Hi Adam! Your book is fantastic! And when I follow your advice, it works to a tee.
I have a dog that is about 16 months old. She loves to fetch and find the ball. Even when I throw it in the brush, she just does a search pattern and finds it.
I would like to train her to find a certain “mushroom.” Yes, I said mushroom… which seem to grow in our area. Can you give me some help on training her to sniff out this mushroom? Thank you, Bob
Dear Bob: Thanks for the kind words. You’ve got exactly the type of dog you need to train this type of exercise. And that is, a dog who is BALL CRAZY!
First, I would start or continue doing the “drive building” exercises I outline in my book. (If you’re reading this and wondering, “What book?” … take a look at:http://www.dogproblems.com/members/153.cfm ) In order to do scent work, you need a dog who can search all day for his ball and never get tired.
Now, once you’ve built up your dog’s drive, here’s what you’ll need to do:
1.) Get a hard, indestructible, UNSCENTED nylon ball, about the size of a tennis ball, to use only for training.
2.) Ask a friend to join you, and take your dog to a local park that has soft sand. Put the dog on a leash and a flat collar, and let your friend restrain him. Next, you should run ten feet ahead, wave and tease him with the ball. Then, drop it in the sand and kick enough dirt over it so that he can no longer see the ball. When you’re ready, tell your friend to let the dog go, preferably, when he’s at his peak for being “amped up” for the ball
3.) Praise him when he scratches the dirt to dig the ball up.
4.) Repeat this exercise over the next two weeks with three minor variations:
a.) Start burying the ball deeper.
b.) Start burying the ball in different parts of the park, but still where your dog sees you bury the ball.
c.) Start burying the ball… once he’s done a. and b., in places where he DOES NOT see you bury the ball.
5.) Here’s the trick: You need to make sure that the dog understands that he needs to:
a.) Find the ball. and
b.) Scratch to get the ball.
6.) If he has trouble understanding that he should scratch (this will be how he communicates to you that he’s found the mushrooms)… then take a step back and do the following:
Have your partner stand 10 feet away from you and your dog, who should be on-leash. Your partner should then bend over and put the ball under your shoe… and stand on it firmly. Now, let your dog run up to him. Your dog will try in vain to get the ball. You should stand behind the dog, and praise him excitedly as he makes an effort to get the ball from beneath your partner’s shoe. The MOMENT he tries to use his paw to scratch, your friend should lift his foot off the ball and let the dog have it.
With a few repetitions, your dog will learn that the sooner he starts to scratch, the sooner he gets the ball. With practice, you can start letting him scratch longer and more intensely before rewarding him with the ball. This will create a more obvious signal that he’s found the ball.
7.) Once you’ve progressed this far, it’s time to start SCENTING the ball with the mushroom. Take some of those mushrooms and rub it all over the ball. Next, take some more mushrooms and drop them in a zip lock baggie with the ball, and let them sit in your refrigerator for a few days.
8.) Repeat steps 1-6 with the scented ball.
9.) Get rid of the scented ball.
10.) Buy another UNSCENTED ball.
11.) When the dog can’t see you, hide a fresh mushroom at the park/sand lot where you first started practicing.
12.) Keep the unscented ball in your back pocket, or where the dog cannot see it.
13.) Bring the dog out of your vehicle and take him close to where you’ve hid the mushroom. This should be an easy find. You can tell him, “Find the ball, find the ball!”
14.) When he hits on the mushroom, praise him intensely, and from behind his head (remember, he’ll be looking at the ground)… toss the ball into his field of vision. The idea is to make him think that when he scratches where he finds the scent… his ball will magically appear and then it’s… PLAY TIME!
15.) Repeat this exercise in different places, gradually making the ‘finds’ more and more difficult. By the way… don’t be surprised if you notice how much fun this is for your dog!!!