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Thread: "The Smell of Fear"... Or, "The Smell of Trials" Adrenaline and its impact on dogs

  1. #1
    Administrator Chris Atkinson's Avatar
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    Default "The Smell of Fear"... Or, "The Smell of Trials" Adrenaline and its impact on dogs

    The topic of heeling, or lack of it at a test or trial has caused me to create a new topic. This is the smell of a trial - and why it has such a bearing on how our dogs behave at a trial.

    How many times have you heard, or read that "Dogs can smell fear"? Do you believe it?

    How many times have you observed, when you pulled your vehicle up to a test or trial in progress, that your dogs could sense it, immediately? How do you think they know it?

    Here's my belief: If we were to take an experienced Field Trial or Hunt Test dog, who knows the excitement of fliers, live guns, Field Trial Poppers, marks, holding blinds, judges yelling "guns up", etc. and turn off their eyes and ears, they would KNOW they were at a Field Trial the moment we pulled the vehicle into the scent cone of the event. I'm totally convinced of it. If these dogs suddenly became deaf and blind, and were transported to a trial, they would KNOW it by scent alone.

    A Field Trial atmosphere, to a dog, smells like a total soup of awesome scents that our dogs associate with the ecstasy of a Trial atmosphere. There's spent gunpowder and all that. But more importantly, there's the scent of adrenaline and other associated scents that other dogs AND their human counterparts, emit when they are under stress or excitement.

    I've had the luxury and benefit over the past few years of training with, hanging out with and observing K9 Law Enforcement guys. Around here, these guys will use the same dog (frequently a Belgian Malanoit) for: bite work, substance detection, article search and tracking. These are all associated and similar tasks, yet with their own unique nuances that make them separate and require specific training.

    One thing that these dogs learn quickly is how to smell "fear" or adrenaline in a "street" situation. It is likened to how our dogs quickly learn to discriminate between shot birds and non-shot birds, or how they quickly learn to associate awesomeness with the smell of a shot flyer station.

    At first, I was confused as to how a trained tracking malanoit could walk through a crowded festival and track the scent of a badguy who just ran from a stolen car, through a huge group of people. How can this dog follow the scent of this one bad guy, while there are other people ALL OVER the place?

    The reason, of course, is that this badguy is emitting all sorts of unique scents from his body that smell totally different from the calm, happy, innocent people that share the same space as him. Adrenaline, sweat, and other chemicals or hormonal secretions are all causing this bad guy to give off a scent that to a K9's nose, is like an olfactory neon sign!

    I have no scientific proof and no studies to point to. But I believe it is logical and totally accurate that our dogs give off the same sorts of chemical scent signatures when they are excited, pumped up, charged go get a bird, etc. Not only that, but that crate of fliers...those stressed mallards that are getting popped at the flyer station...same deal. They are giving off all sorts of incredible scent. And to take it further, the nervous handlers who are stumbling, fumbling and trying to remember to breathe and not screw up....they too are giving off their own scent, much different from that of a calmer person training in a training atmosphere.

    It is so hard, no matter how much we yell, play recordings, plant fake judges or put out holding blinds to truly mimic a trial atmosphere. A big reason for this is the scent of a trial.

    I believe this is a major factor in the "Bohn Principle" that is being implemented by East Coast Trainer Randy Bohn to rehab maniac field trial dogs BACK into tractable field competitors - for the pro AND for their handler. The whole thing, I believe, is the maintenance of a standard in varied conditions. I read recently, as someone put it, that if a dog "gets away" with a behavior 3 times, we have just inadvertently trained that dog to do that behavior. This makes sense to me.

    So if we allow an obedience standard to slip, in an atmosphere where there's a whole soup of scent, among other special situational differences between this setting and our more common standard training settings, we are essentially training that dog that the standard is out the window.

    I don't have the answer. I think I have some clue. I think Field Trial settings, to a dog, are a neon sign of scent that can make their brains go haywire if we don't gradually introduce distractions while maintaining a standard. --- Easier said than done perhaps.

    Good training, Chris
    "Determining and applying the criteria for when and when not to use correction is the essence of the art of dog training. I make a distinction between a mistake and a lack of effort." - Mike Lardy - Volume I "After Collar Conditioning"

  2. #2
    Senior Member Ken Bora's Avatar
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    I agree with all of the above Chris.
    And I feel the "smell soup" is the hardest thing to train for.
    This alone is reason to be a retriever club member.
    'cause while all by ourself we can run Rover 400 yards with just a bumper and a dvd by Dennis.
    It does nothing to help the cold wet spot 6 inches from his brain.

    So many will treat the dog like a family member and stop thinking like a dog.
    Yes a few may kneel with setting up a mark, but how many get right down into that high drive retriever crouch zone?
    Even fewer. And that is just sight, not sound nor smell.

