Stacy Barnett is an active competitor in Nosework, Tracking, Obedience, Rally, Agility and Barn Hunt, but Scent Sports are her primary focus and her first love. She is an AKC Judge and contractor, as well as an instructor at FDSA. She hosts the Scentsabilities podcast and blogs regularly on nosework topics at www.scentsabilitiesnw.com.
To be released 7/20/2018, featuring Deb Jones, talking about teaching people to teach dogs.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Stacy Barnett. Stacy is an active competitor in Nosework, Tracking, Obedience, Rally, Agility and Barn Hunt, but Scent Sports are her primary focus and her first love. She is an AKC Judge and contractor, as well as an instructor at FDSA. She hosts the Scentsabilities podcast and blogs regularly on nosework topics at www.scentsabilitiesnw.com — I’ll be sure to include a link in the show notes for anyone who is interested.
Hi Stacy, welcome to the podcast.
Stacy Barnett: Hi Melissa. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To start us out, can you just remind listeners who the dogs are that you share your life with?
Stacy Barnett: I have four crazy hooligans who live in my hut. They are; they’re nuts. I’ll start out with my older dogs. I have an almost 11-year-old Standard Poodle named Joey. He’s a brown Standard Poodle. He’s absolutely wonderful. I absolutely love him.
I have a 7-year-old miniature American Shepherd, which is, you know, a mini-Aussie, named Why, and Why is actually his name. He came with it. I always have people ask me, “Why is his name Why?” And I always say, “Why not?”
So I have Why, and then I have my two Labradors, who I refer to as my Dream Team. My Labradors, I have Judd, who’s almost 9 years old. He is my heart and soul. He’s actually the one that really got me going in nosework and is the reason why I ended up quitting corporate and pursuing a whole job in nosework. He’s my baby, he’s my Labrador, my 9-year-old Labrador.
And then I have my youngest, who is a major hooligan. She is about 15 months old and she is a Labrador, a little shrimpy Lab. Her name is Brava, and I absolutely adore her. She’s the only girl in the house, so she’s like my soul sister.
Melissa Breau: I’m sure she gets a little spoiled being the only girl in the house.
Stacy Barnett: She does, and the boys love her. They absolutely love her. They fawn over her. We all do. We think she’s wonderful.
Melissa Breau: Alright, so I know you’ve been on the podcast a few times now to talk about different aspects of nosework, but today I want to focus our conversation on how handlers can tailor nosework training to their specific dog. Is there a particular type of dog or particular skills or maybe a personality type that really lends itself to helping a dog become a strong nosework competitor?
Stacy Barnett: There are, but at the same time I also want to emphasize the fact that every dog can do this sport. Maybe not every dog can compete in this sport, it really depends on the dog, but every dog can do this sport.
There are certain aspects of the dog’s personality or what is intrinsic to the dog that will help the dog to become a really strong competitor in terms of being very competitive, or a dog that will really gravitate toward the sport and really, really love the sport. In my experience, all dogs do love the sport, but there are some that just seem to live and breathe for it.
And the ones that seem to live and breathe for it, there are a couple of different things that contribute to that. Number one, the dog is a little bit more independent. If the dog is more handler-focused, I say if the dog is really into you and really cares what you think, those dogs tend to not be as gung-ho for the sport. The dogs that are a little bit more independent but have a nice balance between environmental and handler focus seem to do a little bit better.
Above all, they have to have a natural love of scenting. Now, most dogs do have this natural love, but there are some dogs that just really, really love it. Those are the dogs I would say make the strongest nosework competitors.
Melissa Breau: What other factors may influence how well a dog does when it comes to nosework?
Stacy Barnett: One of them has to do with how motivated they are for food and toys. We tend to use food and toys as primary reinforcers for nosework. It’s very easy to reinforce with food, for instance, because it’s very fast. This is a timed sport. You have a certain amount of time to do the search, and typically, at least in the U.S., the fastest dog wins. If you can reward very quickly with food, you’re going to be at an advantage. Toys work really well too. Dogs like toys, they tend to work really hard for toys, you can use toys for a reward, but having a motivation for either food or toys is a real advantage.
