NW160: Alerts - Improving, Developing and Problem Solving

Instructor: Lucy Newton

Course Details

Does your dog need to have a specific alert behavior in order to compete in your nosework venue? Is your dog not committed to staying at odor source? Is your dog too aggressive or destructive towards the hide when working nosework odors? Does you dog need to develop stronger more readable behavior at the source of odor? Then this class might be for you!

This class is designed to serve several training purposes. One goal is to assist handlers that need to train their dogs to perform a specific trained alert behavior at the source of odor. This is desired at certain trial levels for some nosework organizations. Another goal of the class is to help students who are having trouble with their dog being too aggressive at the source of odor. This is a common development of certain training methods. By developing a trained alert behavior, or modifying the dog's current behaviors, we can attempt to diminish that aggressive behavior towards the hide. For both purposes we first want to make sure that the dog understands that the ultimate goal is to get to odor. We want a strong committment to odor. Then, once we have that, we raise our criteria and teach additional behaviors that the dog learns to perform in order to get rewarded. Getting to source is still the primary goal, the dog just has to perform one more "trick" in order to get rewarded.

Here is an example of a young dog that I recently trained for conservation detection work. One of the detection projects that she was utilized on was searching wilderness areas looking for sites where large predators had been feeding. The purpose of these searches was to collect various types of data regarding the predators and their habits. So her mission was to basically find dead things. Often stinky, decaying dead things. Quite easy to train a dog to find that right!? Not so simple to teach the dog to alert to them! In her case, I taught her a sustained nose hold at or near the source of odor in order to get rewarded with her ball. Here is a clip of the training sequence:

Here is a young doberman that had a history of being violently aggressive to the hide. Not only would he smash open boxes, he would often open the tin before performing an alert!

There are pros and cons to what type of alerts we have the dog perform at odor source (we will discuss those in class). However, regardless of what that behavior is, we want the dog to be very clear in knowing exactly what their task is and what behaviors result in reward. Here is Jill being non-aggressive but very clear about which box contains the hide.


There are no scheduled sessions for this class at this time. We update our schedule frequently, so please subscribe to our mailing list for notifications.


Registration will begin at 11:00AM PST.

Enrollment limits: 10 gold, 25 silver, unlimited bronze. If you are interested in a bronze level spot, you can sign up any time during the registration period.


1. Baseline - current type of alert (if any) and goal. Stronger alert? Trained alert? Less destructive alert?

2. Determine the desired behavior - pros and cons

3. Equipment needed (for specific goals)

4. Common pitfalls and problems - why do we have alert problems? False alerts, destructiveness, etc.

5. Step One: having solid odor recognition behavior

6. Shaping desired behavior

7. Selecting odor and performing behavior

8. Selecting odor, performing behavior from distance

9. Selecting odor, performing behavior, in drive

10. Selecting odor, performing behavior with other containers and locations 


Prerequisites and Equipment

As a prerequisite, the dog should have an understanding of odor. If we attempt to teach the dog a trained behavior along with training the odor then this can be a challenge. If we aren't careful, the inexperienced dog will not understand whether he is being rewarded for the odor or the alert behavior and this creates a lot of confusion and leads to problems such as false alerts. If the dog has a natural behavior, such as a nose touch and if he is used to being rewarded at source then we can just raise our criteria and add another behavior in addition to the natural behaviors. If you are not sure if your dog is ready for this class or if the class can meet your goals, please feel free to contact me.

Specific equipment will depend on the individual dog's needs and habits. However, one item that I have found very helpful for teaching a trained alert behavior are the solid metal containers that Pika (the malinois) was using in the above video. See also the photo below. These are metal electrical boxes with detachable covers (4" square x 2" high). In the United States they are easily found in home supply stores such as Lowes and Home Depot. They are convenient because they are not easily knocked over, they are not easily smashed or moved around, the metal discourages mouthing and the round opening offers a small opening for the dog to insert his nose. Three or four of these will be helpful during the early stages. Don't worry, though, if you cannot find the boxes; I can work with you and we can try to come up with something similar.



Course Testimonials

A sampling of what prior students have said about this course ...

This class was just what I needed. My dog would occasionally smash boxes, manipulate hides, and just overall not be kind to them! Lucy helped us figure out what the motivation behind the behaviors was (I hadn't been super clear about the alert behavior that I wanted my dog to have), and how to fix it. Laika is now far more confident when the boxes are in places where she cannot face me and I'm happily working towards doing the same training for other containers. Every step was simple and easy to follow, and it has really helped Laika become just that much better with her alert. If we continue with this training and I don't let it slip, she's going to have a fantastic alert! Brittany L.        

What a great class! Lucy distilled the concepts in ways that made them truly easy to understand. Now I know why my dog has an aggressive alert and the specific, detailed steps I can take to create a substitute. Best of all, I now realize what I can do to stop myself from reinforcing bad behaviors. Karen I.        

Lucy's lectures are always filled with so much information but the real 'gold' often lies in her response to the questions in the discussion threads. Her depth of knowledge in working with dogs on scent is amazing. I can't wait for this course to be offered again when I can take it at Gold.         

Lucy, You are a WONDERFUL instructor AND incredibly knowledgeable about scent detection training! There is a saying that "you can't teach what you don't know." You KNOW the material AND know how to instruct others!!! A rare combination. You were incredible as you customized the material to meet each Gold's desired goals. You excellently answered all discussion questions. I appreciated your willingness to get into the details of training, which provides clarity to me that hopefully they can pass on to my dog during training. This is the BEST of the many nosework classes that I've taken at FDSA! I greatly appreciate the vast amount of work you did to give this class.

Lucy did a great job providing useful relevant lecture material then tailoring for each gold student. I learned immensely from watching each golds progres because of her detailed instruction.