" Fortsett sporträningen IPO "

Only the NOSE really KNOWS Part 2
by Armin Winkler
Part 1 of this article was a discussion of the fundamental concepts of
tracking and teaching tracking. I'd like to focus part 2 on a crucial part
of Schutzhund (or VPG) tracking, articles. I believe that this is also one
of the fundamentals. After all, the description of the task in the trial
rules calls Schutzhund tracking "tracking for lost articles". So we better
make sure that our dogs have a good grasp of what they are.
Considering how varied the responses are I get from people about what
articles should mean, I figure I will just give you my version of it and
then go from there. The article concept I will discuss is for dogs who
indicate articles and do so by downing at the article. First principle: An
article itself should have no meaning to a dog. It is nothing more than a
piece of material. What should have meaning to the dog is the odor of human
contact on that piece of material. Tracking is as I have stated before nose
work. That means scent is what the dog is processing. With the endless
variety of materials a dog could possibly come across, it would be
impossible to effectively teach them the smell of all these materials. The
human contact odor is one constant that will always be there and should
therefore be the focus of our teaching. I am deliberately using the broad
term "human" contact odor, and not the "tracklayer's" contact odor. There
are some very gifted dogs in this world who are actually capable of
memorizing the odor of one human and comparing that against the odor of
other humans. Most dogs are not capable of doing that, they will however be
able to identify and indicate objects which have had recent human contact.
For the purposes of Schutzhund tracking and police evidence searches this is
sufficient. Second principle: The scent of human contact on an object is an
olfactory command to lie down. Read that one a couple of times, it sounds
very simple, but try to truly understand what I am trying to say. The smell
of human contact on an article a dog finds on a track is a platz command for
the dog. Which in this context takes the place of the audible (spoken)
I know this sounds a little weird. Think of hand signals for a second
though. We can make a dog perform an obedience command by making him obey
the verbal command and showing him a hand signal until the hand signal
replaces the audible voice command. So if the sense of hearing command can
be replaced by another sense, the sense of sight, why can't it also be
replaced by the sense of smell?
I have had a technique to accomplish this for years, and it is still how I
do it. But two years ago on a seminar trip to New Zealand, I got together
with some of the instructors at the Agriculture Detector Dog School there
and had a great revelation. The Agriculture Detection Dogs learn their work
in a very unique way, which is in principle identical to how I teach
articles to tracking dogs. The "Beagle Brigade" of the New Zealand
Department of Agriculture is world famous for their unbelievable ability to
find and indicate all sorts of contraband. From fruits to insect eggs and
all you can imagine in between; a very important task in an island nation
that tries to remain as disease and pest free as they are at present.
Let me tell you what they do, to give you some food for thought. They begin
their training with citrus fruits. So how does a Beagle learn to indicate
an orange by sitting for hot dogs? Did you figure it out? The dog is
taught to sit as millions of dogs are in obedience classes using hot dogs as
the food reward. Then, the scent of an orange is introduced and this scent
replaces the audible sit command. And the highly food motivated Beagles
that are selected for this work will not miss an opportunity to earn a hot
For me that was a perfect illustration of what I have been trying to teach
dogs to do when working articles. The smell itself becomes a command to the
dog. Sounds simple, now that I figured it out.
Let's define articles for a tracking dog once again: Articles are obedience,
but the command is scent.
Now that we know what we want to teach let's get into how we go about doing
that. Articles should not be introduced to a dog until the dog's obedience
has advanced to the must stage. What does that mean? A lot of people do
puppy obedience, as they should. However, most of that is purely inducive.
For the article concept to become a solid one, the dog has to have a
reliable platz. And I don't mean that if you hold a hot dog in front of the
dog's face and say platz, he lies down really fast. I mean that the dog
lies down on command, reliably, even when he is in the middle of doing
something else. I believe to get that kind of platz, a dog requires some
level of correction. What type of correction may vary from a stern voice
command to a physical correction with a training collar, but some form of it
is necessary. How the obedience exercise platz is taught to a dog varies
greatly. My point is that this exercise has to be proficient in the
obedience context before it is introduced in tracking. Puppies may track
well at a young age, and articles may be the next step. But, they should
not be introduced until the obedience has advanced to this stage. If a dog
does not yet obey a verbal command reliably, we cannot replace it with a
"scent" command.
Since in the teaching of anything new, there may be conflicts and mistakes,
we should introduce articles away from the track. Then when the concept
begins to take hold in the dog's head, we bring it onto the track. We need
about a dozen articles (I like to use at least 4 or more different
materials), a dozen fingernail size pieces of the oven dried liver I
mentioned in Part 1, a flat collar, a corrective collar, and if possible a
person to give us a hand.
