Monday, June 14, 2010

It occurred to me the other day training with Maremma has strange parallels with training with scent hounds.

When you work with a scenthound, you always have to contend with, plan around/with the issue of scent. It's just always going to be a factor no matter how you train. They have a reputation of being 'stubborn' and too scent-minded to do obedience well. They may be giving great focus, beautiful work and BAM... they catch a whiff, their brains are sucked into outer space and everything ceases to exist but the nose and that heavenly scent. It can get to a point they enter 'scent hound Nirvana' and can't hear you. (Literally - the brain gives an 'all operators are busy' signal to the nerve receptors in the ears and doesn't transmit the information to the brain to translate into sound. They have to disengage from that state to be able to reorient back to the task at hand.)

If you're clever and skilled at managing training, you can keep the 'opportunity to scent/follow it' as a resource you possess/control access to and convince them the only way to get access to it is through your framework. Given how strong and deep that drive is, it can be a powerful motivator and reinforcer.

I'd tend toward laying a lot more foundation work with scent hounds generally on being able to disengage/reorient from what has wafted under their noses (catching them pre-total brain suck stage obviously) than a herding dog or sporting breed dog for example where the drives are skewed in 'listen to and work for the human even in high drive' behaviour in our favor. (Super strong eyed working Borders aside... which from what I understand are considered too much for the task as they trance themselves.) Likewise making low latency in response times important, making that VERY high value and teach things it's important to have immediate/consistent responses for more as classical than opperant conditioning.

With Maremma you can almost write the same thing, except you cross out 'scent' and insert "environmental awareness". That white polar bear brain is constantly scanning and monitoring for stuff that's out of place, even when he's giving good focus on me and training it's there in the background scanning away. And just like a scent hound, BAM, something ticks the radar as being 'one of these things is not like the other', brain suck hits and it zooms in on it to assess if it's something he ought to address or not. (Nope, was just a sparrow farting across the paddock. Stand down brain!) It's interesting differences that come with LGD.

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