I finally had a chance to listen to the webinar “Emotional and Environmental Enrichment with Scent” by Dr Robert Hewings. It was really, really good! Here are a few things that I wrote down:
- There are 7 core emotions:
- seeking – most of what he focused on in the webinar was the Seeking System
- The Seeking System ignites anticipation, encourages looking for resources, brings expectancy, excitement, the dogs predatory motor pattern, experimentation, exploration and balance
- The brain has more cells dedicated to WANTING than to LIKING… the wanting is better than the having (think Christmas presents!)
- Seeking can turn to disappointment, if the end result is not what the dog expected
- Seeking releases dopamine, the feel good hormone
- “Searchy” dogs are happy dogs!
A lot of this is why we do Nose Work with our dogs – we see how happy they are doing it! There are two stories Dr Hewings referenced that I related to NW.
One, was about his early epilepsy alert dogs. He discovered that as they bonded with their person, their care emotion overrode their seeking emotion. They became distressed / stressed when their person started having a seizure, and a therapy dog should not be stressed when doing their job. So, in subsequent dogs, he really made sure to reinforce the scent he was training them on, so that the seeking emotion was so strong, it did not get overridden by the care emotion. This made me think of dogs who may not have a strong enough positive association with odor, or may not have enough time being rewarded for finding odor. When working a challenging problem, being asked to search an area with no odor or no source, or when the handler tries to talk their dog into a hide, their care emotion may kick in and the seeking emotion may be weak or take a backseat. They want to please us, so they may offer behaivior that looks like a final response, that thing they usually do right before they get their treat. Dogs who are hunting independently and have a strong seeking response, I think, will be less likely to try to please their owner. I think of the times I’ve kept Quattro searching waaaay too long when there is no hide (an entire cabin that was a 5 minute search, and had NO HIDE in it… I didn’t want to miss a tricky hide, so kept him searching, and searching until we got the :30 warning). That is a long time to search with no reward. He did not even half-heartedly alert, he just kept searching. So either he doesn’t care about me, or his seeking system is fully in tune – and he was busy exploring, looking for resources (that thing that would bring the treat), he was enjoying the adventure and the expectation – the wanting part of seeking was in full force.
The other story / study he referenced that made me think… is a study where they took 2 litters of labs. Half of each litter was trained on a scent using positive reinforcement, the other group was trained on a scent with positive reinforcement but when the search was over, they played with a toy. The toy group learned twice as quickly.
Keeping in mind that dogs can be disappointed (think Isaac or June when being asked to leave the search area!) makes me think that we should have a ritual / game or something that lets dogs know the search is over, but that allows them to leave happily. It’s switching gears from seeking to play, and play means different things to different dogs. A ball, a tug toy, a ball on a rope, a playful jog, praise with eye contact… you know your dog best, what do they like? Can you leave the search area and give them that? I think that will help solidify the FUN part of searching. Yes, the searching by itself is fun, but there should not be a big let down when they are done. They should be able to switch gears and tune back in to you, and slide from the seeking to play emotions. Food for thought!
I had already decided we needed to build up the value of birch for our 6:30p dogs, and that I wanted to give them lots of opportunities to be rewarded for finding odor. So 7-10 treats per find, and they had 3-4 minutes to find the “hides”. Nothing was hidden, but out in the open on metal chairs. I wanted them feeling that they were chasing down chipmunks, mice, squirrels that kept moving on them – except they were actually able to catch them! This group of green dogs would have benefited from maybe a straight line of chairs, or a little more build up / anticipation of the hunt to get them excited, and keep it even simpler for them to allow them more quick finds. They all improved their second run – I’m sorry Lela and Reo got short changed, so I’ll make sure they go first next week! And, I’ll put the chairs in a staight pattern, so there is not so much sorting thru lingering odor / pooling odor for them. I also don’t mind if they see the tin, or see me put a couple tins down. The webinar talked about how the dogs eyesight is their easiest sense, they use their eyesight when hunting (picking up motion) and when their eyes don’t get them the resource, they rely on their nose. So I’m thinking a visual from the start line their first pass, might ignite their hunting/seeking systems (I think Gemma and June would benefit from this) I feel that Gemma finds the people (play and / or care emotions) more valuable than the seeking when she first comes in. Seeing me play w/ the hide and move it around might kick in her seeking emotion. June I think was puzzled by ALL the odor, there was so much available odor, she wasn’t sure how to find and follow a strand to source, and would check in w/ Kali, something she doesn’t normally do. I also think that seeing the tin (I think I did that on her very last hide) will help her confidence and excitement, and we’ll see her independence and anticipation kick in. Then, if we can find out how to communicate the end of the search is not a BAD thing, that might help, too.
The 7:30p class, all much more experienced, totally understood the game, and were quick to move on and continue hunting after they found one hide. Their challenge was working thru the lingering odor – there was a LOT of birch smell in that grouping of chairs by the time they went! It was really neat to watch Midnight go to the mirrors then turn and go straight to a hide on a chair… I think she did this twice. ANOTHER thing from the webinar that made sense once I saw your dogs work these chairs, was his claim that dogs really can’t be successful if they are searching along a wall or car (as an example), since air is exhaling out the side slits in their noses, and creating little eddies alongside their muzzles. They need to hit the odor head on, and inhale with the front of their noses. Now, I don’t expect anyone to work a perpendicular pattern on vehicles at your next trial, however, as I watched dog after dog skim and walk right by a tin on the chair seat, work odor off an adjacent chair, then turn and walk straight on to the tin, it made complete sense. I think this just gives more credence to allowing your dog to work a little way off a vehicle, or allowing them to range away from a vehicle so they can turn and walk into the hide. I’ve always felt my dogs vehicle searches are the least pretty searches we do. Although we have had good success, I always feel they should be hoovering along the sides of the vehicles – of course, that is my HUMAN brain thinking I know what is right / best. I should have learned a long time ago, don’t think, just observe and learn from your dog! Here are two clips from the vehicle search from Coach’s and my NW3 Vehicle search at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH on Thanksgiving weekend. I edited the searches so it is just his approach to odor and his final response. Watching this with new eyes, I see excitement, anticipation, wanting – his seeking system in full force, and I see him square up to the vehicle to arrive at source. Knowing now why he does what he does, I won’t try to change the way he searches vehicles… I think he does a pretty good job.