Show me the money

In this game you are going to teach your dog to indicate to you a 50p coin that has been placed on the floor. The aim is for your dog to show you where the coin is by using its nose by either hovering just above it or touching it and then holding the position.

This game involves the rapid firing of treats each time your dog indicates the coin. To avoid having the dog spend time finding the treats its best to work this game indoors or on a hard surface. If training on grass your dog will spend too much time sniffing in the grass to locate the treat. If you must train outdoors on grass use a decent sized mat and place the coin on the mat.

For this exercise I tend not to use the clicker but a verbal calm maker, you can also manage this exercise without any verbal markers, just by rewarding with the food.

Place the coin on the floor in front of your dog. As soon as your dog investigates it with it nose throw a treat as near to the coin as possible before your dog looks up from the coin. When working on a hard surface its best to use soft treats as these tend not to bounce away when they hit the floor and stay closer to the coin (Small pieces of hotdog sausages work really well).

As you want to reinforce the coin, every time you dog places it nose near the coin throw a treat near to the coin, do not reward the dog for looking up at you. Your timing is going to be very important. What we are trying to convince your dog is that each time it looks at the coin food miraculously appears. The trick is to reward quickly from high up so your dog does not look back at you and stays focused on the coin.

Another tip that can help with the training of this exercise it to train it whilst your dog is in a middle position between your legs with the coin in front of you both. In the middle position its harder for your dog to turn its head to look up at you so it helps maintain the focus on the coin. Each time the dog looks at the coin you gently throw the treat past its head at the coin.

When your dog starts to understand the exercise start adding a delay from when it indicates the coin and keeps its head down staring at it to when you throw the reward. This will result in your dog giving you a sustained indication of the coin.

The following video of Mehwi shows the final indication behaviour that we are looking to achieve. This was Mehwi’s very last training session to show you what you are looking for. It is a very emotional video that Iain just took by chance. Mehwi was not himself that day, he was just back from 24h on the drip at the vet. Although we thought he was on the mend, he passed away 3 days later from an unknown illness. These were his very last videos.

Mehwi was at a more advanced level, I was feeding him from my hand rather than around or above the coin, and you can see how he is turning his head towards me expecting his reward. This is why it is important to reward for quite a while above the coin or around the coin and try to fade your position as soon as possible or your dog will not be able to freeze on the coin.

Why use a Red Kong?

As a requirement for this part of the scent workshop we said that you require a couple of Red Kongs. One of these will be left intact but the other we will be cutting up into little pieces for use later on in the course when we start teaching your dogs to use their noses to search for specific odours.

The choice of a Red Kong is not simply because we like the colour but is because of two considerations.

  • Initially you are going to be teaching your dog to recognise the scent of the Kong and associate this with food so that searching and finding the Kong becomes a pleasurable experience. For this to work the Kong must have a specific smell that remains constant that the dogs learn to recognise. The manufacturer who makes the Kongs have not modified the ingredients or percentage composition of these ingredients for their red Kongs since they first started manufacturing them. So any red Kong will have the same odour, this isn’t the same for other colours of Kong.
  • Dogs do not have the same scope of colour vision as Humans. They are effectively colour blind to red coloured objects. To a dog red and green objects look to have the same colour. By using a Red Kong this gives us the advantage that when we are asking our dogs to search for the kong we should be able to see it clearly because we can see red objects but our dogs are going to have to rely far more on using their noses to sniff out where the bits of Kong have been placed.

If you are interested in a bit more detail the following section describes the basic underlying differences that give dogs their limited colour detection abilities.

Some Background on how eyes work

The eyes of both Humans and Dogs contain specific types of photoreceptive cells in their retinas that are referred to as Cone cells and Rod cells (not surprisingly they are called rods and cones because of their actual physical shape). Cone cells are sensitive in brighter environments and are also capable of colour vision. Rod Cells more reactive in low light and also to movement but do not contribute to colour vision. In addition to sensing colour, cone cells are also more responsible for spatial acuity (that’s sharpness or the ability to detect small details to you and me).

Dogs have more Rod than Cone cells within their retina than Humans and they also only have Cone cells that detect blue and yellow light. Human have cone cells that detect red, yellow and blue light (the techy term for this is that dogs eyes are Dichromate and Humans are Trichromate). The result is that a dogs vision is more adapted to a darker environment and for detecting movement than a Humans but that their vision is not as adapted as ours in bright environments and they have a limited range of colour vision, which is similar to a colour blind person.

As Dogs also have less Cone cells in relation to Rod cells in their retina their ability to distinguish detail is far lower than a human which results in what we would consider as soft focus or blurry vision. The image below provides a mock up of what it is believed a dogs vision may be like compared to a humans.