Another thing is the dog’s ability to think on their own and to problem solve. This goes hand-in-hand with dogs being independent, so if you have a more independent dog that can do some problem solving, you can do really well. I look at Brava, for instance. Brava, and I actually put a video of this on my Facebook page, knows how to open doors. She is a problem solver. The latch doors, the lever doors, she knows how to push down on the door and pull on it and open the door, which is really kind of amusing in some respects but kind of scary in other respects. But having that problem-solving ability can really help in nosework.
The third thing that is not a requirement but is definitely helpful is physical fitness. Physical fitness is not a requirement. You know, this is a really great sport for older dogs, for infirm dogs, that sort of thing, but having that physical fitness can give you an edge in competition. There’s different sorts of physical fitness. There’s also fitness related to stamina. Stamina is important from both a physical perspective and a mental perspective. If you can have that mental stamina or that physical stamina, and I’m also thinking nasal stamina, dogs that can sniff for a long period of time, can help in competition.
Melissa Breau: To dig a little more into it, you were saying about nosework being good for many different types of dogs. Can you talk to that a little bit more? What are some of the benefits of doing nosework?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, there are so many benefits of doing nosework, and in fact I think we could do a whole podcast on this. I think we really could. I’m thinking of three different groups of dogs that really benefit from nosework from a therapeutic perspective.
One of them is reactive dogs. For a reactive dog, what it can do is you can develop a positive conditioned emotional response to odor, and then if you have very mild triggers while the dog is experiencing — and I’m talking extremely mild, where the dog is under threshold — and the dog has a positive conditioned emotional response to odor, your dog’s reactivity level can actually go down.
With my dog Why, for instance, he used to be extremely dog-reactive, and he was dog-reactive out of fear. So I started to train him in nosework, and he started to really enjoy nosework. At the same time, in doing nosework and having fun in doing nosework, he was also exposed to the smell of other dogs, not necessarily dogs in his surroundings, but the smell of other dogs. The end result was actually lowering of his reactivity level, which was really fantastic. So now he can be within about 8 feet of another dog, which is unbelievable.
Older dogs. Older dogs are really super. It can keep their mind active. If they can’t physically do all of the things that they used to be able to do, they still have an active mind. They still want to do things. They may not be able to do agility or heavy-duty obedience or IPO or whatever, dock diving, I don’t know, whatever you’re doing. Even barn hunt. Barn hunt requires a certain amount of physical ability because they have to jump up and down hay bales. These are all dogs that when they get older they still want to work, they still want to do stuff.
So if you do nosework, it exercises the mind and it keeps them busy because olfaction, the olfactory lobe, is one-eighth of the dog’s brain, so you’re really, really using the dog’s brain and they can stay engaged. I’ve seen it do incredible things for dogs with cognitive dysfunction who have gotten older. We have seen some amazing, amazing things with the older dogs.
Then you have the young dogs. Young dogs, their joints are young, you don’t want to stress out their joints, you don’t want to over-exercise them, but yet you still have these energetic young animals who need an outlet. And it tires them out, which is super, because it does use so much of their brain. In AKC, for instance, you can even trial your dog as young as 6 months old. For a lot of dogs that may be too early, based upon their emotional maturity, but you can do this when they’re young and it’s not going to tax their bodies. So you can protect their bodies but you can still get them tired, which is a really, really great thing, trust me.
Melissa Breau: Especially when you’ve got a drivey young dog.
Stacy Barnett: I do, I do. She’s about 15 months old right now, and I have to tell you, nosework has been amazing for my sanity and for her sanity.
Melissa Breau: I think most people probably start out teaching nosework by following a class or they’re using somebody else’s training plan. But at some point, all these different kinds of dogs, handlers need to tailor that training. How can a beginner handler tailor their training based on their dog’s stage of learning and their temperament?
Stacy Barnett: You have to be in tune with your dog’s emotions. So whether or not you’re a beginner or not, you can still read your dog. You can still tell if your dog is confident, if they’re feeling motivation for an activity. You have to be able to read that confidence and that motivation because that’s really the core. Those are sacred. Confidence and motivation are sacred in my book.