Let me jump back to the "Beagle Brigade" for a moment to explain a teaching
technique. As I said, the dogs know the sit command, and then the scent of
the orange is introduced. How? When a dog's curiosity is triggered, they
investigate with their nose. The instructors put an orange into a cardboard
box, and move it around. The Beagle investigates the box sniffing it
intensely. They sniff the cracks and openings in the box. After a period
of this sniffing, the instructors can be assured that the dog has gotten a
whiff of orange. At that point they give the sit command. When the dog
sits, they reward him for sitting with a piece of food. This process is
repeated a number of times and a point will come when the dog sniffs the box
and as he registers the smell of the orange inside, he sits on his own. As
if he had gotten the command to sit, because in his brain he did. Classical
conditioning is great isn't it? Thank you Prof Pavlov!
We will apply this very same concept with our article training. We take our
articles and we ensure that there is obvious human odor on them. We do that
by spitting on them and rubbing them with our hands and even against our
arms. The spit helps, because it already smells human, plus, it allows
other scents from our hands to stick better and to be more detectable. We
then place them all over a field somewhere close enough together so we can
find them, but far enough apart that the dog has to walk a few steps in
between them. We place a single fingernail size piece of liver under each
article. I use the liver, because I want to ensure that the dog will
register the smell of the human contact odor on the article long before
detecting the smell of the liver (that is why hot dogs or cheese is less
Next we put the dog on the flat collar and have the assistant person go to
the first article. The handler walks the dog up to the article, restraining
him by the flat collar. The restraint helps to stimulate the dog's
curiosity. The assistant points at the article, even taps on it getting the
dog interested in it. The handler allows the dog to stretch at it and sniff
it. After several strong sniffs, we can assume that the dog has registered
the human odor we put on it. At that moment the dog gets a firm platz
command. Don't be gingerly here, say it like you say it in obedience, with
a bit of a bang to it. The dog downs, the assistant flips the article over
and the dog gets his food reward for platzing at the spot he did it at, the
article. Praise him "good boy." And on to the next article. Same routine.
Restraint, tapping, sniffing, platz, reward. Be sure to maintain the
restraint part of the set up. Handlers sometimes get a little rushed and
let go of it too fast. Hold the dog back a bit and control the situation.
You can do the same thing alone, without an assistant. But you have to play
both roles. You have to hold the dog on the flat collar with one hand, then
make him curious by pointing with the other. It still works, but it is a
little harder. The corrective collar is there, in case the dog needs a
reminder what platz means. But as I said that should not be necessary more
than once or twice. By the time you get to the end of this batch of
articles, you will see the dog starting to drop as he gets the smell of the
article. Of course there are other clues here too, that help, like the
pointing and the sight of the article. That is why I said maintain the
restraint on the collar. Make sure the dog has to wait and gets to sniff
the article before he downs and is rewarded. Sniffing is absolutely
As nifty as this little exercise is, it has its limitations. I rarely
repeat this more than 2-3 times as a field exercise. I do not want the dog
to make other associations which are not intended. The sight of the
article, for example. Also, ensure that you use different materials right
from the beginning. Dogs learn to lie down when they smell leather as
easily as they do when they learn human contact scent. We should ensure
that we set it up so there is only one constant, the human contact odor. If
you do this right from the start, you don't have to practice unconventional
articles like metal or plastic or anything else the dog has not encountered
before. If it has human odor on it, it means platz in the context of
After our initial introduction of articles to the dog, we have to bring them
onto the track. During tracking the dog is truly working with his nose, and
we make sure that the association with the articles will also be one of
scent by bringing it into that context. Depending on the tracking stage the
dog is at, we place an article at the end of something that is easy for the
dog. What I described in Part 1 works great for some dogs, but there maybe
some who do not advance very far with that method alone. Some will not go
significantly further until after the introduction of articles. So what
stage of competency in tracking a dog is at may vary. A single article,
with a piece of liver under it at the end of what our dog can competently
handle. We let the dog track as he always has, as he gets to the article we
will see a reaction. It will look like "Uh-oh, did I just hear a platz?"
You have seen that before - you tell your dog to platz a fair distance away,
don't say it very loud, he hears it, but isn't quite sure you mean it. So
you get that kind of dropping of the shoulders. That is pretty much what
you will see on the track when he stumbles across the article. It does
register as a platz, but just not that strong. Follow it up with a verbal
platz as well to reinforce the replacement command. Then let him get the
reward. Some dogs may flip the article over and reward themselves. For
those that do not, you flip it over for them and let them have the treat
under it. Do this a few times the next few tracks and you will see the dog
dropping and rewarding himself.
