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Why did my passive indication go active?

I recently ran across a video that, according to the presenter, was in response to a common training question they're asked in the realm of detection work.  It went like this:

Q: "How do you stop a dog from bothering the hide?  My dog paws and bites at the hide and I'm unsure how to get him to stop."

After a few minutes of build up in the video, the response was:

A: "Put the hide where the dog can't access it."

That's a solution for sure but almost certainly not the training information being looked for.  This blog post is to address the lack of information and help anyone with that question actually solve the problem.  Honestly, it's a great training question and deserves some investigation, mainly because it's a major problem in detection work where passive indication is desired.  Many methods of teaching passive indication encourage this problem where it could have been avoided altogether if training proceeded differently.  There are a range of questions that have to be asked to begin to answer the question that include the ones below.

  1. What does your normal indication look like?
  2. How do you communicate that to your dog?
  3. What reward type and delivery method do you use once it's been communicated?
  4. Did the behavior just start?
  5. Did something in your training just change?  (Duration, reward type, new odor, distractions, hide type, new location etc.)

That's just a start.  There are a number of things that can cause a variation or breakdown in any kind of behavior.  Lack of true understanding, lack of repetition of correct behaviors, incorrect proofing, inappropriate distractions, stress, change in reward type/drive level, conflict over reward presentation.  The list goes on.

The first question to ask is how did the dog learn the indication initially.  Often times in classes, dogs learn to search for food or toy objects prior to learning about a clean indication at odor source.  The dog's relationship with food and toys becomes it's initial relationship with the training boxes.  When active behaviors are inadvertantly allowed through exploration of boxes, they must be neutralized but the dog's relationship with these items away from training directly impacts scent work.  The dog will always revert to it's foundation when it's unsure and will even offer these behaviors when they've been successful elsewhere.  These are considerations when structuring training sessions.

More often than not, the answer comes back to a solid understanding of the indication.  Allowing the dog to offer a range of behaviors and be rewarded for only correct ones does a few things.  First, it allows for precision in clarifying exactly what earns reward.  The repetition of ideal behaviors creates a habit and muscle memory of what should 'reflexively' occur when odor source is encountered.  The creation of this behavior in isolation of all else cements the indication against variables when discrimination learning takes place.  When any number of variables are encountered, the dog is equipped with the answer already.  We can allow him to experiment and learn clearly WHAT DOESN'T earn reward.  This is incredibly powerful.

Second, and directly related to the previous point, through teaching the dog to ignore variables surrounding JUST THE INDICATION, we create an awareness in the dog that only one thing will earn reward.  The dog becomes actively resistant to variables he encounters.  He will very quickly accept that they hold no value and return to learned responses.  This principle is called "Associative Blocking" and is a powerful concept that is useful when training against "Concomitant Odors".  This very understanding helps avoid the extraneous behaviors often at the root of the pawing and biting problem,  "displacement behaviors".  These are behaviors that are byproducts of stress, drive or lack of clarity that interfere with clean behavior performance. 

Through isolating the indication first and adding variables later, any failure to indicate ideally can be addressed where it's encountered.  Because it's separate of the search, new locations and a range of other variables, training can proceed at a brisk pace until the problem is encountered and then dealt with directly.  For help with the indication and training progression please view, Training Through Pictures with Dave Kroyer- Nose Work 1- The Indication.  Teaching the indication in isolation to near perfection prior to search training eliminates a tremendous number of issues many trainers encounter. 

The award-winning title is 88 minutes in Hi-Definition and a short trailer can be seen below.

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