I am starting over numbering my Nosework classes for classes for this new instructor. There were a lot of things to like about classes. The atmosphere is different and Dorothy is much more organized and explains things a LOT better. There isn't any constant nagging about talking between students. Everyone talks, all the time. In fact I was one of the quiet ones (shocking, I know). In fact Dorothy talks during the runs, telling us what she is seeing. All this talking doesn’t bother the dogs at all.
We started with two hides on vehicles, in a wheel and on the license plate. Gimme found both of them very quickly. Her indicator wasn’t as solid as I’ve been getting, but in hindsight I hadn’t warmed up her indicator at the car as I have been doing. Bad me.
Then we moved inside where they’d set up two threshold hides just a few feet on either side of the door, and a floor hide well down along the wall. I brought Gimme in and turned her loose, knowing she would blast past the threshold and then come back to it. She made a liar out of me and went shopping instead. She was checking all the possibilities in the room and it soon became apparent she was shopping instead of working. So I put her back on line and suddenly she went to work – the difference was dramatic and the instructor commented about it. Gimme has never gone shopping before, even when we had a match in the store area of a dog training facility. I commented about it and Dorothy said it was probably because the “other clues” were different so she wasn’t in working mode. Still once on leash she did very nicely and would have qualified well within time, even including the shopping time.
For our third run they left one of the threshold hides and removed the other (leaving residual odor), and added a bathroom hide. I told them Gimme would most likely just tilt her nose toward the bathroom and then go on by, which she most often does with closed spaces, preferring the hunting more than the finding. When we came in, Gimme went straight to the threshold hide, finding it in mere seconds. She paid no attention to the residual odor, following right down the wall, turning the corner and going straight in the bathroom - making a liar out of me again. It took her a moment to narrow down exactly where the hide was, but she did and indicated nicely.
For our fourth run they only had a hide in the bathroom. Again Gimme went straight in and indicated the right side bottom edge of the cabinet. I rewarded her at the center crack where the odor should have been the strongest. Then I opened the door and let her stick her nose on odor and rewarded her again. This has been a problem ever since we went to the Inaccessible Hides seminar. Gimme used to be really determined and persistent to get exactly to source and now she seems to think any old close indication is good enough. It will be good enough for an inaccessible hide, but for an accessible hide she needs to push to source.
So all in all a good class, however… They are giving me the same tired advice for pawing. I hoped by sending a detailed description of what I was doing and how well it was working, I could avoid this – but it didn’t work. I think I just have to accept they are CNWIs and tow the NACSW party line, so I’m not going to get any different advice than I'd been getting and likely not any better cooperation.
Dorothy told me in email she has the same on-going pawing issue with one of her dogs (many people do). Still the NACSW approved method for dealing with each and every problem is the same one-size-fits-all approach, (a) pair everything and (b) reward sooner. Given how many people continue to have the same problem, I don't think the one-size-fits-all approach is working for many of them.
As an experienced trainer I have problem with a one-size-fits-all approach. Its not true of any other dog training issue where we often have to adjust the method for the dog or come up with something entirely different. Any dog trainer who is any good will tell you there are at least 10 different ways to teach anything and no one of those ways works on every dog. Nosework is no different, no matter how much NACSW says it is and no matter how many of their CNWIs repeat the mantra.
I'm really not opposed to pairing a lot, though I will quickly get tired of hearing "the power of pairing". However, I have major differences with founder Amy Herot's saying, "you have to accept less to get more", at least the way NACSW applies it. A good trainer will often "accept less" to get a dog started. It's called successive approximation (incrementation) and its common to start well away from your final goal behavior. However if you never raise the bar, then you will get "less" forever. Dogs are not stupid and they are going to give you whatever they get paid for. If they continually get paid for giving minimum effort, then they will give you minimum effort, always. In NACSW classes, it seems you always accept less - forever. There is no plan for raising the bar... its always just "accept less to get more".
It's a catchy saying, but in practice there are a number of problems with it. First and foremost is: you can only reward sooner (part b of the NACSW-approved method) if you know where the hide is. Granted, in training you will almost always know where the hide is and you can indeed do it. However, here's the rub, when you don't know where the hide is and so are slow to reward, the dog is going to get frustrated and revert to their default... which in the case of dogs with pawing tendencies is going to be vigorous pawing. Pairing and rewarding sooner hasn't solved the pawing, it just masks the issue until you can't reward sooner because you don't know where odor is. Plain and simple.
I will admit this NACSW approach works for some dogs, probably those who don't have an innate tendency to use their paws. So for dogs who were inadvertently taught to use their paws to indicate, it can be successful to teach them to indicate odor in a different way. Because it works for some dogs, NACSW and their instructors are essentially on a variable schedule of reinforcement for their one-size-fits-all approach. And we know a variable schedule of reinforcement creates the strongest behaviors, so its unlikely NACSW and their CNWIs are ever going to change this approach.
However, I maintain, for dogs like Gimme, where pawing is their first line approach to doing things, this one-size-fits-all tactic is not going to work. When Gimme was 3 months old I did the tracking indicator test and lined up 30 different objects down a long sidewalk. Then we walked the row and I noted how she showed interest in the objects, rewarding anything she did. Gimme pawed at 28 out of 30 objects! It didn't surprise me because I'd already noticed her tendency to use her paws. She is VERY paw oriented and always has been, its part of her make-up. So her default is always going to be to paw at things.
To me its very much like the whole issue with biting and dogs. Dogs use their mouth and sooner or later, most of them are going to bite. Granted it takes extreme provocation to get some to bite, but if all your best efforts fail and they are put in an extreme situation, its natural for a dog to bite. Back in the old days of dog training the answer was to teach a dog to never put its mouth on a person (many people still follow this approach). This is fine until something happens to push the dog beyond their thinking brain and they default to their natural response, then a bite happens.
Along comes Ian Dunbar who popularizes the idea of teaching a dog to have a gentle mouth. A dog putting their mouth on their person was fine, just teach them to be so very gentle about it. A dog trained in this way develops bite inhibition - they learn early to inhibit the force of their bite. After this is well learned, you teach them to not bite at all. Then if the unthinkable happens and the dog bites, it won't be as damaging - which may save the dog from being euthanized.
So I see the same thing at play for dogs who use pawing to indicate where odor is. If you only teach them "don't paw" by rewarding early, you haven't addressed the root issue. Sooner or later you aren't going to be able to reward early (like at a trial where you don't know where odor is) and they will revert to their natural default. Since they are going to be frustrated by your apparent failure to respond properly to what they've tried to show you, its going to be vigorous pawing.
So I will continue to teach Gimme to moderate the force of her pawing and we will continue to practice it a LOT. We may not be able to practice it in class as much as I'd like, but I'm not giving up on it. I've been seeing good results so far and I expect it to continue if I keep practicing.
I'm thinking as long as all we have to rely on for classes are these NACSW trained CNWI's, all we are going to get is the one-size-fits-all answer to any issue. Thus, my plan is also to take the Advanced Nosework class at the Denise Fenzi online academy, taught by someone who is not a CNWI. I'll take it at the bronze level and just learn what I can from it. I may take it more than once, since different gold level students will bring different issues to learn from.
Now, back at the ranch. I did learn that one of the students in my class has a spot at Nooksack. She told me she is almost certainly going to withdraw. If that happens, Gimme and I will get in. Hopefully doing Barn Hunt the weekend before won’t mess us up. Time will tell. Meanwhile we have a lot of practicing to do.