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Cues, Cues and Pressure Too

I and my family are slaves to the brain-tiring game called Nosework. Seriously, try it.

The Pre-Search Cue

The pre-search cue is very important in forming a solid detection/nosework dog. It is what you say or do before you “send them off.” It helps them understand what their environment entails and what is expected of them. Think of the Pre-Search Cue like a service dog’s vest, once that vest goes on, the dog understands what is expected of them. This applies to all dogs you work with.

Verbal Pre-Search Cues:

  • Search!
  • Find it!
  • Suche! (German)
  • Encuetralo! (Spanish)

Nosework is one dog sport that doesn't involve much obedience outside of controlling aggressive and/or unruly Nosework trainees. However, for dogs who are trained in obedience and taught to give eye contact to their handlers; it’s almost like a reset button. Aside from using eye contact as a pre-search cue, Nosework wants the opposite. Minus that pre-search cue, we want our dogs to understand it's alright to be independent of us. They don't need us to find the source of the odor, they're more than capable on their own. All they need is confidence.

The Threes on Cue

  1. The equipment you use (collar, harness)
  2. Any hand-gestures you make
  3. The verbal search command you give for release

People often accentuate their verbal command over the other cues listed above. It is not wrong, especially since many dog sports only allow verbal commands. However, in Nosework, dogs must wear equipment (collars, harnesses), and you’re allowed any cue you desire, before and during the searches. Just know, sometimes excess verbal command during a search might disrupt the dog’s attention.

If you figure out a system that works for you and your dog, it takes away all the stress, leaving you and your dog to have fun. By staying regimented and dedicating a set of Nosework equipment your dog will learn to associate the equipment with the exciting training/competition about to unfold. This only strengthens your dog's love for the sport and builds on their confidence.

There will always be a dedicated start line in training and competition, a set of cones generally. Once you’ve crossed the line, the search has begun. The most common physical cue is gesturing of a hand directed towards the search area. This, used with leash pressure, (see below) before “letting them go!” will help drive your dog’s excitement.

Harness, 10 foot leash and treat pouch.

Harness, 10 foot leash and treat pouch.

Leash Pressure

Tension on the leash is a concept spoken in many canine obedience classes. It is helpful in steering the dog during training exercises. It can also be a hinder, such as when walking and you meet another dog. Tension on the leash then, in the dog’s mind, signs possible trouble. That is why so many dogs react “suddenly” as the owners usually describe. (He was fine, and then he wasn’t…)

In nosework, leash tension also has an impact on how the search will go. Employing good leash pressure habits is extremely tedious, even the most seasoned handler will still make mistakes.

The leash is used for pressure on the dog to hone their understanding of “the game.” Several outcomes can come of this:

  • It keeps the dog on track and less likely to follow their “own agenda.” One of my dogs is famous for “her own agenda….meaning she’s following everything but the odor.
  • It can deter an aggressive response to the outside stimuli, especially for dogs not friendly to other humans. My other shepherd is not a friendly girl, therefore unlike Dea, Reina is not allowed to search off-leash.

It all sounds so simple, right, but you will find out just how intricate leash pressure really is. And how you implement leash pressure may change depending on what dog you are working with. Not everyone learns the same, including dogs. Some could become stressed if the leash is too taut. Others, it may only amp them more. The opposite could occur too. If your dog is on the shyer side, they will have to learn to be comfortable with a loose leash while searching.

*A Golden Retriever in my class was very timid. With perseverance and lots of love, she went from being near unable to focus on training to searching in the building and finally using her nose at another location. The owner had constant mindfulness to keep the leash loose, because once it tightened she would shut down.

The leash is loose as Dea searches for the odor. She is allowed to be independent in her searches and yet we are right there to give her praise when she finds the source.

The leash is loose as Dea searches for the odor. She is allowed to be independent in her searches and yet we are right there to give her praise when she finds the source.

Pairing the hide and leash pressure is helpful as they work nicely hand in hand. The hide is paired with the dog’s favorite treat.

As they search, if they miss the hide, leash pressure keeps them close until they locate the odor again. The idea is to not let them backtrack to areas they’ve already checked. There is a delicate balance. Some dogs need to search previous areas to help redraw the odor map in their heads. Leash pressure can be applied when the dog has been searching for a while and is in a rut, needing some guidance.

Nosework is an awesome pastime for handler and dog, learning to work together. Learning different techniques will help you as a team succeed, especially if you decide to you'd like to try and compete.

Happy training!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Regin St Cyr