’s emotions or what he might be thinking. Many people like to ascribe emotions to the dog, such as “he is stressed out” or “he is blowing me 44 off,” but the truth is that we truly don’t know what is going on in the inner life of the dog. We must base our decisions on the science of learning theory rather than our guesses about what the dog is thinking. Assuming the dog is sound and fit, here are some of the reasons that dogs sniff and suggestions for solving the problem. Sometimes It Just Smells Good! We humans do not truly appreciate the power of the dog’s nose—a dog’s sense of smell can be 100 to 1,000 times more acute than the human nose, depending on the odor and conditions. Dogs often sniff because the scents are interesting, and the dogs either have not been taught to ignore them or their level of arousal for the game is too low—or both! All dogs must be taught to ignore distractions (such as fabulous smells). This is particularly important in breeds that are genetically predisposed to using their noses for specific purposes (such as hunting or tracking). I prefer to teach this skill using self-control games, so the dog learns that choosing selfcontrol is even more reinforcing than sniffing. I would rather be responsible for teaching the dog self-control, than to have to be responsible for imposing control (with Leave it! cues and the like) over every possible scent distraction that drifts across his path. The handler begins with a series of “setups,” tempting the dog with a distraction (such as a handful of cookies) but reinforcing the dog for choosing to ignore the cookies. Then we transfer the understanding of the self-control to real-life training situations, so the dog learns the reinforcement value in ignoring the smells. The Clean Run | June 12

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Clean Run - June 2012

Clean Run - June 2012
Editorializing: The Other Bank Account
Tip of the Month
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Agility
Backyard Dogs
Awesome Paws Drills: Skills Checklist, Part 3
On the Road Again: Safety Measures for Driving with Your Dog
Challenges for Rising Stars
Proofing Your Dog’s Weave Pole Performance
Knowledge Equals Speed! Positive Training Routines
Analyze This!
Perfecting Nutrition for Performance Dogs
Why Dogs Sniff and What to Do About It
Building Blocks: Building Skills Around the Tunnel
From Hoof to Woof: What Riders Can Teach Handlers
New & Common Therapies for Treating Injuries in the Canine Athlete
Agility Mind Gym: Visualization
Control Unleashed Solutions and Answers: Shy & Overwhelmed

Clean Run - June 2012