How to Train a Nosepress
When people see Iona’s alert, they always wonder if it was trained or natural. The answer is that it was a little of both. She was bred to point birds and she points at odor. I just captured that point into a final alert. Lots of dogs have different final alerts. Some dogs scratch, others look back at their owner, some dogs bark or even lie down. I personally like the nose press best out of all these options because is it the least destructive and it is very accurate. However it is hard to train and it is not necessary. Reading your dog well is a whole lot more useful that a nice nose press. The thing about a final alert is that it is a conscious decision from the dog and they can false alert. Waiting for a final alert is no substitute for reading your dog well.
I have found that new handlers have a hard time teaching this skill AND they don’t really need it to be successful. So for that reason, I have stopped teaching this in my intro classes and I am parking this lecture information here:
To start, your dog should already be diving their nose toward the hide. We will be shaping this behavior into a longer nose press. Think about teaching your dog a duration behavior like a sit stay. They have to know what you want from them first, then you just raise the criteria (length of the sit or the nose press) bit by bit. You would never expect a puppy to perform a 5 min sit stay on their first training session, but rather, you would raise the bar by increments.
We will be doing the same thing with the nose press, however our final goal will be to have them press for just a few seconds. So as your dog dives their nose into the container, just wait a beat longer each time before saying “YES!”. It is important to read your dog on this one and to reward them for the nose down behavior, not anything else. If you wait to long, they can get frustrated and learn to scratch, head bob, or all other behaviors. If they do pop, their head up, it is not the end of the world, don’t say “no”, just wait them out, they will put their head back down. Check out the video at the end of the lecture for how to shape this. Please note that the timing for this step can be VERY tricky. Remember that Iona already knows the behavior in this video and if this video moves fast. When you do this at home, you will have likely not be able to wait this long right off the bat, but rather it will take many reps to get there. When in doubt mark the nose press earlier rather than later.
So in the two minutes that Iona is shuttling back and forward from this hot box, she does 9 nose presses. I timed how long it took between her nose press and my “yes” call and this is what I found.
1 – .44 sec
2 – .33 sec
3 – 1.03 sec
4 – .77 sec
5 – .94 sec
6 – 1.25 sec
7 – 1.57 sec
8 – 1.70 sec
9 – 1.63 sec
So that wait is really not long at all. Iona can now wait for a really long time (5 seconds?) but if I had tried that when we were just getting started, I would have had one confused dog.