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 (KPA CTP). She specializes in learner-centric applications of behavioral principles that help transform the lives of fearful, shut-down, and over-the-top dogs—as well as the lives of the people who care for them. 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. Her current passions include reframing concepts like “impulse control,” and encouraging trainers to embrace a philosophy of brave learning. Sarah is a member of the ClickerExpo faculty, an instructor for Cyber Scent Online, a tutor for Tromplo, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles. She recently began teaching classes for Marin Humane in Novato and consults with their behavior team.

An avid nose work competitor, Sarah 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.