Once those are in place, you can start to build on skills. But you have to always think about having like a little meter on the back of your dog, like a little meter that says how confident they are, how motivated they are. But based upon that confidence and that motivation, you can tailor what you do with your dog.
Maybe you want to build the confidence, or your dog is having some confidence issues — and I don’t just mean confidence in the environment, by the way. There are three different kinds of confidence that I talk about. There’s confidence in skills, which is basically does the dog believe in themselves. There’s confidence in the environment. That’s is the dog comfortable in the environment. Is the dog comfortable in new places. And then there’s confidence in the handler, and this is something that I think a lot of people don’t think about. That’s basically does your dog trust you. Does your dog trust that they’re always going to get their reward for the work that they do.
Basically you need to evaluate all of these things and always check for that confidence and that motivation. If you have that, then you can work on the skills, because the skills should be secondary to the confidence and motivation.
Melissa Breau: I know you’re a fan of Denise’s book, Train the Dog in Front of You. Can you share a little bit about how that concept applies to nosework?
Stacey Barnett: Yes, I love that book. I love, love, love, love, love that book, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my boss. No, I really do, and I tell everybody it’s not a nosework book, but that doesn’t matter. It is such a good dog-training book, and especially chapters 2 and 3 — notice I even know the chapters — chapters 2 and 3 are especially applicable to nosework. Those are the chapters that relate to whether or not the dog is cautious or secure, and whether or not the dog is environmental versus handler focused. Because those are two really core things that affect the dog’s ability to do nosework. If the dog is cautious, for instance, you might want to work in a known environment. If the dog is more secure, maybe you want to work in more novel environments.
The same thing goes with environmental versus handler focus. You’ve got to think of these things as spectrums. It’s not an either/or, it’s not whether the dog is handler or environmental focused. It’s on the spectrum. So if the dog is more environmentally focused, you might have a slightly different way of handling the dog, where you might be thinking more about distractions and how you’re going to work with distractions, or if the dog is more handler focused, you might want to be thinking about how to build independence.
Actually there’s three different kinds of focus, although this is not in the book, this is more my interpretation. There’s environmental, there’s handler, and there’s search focus. So if you can understand where your dog falls on these spectrums that Denise talks about in terms of environmental and handler focus, you can figure out how do you then reorient your dog onto the search focus.
Melissa Breau: Denise opens the book by asking handlers if they are handling their dog in a manner that builds on his strengths while also improving his weaknesses. I was hoping we’d get into that a little bit. Can you share some examples of how a dog’s personality or strengths might influence their nosework training? For example, if a dog is super-confident or less confident, how would that impact training?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I always talk about my pyramid. I have a pyramid of training, and that pyramid of training, there’s confidence on the bottom, then there’s motivation is the next layer, then skills, and then stamina.
Basically, if you have a confident and a motivated dog, you can work on harder skills, because confidence and motivation, again, it’s sacred. You can also work on their personality strengths. If your dog is confident and motivated more naturally, maybe you can work on harder skills, or maybe you can work in new environments.
The other thing is that it’s also important to really evaluate the dog’s resilience. From a resilience perspective, that will help you to identify whether or not your search is too challenging or not challenging enough. So you need to think about the dog’s natural drive levels, the dog’s resilience, and that can help you to understand how challenging of a search that you can make for your dog in order to keep the dog from … because you don’t want anxiety and you don’t want boredom. You can actually find a sweet spot based upon the dog’s resilience and the dog’s drive levels. But again, the basis, of course, is confidence and motivation.
Melissa Breau: Funny enough, I was debating whether or not to announce it here, so I guess I will. We started a new Facebook group specifically for the podcast, and we’re going to encourage people to listen and then ask some questions, so maybe if anybody has a question, I’ll have to tag you.
Stacy Barnett: That sounds great.
Melissa Breau: Come dish out a little more. I know you enjoy talking about this stuff.
Stacy Barnett: I love this stuff. I love this stuff. I eat, sleep, and breathe this.
Melissa Breau: What about natural arousal states? How might a handler tailor training based on those?
