For this class, we started with two vehicle searches. One was a large white construction truck with a boom/hoist on top. Along the sides were several compartments with rubber gasketed doors. Odor was in one of those compartments and the door was closed, but not latched. Most of the dogs only got into the vicinity and their handlers paid them for any sniffing of the compartment. Gimme actually got her feet up on the steps next to the compartment and was sniffing along the vertical edge. I waited for her to give me the look saying “I know its in here somewhere, but I can’t tell you any more”. The second vehicle search was a simple wheel well hide.
We did three exterior searches, with channeling applications. One was a pile of concrete blocks, with some openings in places which went through to the approach side. Gimme got this very quickly. The second was inside a stack of two empty wiring spools and the hide had been dropped through the center of the spool to the ground. We could see there was an opening which was only inches from where the tin lay, but none of the dogs showed any interest in the opening. Gimme stood up with her feet on the spools and sniffed as close as she could to the hole on top where the tin had been dropped through and then indicated by raising a paw. I rewarded this and then tried to get her to "check-it” for the opening, but she was completely uninterested. The third hide was on a shrink-wrapped pallet of plastic conduit. The tin was laying on the pallet at the center of the pile. Gimme found this and indicated at the far edge of the pallet where the scent was coming out underneath.
As these searches were done, I went to see how the wiring spools were constructed, trying to understand why the dogs paid no attention to the opening so close to the tin. It was completely open to where the tin was and possibly if odor had been there long enough, some of it might have come out and been available to the dogs. We decided the slight breeze was actually going in the opening and pushing scent up through a “chimney” to where the dogs sourced it.
Class ended with two simple searches, easily accessible, among some huge boulders nearby. At least Gimme found them easily accessible. A couple of the other dogs, are not as bold and confident. Gimme was completely unfazed by the close confines between two giant boulders. And being part mountain goat, the need to step on a some big rocks to access the other was a complete non-issue.
At this stage in the nosework game, you really can't teach your dog anything. To be clear, we passed the teaching stage a long time ago. The only one who is still being “taught things” is the two-legged part of our team... and even this is up for debate. ☺ For the dogs as they get more advanced, all we can do is keep adding to their experience base. As they become more experienced, they gain confidence and they start to draw on past lessons to make inferences about new situations/conditions.
When I taught flight and ground school in the military – a million years ago – one of the things we learned was the four levels of learning: rote, understanding, application and correlation (RUAC). It’s a model for how an individual integrates comprehension for the things they learn.
- Rote – this is memorization, usually through repetition. An individual can have rote learning, but not appreciate any larger meaning or can use what has been learned. Think of this as the early level where you teach your dog a behavior in a specific place, under specific conditions. They have memorized (experienced) the behavior, but only under those conditions.
- Understanding – now the individual attaches meaning to what they’ve learned. At this level, we are seeing if the dog has sufficient understanding to do the behavior under different conditions. When she can, then you know you’ve achieved understanding, which in dog training lingo is also known as “generalization”. This is where you work to expand the dog’s understanding of the rules for the behavior and it becomes useful.
- Application – here the dog starts to apply the things she’s learned in new ways and under even more unusual conditions. At this point, what the dog learned becomes truly functional. Generalization as a concept is essentially complete (though it will continue to expand throughout the dog’s life), so the dog can walk into different scenarios and apply what they know without having to really think it through. They become much more efficient.
- Correlation – now the dog starts making connections and demonstrates deeper insights into how the skill works, using it in creative ways. The dog will compare prior experiences to what it is seeing in a given moment and then infer how similarities and contrasts can be used to solve a given challenge.
In my career as a flight instructor and later teaching other things, I have seen many instances of human students who never got beyond the application level. For pet dogs, most of the time they don’t get further than understanding. Most performance dogs don’t get beyond application – though I think this is also related to what the performance skill is. Some of the best dogs, with really skilled and thoughtful trainers, will get into correlation. Though, just having an excellent trainer will not ensure the dog will get to correlation. We’ve all seen trainer/handlers who have this one special dog and as a team they become famous, but then the person is never able to replicate the accomplishment with other dogs. Often they wash out a lot of dogs along the way, while searching for the next special dog. For dogs to get to correlation, they must learn all there is to be taught and then be able to take it to the next level.
I see this in Gimme, she just naturally gets to application and often from there to correlation. If I was more skilled and consistent, she’d probably be famous already (fortunately she doesn’t care). An example of her skill has to do with bicycles. We walk in a lot of places where people are riding bikes or skateboards. In order for us to take advantage of the opportunity for a bit of off-leash time, Gimme has to be controlled enough so she doesn’t present a hazard to other users. My initial plan was to make them all a “cue” for peanut butter.
Initially, while still on leash, I gave her peanut butter any time I saw a bicycle coming. Then when she was off leash, whenever I saw them I called her to me and she got peanut butter. She quickly picked up the connection and when she saw a bike, she turned to me. This is rote – see bicycle, get peanut butter. The next stage was to apply the rule to other wheeled-things, like skateboards. Gimme only needed to get peanut butter one time for a skateboard to make the connection. At this point we were also starting to use the rule in different places. We used it on the fort’s training areas in a couple of places where we were walking along roads and cars might come along. Thus, she had reached understanding. As we’ve continued to expand our experiences, Gimme deduced correctly the rule holds true for some other wheeled-things, but not to all wheeled-things. She knows the rule is true for recumbent bicycles, strollers and buggies. It is not true for motorcycles and cars which are not on the same path we are using, such as places where a road crosses the Chehalis-Western Trail. Also just because she can see it, doesn’t mean it is payable, as it must be within 100 yards. So she has shown application level comprehension regarding wheeled-things. Recently we were approaching a group of people who had stopped on the trail to wait for others. Their bicycles were laying on the ground or leaning on sign posts and benches. I saw Gimme watching the people and she could clearly see the bikes, but did not do her showing behavior, which she does to tell me she spotted a rule moment and expects payment. People were milling around among the unused bicycles and I saw Gimme’s interest increase when a couple of people picked up their bikes from the ground. However, she didn’t give me the showing behavior until a person actually straddled their bike. Gimme had inferred on her own a set of similarities and contrasts to know when the wheeled-thing-peanut-butter rule was in affect, thus achieving correlation!
This same process can be applied to nosework, but will have to wait for another day. For now, me and my genius need some couch time together.