Right On Source: Clicker Training and the Nosework Team

Nosework is one of the fastest growing dog-related sports in the U.S. This exciting, wonderfully inclusive pastime provides dogs of all shapes and sizes, ages, and breeds, the opportunity to shine at what they do best. Teamwork, suspense, total engagement in a task—if you are someone who enjoys puzzles, treasure hunts, and hours of minute examination of dog behavior, this is definitely the sport for you!

Clicker trainers entering the world of Nosework are sometimes told that operant learning principles don’t apply, and can even be harmful to a dog’s natural desire to hunt. In this Session we will look at these ideas objectively, with the goal of building bridges between the different schools of thought. The reality is that in order to succeed in the upper levels of K-9 Nosework, or any other scent-detection venue, competitors will benefit from all points of view. Regardless of your chosen training methodology, it is extremely helpful to, at least, be able to recognize when the laws of learning are working for you or against you. False-alerts, frustration, and slow progression through the levels are often signs that communication between dog and handler is unclear or the dog’s motivation is too low.

Clicker training brings great tools to the Nosework team, such as: clear criteria-setting, the power of high rates of reinforcement, the ability to apply back-chaining effectively, and knowledge of how to build specific skills in a targeted way. Above all, clicker training’s strong focus on clean mechanical skills allows handlers to clarify what exactly is being reinforced, making it that much easier in the long run for trainers to be able to trust their dogs, and for their dogs to be able to trust their humans.

Sarah Owings

Sarah Owings is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. She specializes in the practical application of behavioral principles to help transform the lives of fearful, shut down, and over-the-top dogs. As an international speaker and regular contributor to online training forums, she is known for her innovative approaches to tough behavior problems and her compassionate and insightful teaching. Sarah has written for Clean Run magazine on topics such as stimulus control, release cues, and toy-related cues. She is a member of the ClickerExpo faculty, an instructor for Cyber Scent Online, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles.

Sarah is also an avid nose work competitor, currently competing at both the Elite and Iron Dog levels with her Labrador retriever, Tucker. Tucker was the recipient of the Harry Award in 2015 and has the distinction of titling at each level of NACSW without a single miss. In Sniffing Dog Sports, he has won High in Trial in both Advanced and Excellent divisions and has earned a HIT at Iron Dog. Tucker's trained final response for nose work, a hover-freeze at source, was taught with a marker signal, following clicker training principles.