ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Sniffing the Ground for Treats

And now for all those who have far more experience than I, any ideas on how to get and keep Penny's attention when we first enter a new training or show ring area. Unfortunately, agility practice areas were full of treats on the ground and Penny quickly became a ground scourer. And same goes for tracking. We used treats to train her to track. So her ground scouring behavior has been reinforced and seems well established.

I'm sure you'll get lots of suggestions about how to handle this. Being a lazy dog trainer, I did it the easiest way I could think of: I've taught my dogs that their noses are only allowed on the floor when I give a cue for that behavior. Now I can toss treats in training and the dogs will collect them on cue; if the cue is not forthcoming (or I cue a different behavior), they focus on me in the hope that an even better treat will appear. Most of our trials are at all-breed shows where liver is quite likely to come flying into the obedience ring from adjacent conformation rings and my girls have become quite adept at ignoring these distractions.

Here's how I taught them:

  • Have some super-spectacular treats (preferably people food of some flavor) hidden on your person and a small handful of less interesting treats (I use kibble or broken dog biscuits) visible to the dog.
  • Drop or place one piece of kibble on the floor near your foot. Say nothing to the dog (you want the default behavior in the absence of a cue to be "leave the food alone").
  • When the dog lunges for the food on the floor, calmly cover it with your foot. Say nothing, do nothing, just stand there and wait. Let the dog do whatever she thinks she needs to do to scour the floor (just make sure it doesn't work!).
  • When the dog eventually gives up and looks at you, click immediately for eye contact and give her a BETTER treat than the one she gave up. Then uncover the treat on the floor and repeat. Repeat until the dog ignores the dropped treat and looks at you *immediately* when she sees food hit the floor.
  • Repeat in various locations, using "can't have it" treats of gradually increasing interest, until eventually you drop the same kind of yummy food that you're using to reward the dog. Now you can introduce a cue that means "you may Hoover that up" by giving the cue, moving your foot, and encouraging the dog to eat the treat you've dropped on the floor (you can use your tracking cue for this if you don't think it will confuse her).
  • Progress very gradually to removing your foot from the food on the floor and alternately giving the "you can eat it" cue and a cue for a different behavior. Be ready to cover the food if the dog lunges for it without permission. When the dog understands this game, try heeling past food lying on the floor (just be ready to restrain the dog or cover the food if she falls for the trick the first few times). Jackpot and make a huge fuss over her when she Does The Right Thing.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat until you're sure the dog understands that food on the floor is only available to her with your permission. When she figures out that the only way to get treats is NOT to scour them off the floor, your problem is solved. Seeing food on the floor will become a cue to look at you for further instructions.

While you're working on this, it's very important not to allow your dog to pick up random treats from the floor without permission. If you have to confine her while you walk the agility practice area and pick up dropped food before you let her work, do that. If you have to work her on-lead to keep her nose off the floor for a while, so be it. You need to convince her that food on the floor is not accessible to her unless you say it is. Most dogs figure out the new rule pretty quickly; since Penny's floor-scouring behavior has been heavily reinforced, you may need to be a little patient with her. As with everything else in dog training, consistency is the key; you need to control the environment so that she can only pick up treats from the floor with your permission.

Hope this helps,

Ellen Van Landingham
copyright 2002 Ellen Van Landingham


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