Nose Work Handlers: SHUSH!

I’ve judged a fair number of AKC scent work trials, and volunteer at all in which I trial my dogs. Since both of them now proudly list SWM & SHDM after their names, I’ve helped out at a lot of trials.  My pups both also compete in NACSW, PSD & USCSS.  And yes, I’ve volunteered at these trials, too.  I am continually surprised at how many people — and of all levels — nag their dogs.

Here’s a suggestion to handlers who are working dogs as they search: shut up.  Seriously, zip your lips.  It’s been said before.  I’ll say it again.  Cue your dog, let them work and prompt ‘find another’ if you’re in a multi-hide search.  Besides the praise you give them as you reward, that’s all they should – and need – to hear.

As a human, you can control yourself. Yes, many novice handlers go through nervousness, stage fright and/or performance anxiety which leads to non-stop chatter.  I get it.  We’ve all been there, and have all started at the same point.  Yet, be forewarned. You are not helping your dog!  Work with your instructor to overcome these issues before trialing!  That is one reason you pay them!

What I don’t understand are those handlers at AKC excellent & master level, and NACSW NW3 & elite levels who continually egg their dogs on.

Your constant urging (‘find it! find it! find it!’ ‘are you sure?’  ‘show me!’ ) is probably not helping your pup – who is tuning you out, by the way.

How often do you see top obedience people cue their dogs multiple times?  “Sit.  Sit. Sit.  Sit. Sit. Sit.  Sit…..”  When exactly is the dog supposed to sit?  On the first cue? Or on the fifteenth?

Roll that over to nose work.  Is your dog supposed to search on the first cue?  Or the tenth?  Or the nineteenth?

If your dog isn’t working, will continual nagging help?  Would you want to be told ‘figure it out! figure it out! figure it out!’ non-stop if you were struggling with a task or assignment at work?

I was discussing this blog with a friend. She said ‘perhaps those talkers could use the Duct Tape Solution.’  That made me laugh.

If your dog is not searching  there’s a reason (fear, distraction, fatigue, indifference).  Rather than goad them, maybe, just maybe, it’s a better idea to recognize there is a hole in your training — and that’s what it is – figure out what the issue is, and develop a plan to fix it.

If you as a handler are chattering because you are scared, nervous, worried, have performance anxiety, there’s a hole in your training.  Figure out what the cause is, develop a plan to fix it, and please don’t take it out on your dog.

The kicker is that many of the dogs that I watch are working well – yet their owners are babbling non-stop.  Please, let your dog work.  Don’t let your human foibles impact your his performance.

I know for a fact dogs can be trained to search effectively without any verbal cues.  Both of mine are deaf.  I am not a professional trainer, and these two are our pets.  If I can train dogs to work without endless verbal encouragement, you can, too.




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