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Active Behaviors in the Passive Alert- Some Causes and Remedies

We read about this problem a LOT on social media.  It seems to be a very pervasive problem in older training methodologies.  The 4X International Award Winning Training Through Pictures with Dave Kroyer- Nose Work 1 - The Indication circumvents these issues but some people still run into issues with specific dogs.

Q: When doing nosework (the indication) training, my dog is extremely excited and if I don't click and reward immediately when he sticks his nose into the hole in the box he starts hitting the box with his paws, putting his nose on other parts of the box and biting it. He never puts his nose in softly. He always pushes his nose in so if the hole is big enough he will even push his whole head in the box. How do I teach him to be more calm and patient?

A: In seminars I see this quite often, generally from dogs being retrained in other systems, dogs being cross-trained or high energy/drive breeds.  There are quite a few reasons why this happens 'typically'.  Here are just a few...

  1. Dogs that have extensive work with prey items become easily stimulated when frustrated and the emotions of active play become present when the dog is faced with a problem that is unclear.  I always use food for teaching the indication and add the toy much later after many, many repetitions of the ideal indication are strongly conditioned.  Starting with or moving to prey reward too soon can compound this problem.  Moving to a lower value reward item can be really, really helpful.
  2. Some dogs are very physical and have a very natural physical response to objects whether biting, chewing, scratching or pushing objects.  This is of course not an ideal behavior for a passive response but the energy behind it can be useful for vigilant searching and durability to source later.  The very movement of objects can provide self-reward to the dog and a venting of drive and frustration.
  3. The timing of the mark is not precise enough.  Some people still prefer to use a verbal marker over a clicker.  A verbal marker can carry a tremendous amount of emotion with it depending on how it's conditioned and this can stimulate the dog.  A verbal marker isn't as precise either, it's like doing surgery with a putty knife.  I prefer the scalpel like precision of the clicker.  Training the indication requires precise feeback, not emotion.  As the handler institutes a "search cue", emotion can be adjusted to stimulate searching or calm the dog.   Waiting for calm, intense, contained emotion and energy prior to releasing to search is ideal.

It's possible to resolve the issue in a number of ways depending on how far you are with your indication.  It's generally resolved using a combination of modifications.

  1. Anchor the box so that the dog can't move it.  This may provide you with enough repetitions to solve a pushing problem.  Placing a brick inside cardboard or plastic tubs can help tremendously.
  2. Return to the shaping phase and flood calm indications with your hand outside the box, only returning when the dog maintains his indication can be helpful.
  3. Wait the dog out.  As with distractions, if you feel the dog has a clear understanding of the indication, waiting for the dog to return to a calm indication and marking may be enough to isolate a desired behavior.  The dog must learn to be "still" and avoiding the problem may be the problem.
  4. Adjust your intervals of variable reinforcement.  Some dogs become more still and intense when they are asked to hold the indication momentarily.
  5. Introduce an incompatible behavior now.  I teach a sit and down with the stare (nose at point of odor) which is useful.  This forces a pair of behaviors which requires focus from the dog, particularly when adding variables.  It also helps gauge the dog's mood and forces it to control it's body. 
  6. Add the down at the box in combination with solution 2 above.  If you're following along with the DVD, doing repetitions of down in a session immediately prior to working the indication will help settle the dog.
  7. Consider the dog's mood before the session.  Perhaps the dog is too hungry, could use some exercise or is more calm during a certain time of the day.

We hope this helps clarify some of the causes and solutions.  It's a pretty pervasive problem, but if dealt with quickly, generally fixable.  As always best of luck with your dog and training!


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