    Oh, and when you walk to the line sure your going to crash and burn, you will.
    "So what is big is not always the Trout nor the Deer but the chance, the being there. And what is full is not necessarily the creel nor the freezer, but the memory." ~ Aldo Leopold

    "The Greatest Obstacle to Discovery is not Ignorance -- It is the Illusion of Knowledge" ~ Daniel Boorstin

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    Senior Member Good Dogs's Avatar
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    Chris,
    I agree with all of your points. An experienced OB trainer/handler said as much to me. She carried a tin of Altoid breath mints and always popped one in her mouth before going into the ring. Said it masked the "smell of fear" in her breath. I've done the same for years. Have no idea if it works. But the routine helps calm me down.
    I'm always amazed at our dogs' scenting prowress and their ability to differentiate. My now past golden gal tracked a wingshot hen mallard through resting flocks of resident birds, ignoring all until she finally swam down the wounded bird. I just sat in awe and watched for the 1/2 hr as she cruised around the pond searching out the hen who would try to hide among the resting flocks. And at a recent club trial the live gunners completely missed the drake thrown. The bird hit the ground but would not fly. My boy ran right to it, sniffed and proceeded to hunt for something that had been shot. (Our training pond has literally 100's of resident geese and mallards and the kid routinely had to pick up birds while swimming through the resident flocks.) The judges retrieved the bird, saw that it had not been shot and gave us a rerun. We've since worked on retrieving live birds.

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    Worthy of a Sticky.

    Thanks Chris
    Bert Rodgers

  5. #5
    Senior Member mostlygold's Avatar
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    Our club offers training sessions that pretty much mimic a test atmosphere. We will run 40-50 dogs through each session and it is set up with holding blinds, decoys for HT set ups, judges calling dogs to line, a gallery, etc. The dogs react as if they were at a test, very excited, obedience goes down the tubes. It has been an excellent opportunity for our members to get practice and get some corrections in. Only thing lacking is the handlers stress, which really will only happen when it counts.

    The sessions at least give handlers the ability to see what problems they will have and it gives them the ability to get comfortable on line with their dogs.

    I have seen many dogs, my own included, get screwed up by my nerves and failure in judgement day of the trial. I work very hard at projecting confidence and quiet authority when I head to line.

    DWn
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  6. #6
    Senior Member mostlygold's Avatar
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    To Good Dogs
    I have seen this at NAHRA tests where they lay a track with a live duck, then drop a dead duck at the end of the trail and some dogs keep looking for the live duck and won't fetch the dead one until told to. I have trained for this by dragging a trail with one duck and dropping another. It is absolutely amazing how detailed dogs scenting abilities are.

    Dawn
    mostlygold
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    Senior Member Karen Klotthor's Avatar
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    Thanks Chris for this post. You are right, they really know the difference. I cannot get my girl to creep or break at a training day, but man get to a hunt test and she really knows the difference. She has very strong OB and heels really well anytime other than at a hunt test. She still heels but not near as tight as any other time, and I just never know if she is going to sit and stay on honor. I can go off the grounds and work on a problem 10 min before she runs and all goes out of her head at the line.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Steve Shaver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mostlygold View Post
    Our club offers training sessions that pretty much mimic a test atmosphere. We will run 40-50 dogs through each session and it is set up with holding blinds, decoys for HT set ups, judges calling dogs to line, a gallery, etc. The dogs react as if they were at a test, very excited, obedience goes down the tubes. It has been an excellent opportunity for our members to get practice and get some corrections in. Only thing lacking is the handlers stress, which really will only happen when it counts.

    The sessions at least give handlers the ability to see what problems they will have and it gives them the ability to get comfortable on line with their dogs.

    I have seen many dogs, my own included, get screwed up by my nerves and failure in judgement day of the trial. I work very hard at projecting confidence and quiet authority when I head to line.

    DWn
    ??


    I belong to 4 clubs that so the same. From January to present I have been to at least 10 of these and my dog knows the difference between this and a real trial.
    ?

  9. #9
    Senior Member rmilner's Avatar
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    A dog’s primary mode of communication is with his eyes. You can take a pack of dogs for an hour hike and you will see loads of communication going on. You will hear nothing other than leaves rustling from the passage of paws.
    Dogs read eye movements, minute posture changes, etc. Mother nature has programmed him to do virtually all his communication with his eyes. It is all about reading visual “tells”. The dog behavior you see at the field trial is triggered by subtle changes in the handler’s behavior. Obviously there are some odor changes also.
    Another example is the dog becoming “electric collar wise”. Generally the signals the dog is reading are the trainer’s subtle behavior changes. When the collar is not present the trainer’s behavior becomes slightly more cautious. His demeanor becomes slightly less commanding. These are the subtle changes that the dog is best equipped and programmed by Mother Nature to read.
    Robert Milner
    www.DuckhillKennels.com


    "When he stood up to speak, battalions of words issued forth from his mouth and scoured the countryside in search of an idea, and when they found one, they swiftly and thoroughly beat it to death." ---- -Anonymous

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    Senior Member road kill's Avatar
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    There are those who know the taste of adrenaline.
    If I can taste it, it stands that the dogs can probably smell it.

    And I know for a fact they can sense things.
    I would imagine adrenaline rushes are easily sensed by the dogs.
    Stan b & Elvis

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