Equipment as Cues

In Nose Work (www.nacsw.net) the only equipment that you are not allowed to use during a search is aversion based equipment (i.e. shock/prong/choke collars). This means that there is a whole HOST of equipment that you ARE allowed to use.  In furtherance of this understanding, it also means that you can dedicate one or more pieces of equipment that your dog will wear while they doing Nose Work and only wear while they are doing nose work.  My choice is a specific type of harness, unlike their walking, tracking or agility harness.

Why do I choose a specific piece of equipment for the dog to wear while doing searches?

Well, here’s my theory.  Anything we can do create a clearer picture for the dog (specific to the task we are about to assign it) will help with the outcome.  We, and our dogs, are creatures of habit and ritual.

Here’s an example: At what point in the morning does your dog know that you are leaving?  Is it when you shower, put your shoes on or grab your keys?  Your dog knows that you are leaving because of a complex set of cues (rituals) that are provided in the environment.

Let’s look at the Nose Work ritual:

  1. Dog in crate travels to location
  1. Human has treats on person
  1. Human puts task specific equipment on dog
  1. Human takes dog to specific location
  1. Dog sees familiar boxes in location (practice boxes are available for use prior to running your dog)
  1. Human presents verbal/visual cue

If we have strong rituals, then it stands to reason that our dogs will be more proficient in their understanding when we generalize the environment more and more.  Nose Work is ALL about generalization.  If you do not take time to first build a VERY strong foundation and then take this training on the road, your dog will not be successful.  When you’re on the road generalizing the behavior you have very little control over your environment.  The only thing that you have control over IS your rituals.

Are these rituals necessary for every dog?

In one word: No.  I am reasonably confident that my dogs will do the search (at this stage of their training, with a VERY thorough foundation) without the rituals, but when I’m on the road these rituals will help the search behavior be more robust.  It will shore up weaknesses that occur and help the dog (and myself!) when a curve ball is thrown our way.

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