Stacy Barnett: Arousal is one of those things that … don’t fear arousal. If your dog is high arousal, don’t fear it. Embrace it. Arousal is actually the key to really successful nosework trialing.
What’s interesting is that dogs have a natural arousal state, so dogs either have what I call an arousal excess or an arousal gap. If you think about what your dog does when they’re at rest, where that arousal state is compared to their arousal state when they’re in drive, that will tell you whether or not you have an arousal excess or you have an arousal gap. The size of that gap is going to indicate how much work you have to do, because some dogs are a little bit closer to the ideal than other dogs.
But what you want to do is when you train them and you’re actually working them, you always want to make sure that your dog is in drive — in drive approaching the start line and in drive while they’re actually searching. You can condition this arousal, because arousal is a habit, and if you can always work your dog in the right arousal state, you’re going to find that your dog is going to come more naturally to the start line and in the right arousal state, and the right arousal state is when the dog is in drive. That’s at the peak arousal.
If we think about the Yerkes-Dodson Law, like the curve, it looks like a bell-shaped curve, for dogs who have an arousal gap, we want to increase the arousal to the point that they’re in drive. For dogs who have an arousal excess, we want to decrease the arousal to get the dog into drive, because just because you’re peeling the dog off the ceiling doesn’t mean that they’re in drive. And that’s not what we want. We don’t want the dog that we have to peel off the ceiling. For those dogs, we have to lower the arousal so that they can focus and they can really think. And working in drive really becomes a habit, so you always want to work the dog in drive and always want to work the dog in the right arousal state.
Melissa Breau: Of course, if handlers are doing this well, as training progresses their dog will improve; but I think it’s common for trainers in all sports to find they are training the dog they used to have instead of the one that’s in front of them right now. How can handlers evaluate their dogs as they go along and avoid that misstep?
Stacy Barnett: That’s really interesting, and I refer to something called typecasting. If you’re familiar with typecasting and you think about the movies, there are a couple movie stars that I can think of off the top of my head that definitely get typecasted. Typecasting is something where you have an actor who might be casted in a very similar role, regardless of the movie that they’re in. Two of the major type-casted actors that I can think of are Christopher Walken and Jim Carrey. Christopher Walken, he’s always kind of that creepy, funny dude. He’s always kind of creepy, he’s always kind of funny, he’s always in those creepy roles, he’s always in just this weird role, and then Jim Carrey is always in the role he’s very kind of a slapstick, silly, funny, not very serious role. And for type-casted actors, it’s very difficult for those actors to break out into another type of role.
So it’s very possible that you have type-casted your own dog. If you think about Judd, he used to have a nickname. I used to call him Fragile Little Flower. He was my fragile little flower, and he had a hard time in obedience and rally and agility. He’d be the dog stuck at the top of the A-frame and that kind of thing, just very nervous, very shut down. He is no longer that dog, so I had to divorce that typecast of his. Now he is “I am Judd, hear me roar.” He’s this really great search dog. So I had to break that typecast, because if you have a preconceived notion about your dog, you can train to that preconceived notion and you can actually impose restrictions on your dog. So think about whether or not you can break that typecast.
The other thing is have a framework. I suggest my pyramid, and I mentioned my pyramid before, earlier, where you have confidence, motivation, skills, and stamina. So always reevaluate your dog in every search session. Every time you do a search, is your dog confident, is your dog motivated, that sort of thing, especially confidence and motivation, what is the dog’s right arousal state. And sometimes recognize that your dog is going to have an off day. So reevaluate your dog with every search, but also, if you have an off day and all of a sudden your dog doesn’t seem very motivated, there could be something else that’s going on. Maybe say, “All right, today is not our day, and tomorrow’s a different day.”
Those are the things I would do to make sure that from a handling perspective you’re always reevaluating your dog and you’re always training the dog in front of you.
Melissa Breau: I’m not sure who said it, but somebody at one point mentioned if the dog doesn’t do something you’re pretty sure they’ve been trained to do, let it go. Happened once, don’t worry about it. If it happens two or three times, then it’s time to start thinking about how you can change your training.
Stacy Barnett: Absolutely. Absolutely. Whoever said that is a genius.
