Okay, as with most of the training articles, Ace and you need to know a couple of things before we start.
1) You have read, understood and trained Ace to the clicker via my feature article “Operant Conditioning aka clicker training” which can be found on the home page of this site.
2) Ace knows his basic obedience, and
3) Ace knows the retrieve and is past any point of contention. (See Retrieve articles on this site)
That’s it, now on with the trick:
There aren’t many tricks that you can put in the practical/useful category, but there are some and this is one of them.
If you are like me, who is always running late and can never remember where I put my car keys, and then in a last minute effort I panic and scour the house. Or picture this: you are carrying groceries from the car into the house you drop your keys mid-way. With this trick you send Ace to find them and bring them to you.
Now who can say that trick is not in the practical and useful category?
First, let’s start with something Ace can relate too. How about one of his toys – it’s best to use something he likes or something that is a definite favorite. Now give that (probably mangled and chewed up) favorite toy of his a name, doesn’t matter what it is just name it. I know a lady who named her dog’s fetch toy “Gross”, her Cocker did not care.
First put Ace on a sit-stay and run out with the toy, leaving it out in the open and definitely in clear sight of Ace. Then say: “Ace ‘find it’ ” (or any other appropriate word that suits your fancy). Hopefully he sprints out at a nice pace, picks it up and returns to you. Of course you already know that you are going to swap that toy for a nice high value treat and a click.
Now there are two other choices: Ace could decide about the toy, by either (1) Not having any clue as to what you are asking; (2) He knows what you want but just doesn’t feel like playing at the moment. No matter which fits this scenario, you are going to use your best WOW – FUN excited voice and run out with him to get the toy. When he grabs it you waste no time in running back to your starting point, praising his talents all the while. Once you both get there, trade that toy for a click, a wonderful treat, and heartfelt praise. Or, and this is depending on your dog’s personality, a couple of minutes of fun time playing with the toy.
Unfortunately you really can’t go any farther with this until Ace gets into the game and runs out on his own to retrieve the toy.
We are going to assume that this was practiced enough that Ace is now a retrieving fool and just the sight of that toy out there is enough stimulus to get his engine in high gear.
When he is at that point (in his retrieving skills), you are going to raise the bar, so to speak. When Ace is put on his sit-stay and you put that toy out for the fetch, it is no longer easy-peezy and within the clear line of sight for Ace. This time you have put it off to the side a bit, not too much, but just enough that Ace can’t see it from his vantage point, but hopefully, he was watching you put it there. Once again send him out with a “find it” and if he runs out and gets it praise him and click/ treat him for his brains all the while feeling very proud of your little genius.
If he doesn’t, no problem, we can’t all be smart at the same stuff. Just start back at the beginning and work up to it. It will happen, I promise.
Practice this quite a bit, at approximately the same distance, then SLOWLY make it tougher to find the toy until you think it’s impossible to fool Ace on this. And I do mean slowly, if you make it too tough before he is ready you are inviting failure and a confused dog, which is just plain mean, plus you can’t blame Ace for your poor judgment, it is TOTALLY your fault.
Now that we have him working in close proximity, it’s time to start getting some distance between you,
Ace and the toy. Again move SLOWLY. Don’t think you can do 15-20 feet and then jump to 40-50 – it’s not going to happen. And if it does, I don’t think I would be comfortable with it, because you have not built a solid base for him to build his technique.
Remember, no matter what you are teaching Ace, ALWAYS try to make the completion of the task a success, this way all the praise, heartfelt joy and treats you bestow on him means something more (another positive of going slow, means there is more praise and treats).
Doing all of this indoors is fun and Ace will learn to love it, I promise. But, if you want to take it to the next level you need to take the show on the road.
For this next level, you are going to need a helper. If you have kids, it’s a great time for parent/kid/dog bonding. The job for the helper is not complicated or taxing in any way, so just about any warm body will work.
With Ace on sit-stay next to you, give your helper the toy. Now two things to remember here: (1) Ace loves that toy, it’s his favorite, and (2) Ace watched you give his precious to the helper, but he is on a sit-stay so the only thing he can do is watch as it walks off. If Ace somehow missed the hand off, when the helper gets to the point to dropping/semi-hiding the toy, he should say out loud “Ace”, and show the toy before placing it.
The helper now placed the toy and Ace witnessed it being placed and he watched as the helper returned. It is now fair to send Ace out with a “Find it” command and expect a proper response. Hopefully, Ace ran out, picked up the (kind of hidden) toy and returned like clockwork with you fussing over him and doing the whole click/treat thing.
If Ace got confused and did not go for the toy, please try to understand this is new stuff for Ace, so go back to having the helper hide it in plain sight and once again build slowly on the difficulty level.
To build up difficulty (try putting the toy behind stuff or under stuff, or dig a slight crevice in the ground and put it in there – use your imagination and use what is available to you in your location).
What we are trying to do is to get Ace to start using that unbelievable talented nose of his to locate things. And the more you practice the more you will understand and feel the delight in seeing the blossoming of his olfactory abilities.
As I am sure you know by now, in the beginning of training anything new, we make it easy for Ace to experience success. When you get to this point in his training you have to give him every opportunity for success. And by that I mean we are going to let the wind help him.
Make sure that the direction you send him, the wind is blowing into his nose along with the scent of whatever it is he is searching for (that’s called downwind). I know it’s not going to make him great at this in a day, but why not get help when help is readily available. Later, and I mean MUCH later, when he really knows what he is doing, we can mix it up, but you are not even close to that point yet.
The last exercise in this is to have someone hide something without Ace seeing who or where it is. This is tough, and you should really be prepared to almost start over with the hiding of the toy in plain sight, and taking the building up of the difficulty level in SLICES, not CHUNKS.
What is great about this is most dogs, once they get the idea of what’s happening, just love getting out there and finding something. Please always make sure that there is something out there and that you give the appropriate sincere thanks to Ace, by way of praise and treats, for the effort he put into this for you.