The first part of the day was for dogs who were new to the sniffing sport, some had no prior experience at all. Winnie wasn't participating til the second half so she relaxed in a pen behind me as I watched the dog/handler teams work. I saw the dogs' process of figuring out what was expected of them and I enjoyed seeing things I hadn't seen when Winnie and I started. I was fascinated by how a dog works, learns and develops interest and how the dogs' behavior is intensely affected by the comfort level of the handler. I was also amused as I watched the seminar instructor, Chris Oliver use the "clicker" or marker training method.
When Winnie and I began training and practicing nose work we were both greenhorns, neither of us had had an ounce of professional lessons of any kind. Our instructor, Mary Swinyer of Modar Dog Training in Penngrove is a kind, patient and skilled trainer and Winnie and I came along as a team quite well under Mary's tutelage. When practicing on odor trainers most often want handlers to know where the odor is so we can learn our dog's sniffing rhythms, patterns and behaviors. We wait for our dog to "indicate" they have found the source and we reward them with a treat. When a dog is new to odor, the timing of the delivery of the treat is paramount. You wanna get in there with your treating hand close to the source and at the same time when the dog is inhaling the odor so the association is built and reinforced. As the dog progresses the timing and placement are less crucial but consistency is always must. I once had a judge holler, "no" so loudly it made me jump when I erroneously called "alert" and was about to reward Winnie at a container I read her to have indicated odor but the container did not have odor. The judge simply didn't want me to reward in error and send Winnie an inconsistent message. For the judge who really wants the sniffing teams to succeed, and for trainers who want their students to do well, it must be hard to watch us handlers making this kind of mistake which can lead to frustration and false alerts in time.
This brings me back to the seminar and the clicker.
Being a very clever guy with a great passion for sniffing dogs, Chris found a way to support the handler's ability to treat at the most opportune moment, he "clicker" trained the handler. To begin the session, Chris advised the handlers he was going to use the clicker to reward the dogs for desired behavior in regards to odor. He explained that the dog needn't be clicker trained but that he wanted the handlers to treat their dog as soon as they heard him use the clicker.
Each team came in, began to search for odor and each dog got rewarded when the handler heard the clicker. This allowed Chris to wait til he saw the desired behavior. When the dog put his nose near the source of odor, Chris clicked and the handler dispensed the treat. And so it went, and the success was undeniable. Chris had full control of when the dog would get the treat by clicker training the handler. Ingenious.