Melissa Breau: Are there any dead giveaways — or even something maybe a little more subtle — that indicate it’s time to go through that process in your own head and reevaluate the dog that you have and maybe your training plan a little bit?
Stacy Barnett: Absolutely, absolutely. Things like if your dog is bored, or if your dog is anxious, these are the things where perhaps you’re not evaluating your dog’s resilience level or your dog’s drive level well enough. Because depending upon the dog’s drive level and the dog’s resilience level, you could easily put your dog into an anxious situation. Or if the dog is bored, then you need to reevaluate and say maybe you’re making your searches a little bit too hard, or maybe you’re making them a little bit too easy. Maybe the challenge level isn’t right compared to the dog’s skill level.
The other thing is look for changes in the dog’s attitude, and whether or not they’re positive or negative, and then modify your approach based upon that, because you always want the dog to come thinking, This is the most fun part of my day, and if your dog isn’t having fun, you need to reevaluate what you’re doing, and maybe you need to reevaluate what your dog needs, so maybe your dog needs something different from you.
Melissa Breau: To round things out, I want to give you a little bit of time to talk about some of the exciting things on the calendar. I know you’ve got a webinar next week on Setting Meaningful Scent Puzzles for Your Dog. Can you share a little bit about it, what the premise is?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, absolutely. I can’t wait for that one. The keyword is meaningful. Because it’s not just about setting scent puzzles. We can all set scent puzzles. Scent puzzles are basically our way of creating problems for our dogs to solve so they can learn and build skills, and it’s all about skill building. However, it’s really, really important that we think about the word meaningful, and meaningful really refers to the resilience and the drive of the dog.
For instance, I’m not a big fan of … sometimes we see this in seminars and it actually bothers me, where a clinician may set out a really, really hard hide and have green dogs work the hard hide. What you end up with is a dog that might lose their confidence or lose their motivation.
So it’s really important that you set the right challenge and right challenge level for your dog, based upon the dog’s resilience and natural drive levels. That’s really what I want to talk about is based upon the dog’s natural drive levels and resilience, how do you know you’re setting a meaningful scent puzzle that’s going to build the skills at the same time as caring for the dog’s confidence and motivation. So it’s not just about building the skills, but rather it’s about how you build the skills so that you can preserve that.
Melissa Breau: What about for August, what classes do you have coming up? Anything you want to mention?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, I have three classes coming up. I’m teaching 101, so if you want to get into nosework and you haven’t started nosework, join me in NW101, that’s Introduction to Nosework. I’m also teaching NW230, which is polishing skills for NW2 and NW3. And the one that I want to mention today and talk a little bit about is Nosework Challenges. That’s NW240. That’s a series that I haven’t taught in a while, and I’m going to bring that series back. NW240 is Nosework Challenges. It’s a lot of fun. It’s going to be focused on skills, but at the same time what I’m going to do is I’m going to add in elements of this discussion around resilience and drive, so that we can make sure that we’re doing the puzzles in the right way.
Melissa Breau: One last question for you. It’s my new ending question for people when they come on. What’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?
Stacy Barnett: You have to actually train, which sounds kind of funny, but nosework can seem so natural, so it can be like, well, the dog is just scenting, they know how to find the hide, they have value for the odor, so they go out and they find the target odor.
Well, that sounds great and all, but you really have to train, because it’s very possible now, with nosework being a lot more popular than it used to be, now with the addition of AKC out there and some other venues, there’s a lot of trialing opportunities and it’s very possible to get into a situation where you’re trialing more than you’re training. If that’s the case, that’s going to have a negative impact on your trialing. You’re going to find that having that competitive mindset instead of the evaluative context is going to be a detriment to your training. So it’s really important to work your dog while you’re evaluative versus competitive, if that makes sense.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. That’s great. I like that a lot. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Stacy! I really appreciate it.
Stacy Barnett: I’ve had so much fun with this. This is a really great topic, a really, really great topic, and I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much for having me on.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and I hope some folks come and join you for the webinars.
Thank you to our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time we’ll be back with Deb Jones to talk about becoming a better teacher for the human half of the dog-handler team. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!