I hear questions. "Isn't the flipping going to be a problem later?" It
would be if it stayed. But it won't stay. The reason this is important is
the following. The dog needs to be rewarded where he downs, no better way
to do that than to have the food at the article. You have to have the food
covered up though and the smell of it too, or the dog can't make the
connection we want. When we first teach the dog to down with food, we have
it in our hands and give it to them as soon as they move into the down
position. But we soon get away from that and reward different and later and
change how we reward. All this will take place at the articles too. I will
jump ahead here and say that as the dogs proficiency in indicating articles
gets better and the reliability of the platz becomes very high, we stop
putting food under the article. The dog will flip the articles and find
nothing, we then bring the reward to them. In the beginning, the reward
will continue to be in the form of food, or in later stages in the form of
praising and petting. The dogs will stop flipping the articles because the
expectation of food under it will no longer be maintained and supported. I
wanted to add this progression in here because I do not want people to turn
off their brains because they worry about potential problems
We have now effectively taught and introduced articles and their indication
to the dog. But, we are not finished. The platzing at articles is the
first piece of must the dog has experienced on the track. So far everything
he did has been purely based on his own desires. Naturally that is a bit of
a shock to a dog. If we go from the introduction of an article at the end
of a track to placing them along the track right away, we will surely cause
a problem. An important concept needs to be added into all this and that
concept is capping. What is capping? I have touched on this concept in my
article "Protection Obedience A Closer Look." And a detailed analysis of
the concept is the topic of a future article. But I will give you a sketch
of it here.
Capping is the dog's ability to follow the directions of his handler, in
other words be obedient, and contain but maintain his drive while doing so.
Sounds a lot simpler than it is, especially when the drive of the dog is
focused on something that is not coming directly from the handler. The most
important exercises of the sport of Schutzhund where capping is difficult
but crucial are tracking, retrieving, the send out, and basically all
protection obedience.
I can make a dog platz fairly easily if I shut his drive to go forward down
completely. Often that is what happens when some of these exercises are
taught. The dog tracks nicely in drive. Articles are introduced. Bam!
Drive is gone. The dogs do down at the articles, but if they have not
learned to cap, their drive shuts down or diminishes to such a degree, that
they will not go on tracking with the amount of drive they need to be
successful. This is equally true for all the exercises I mentioned above,
but I am sticking to tracking in this article.
A dog has to learn that he can stay in drive while being obedient. He does
not automatically know that. Often when the must parts of the work start
being introduced, the dogs do not see a direct success outcome from
following directions. Their drive tells them something different. So they
resist. The resistance stops usually when the drive has been lowered to a
point where it no longer tells the dog to do something that is in opposition
to what the handler's direction says. This happens when I tell my dog to
platz as much as when anybody else does it with his dog. Knowing that it
happens makes the difference. And then taking the time to make sure a dog
can cap is what in the end makes the difference.
Do little exercises with your dog. Make him lie down, put his toy in front
of his feet, let him lie there for a bit and "stew" so to speak. Then give
him the go ahead to grab the toy. See the toy is not coming from you now,
it is right there in front of the dog. He has to listen and stay in drive.
Or you will see that he is not as intense when he grabs the toy, or he can't
stand to look at it anymore, because he can't stay down and be stimulated by
the sight of the toy. Work with this until you get good intensity and
reliable downing. Then tell the dog to sit from the down. Most will bolt
at the toy. No punishment please. The dog is just not getting it yet, and
his brain is so high on "toy" that he does not differentiate your words
clearly. Patience.
Make the dog sit before giving him his food, ask him to bark, then tell him
to sit quiet again. Reward when he follows your direction clearly. Do not
make it too complex in the beginning. This is not easy for dogs. Ask the
dog to down and stop eating while eating his meal. When he does, tell him
to go back to eating. Now please don't bug the hell out of your dogs every
time they eat. And don't turn into "nags" either. All in good measure.
Work a dog on a square, tell him platz, then "such" again, gauge how fast
and intense he goes back to work on the square. The idea is that an
obedience command does not have to shut down drive. It will in the
beginning, because it often takes influence from us to make the dog who is
in drive obey our commands. But if we show him that following direction
does not mean the end of drive, it just means an interruption, then we are
teaching capping.
Make sure you do these things with your dogs. They will allow you to see if
your dog can cap at least a little before you bring articles onto the track
in places other than the end. And if you have a dog who worked well within
the parameters of what I said in part 1, then you can start placing articles
on the track. In the beginning still with food under them. You will see the
down reaction, help them out with a command to ensure they down completely,
walk up, reward, and let them continue the track from there. Dogs who didn't
do so well with the food only method I described in Part 1, can still learn
articles and learn to do them on simple tracks (for those dogs that may mean
just straights, no corners). You may even find as they learn to cap better,
they will re-gather some of the food drive that seems to be dwindling as
tracks get too long. That will then allow you to stretch the tracks out a
bit further.
Tracking training is by no means finished with the introduction of articles.
We still have to discuss dogs who need to be motivated through things other
than food. We have added a small potion of duty to the track by introducing
articles. But there is still more we need to do to put it all together so we
can feel that we have a reliable dutiful tracking dog. I hope you will join
me again when I try to shed a little light on those aspects of the work.


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