E266: Stacy Barnett - Advancing in Nosework

What skills do you need as you build from the basis to more advanced levels in nosework? Stacy and I talk about breaking that down and more — PLUS we share an exciting new announcement from FDSA! 


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 I have Stacy Barnett here with me to talk about all sorts of things nosework related … including an exciting new event that FDSA is planning!

Hi Stacy, welcome to the podcast!

Stacy Barnett: Hey, I'm really excited to be here. This is so exciting.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you want to remind everybody a little about you, about your current crew, what you're working on with everybody?

Stacy Barnett: You know what's really exciting, Melissa? I went back on my Facebook memories and I found out I have been teaching for FDSA for seven years. Seven years. Seven.

Melissa Breau: Congratulations!

Stacy Barnett: Anyway, I'm Stacy Barnett, and I teach at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy for the last seven years, which is amazing. It's been completely life-changing, actually. I'm a nosework instructor, competitor, AKC scentwork judge, etc. I've got five wonderful dogs. Four of them are currently competing. One is retired. My 14-year-old, Joey, is retired. I have three Labradors and a mini-Aussie competing and Brava just got Elite Champion, which is super-exciting.

Melissa Breau: Congrats.

Stacy Barnett: Thank you. She's now just at the Summit level. Powder is hot on her heels, though. She's an Elite. Prize is my youngest. She's about 20 months old and she just got her first NW3 title. And Why got his NW3 title. He's my mini-Aussie. So they're all competing, they're all having fun, and they are all a blast, let me tell you. Melissa Breau: That's awesome.

Stacy Barnett: Fun stuff.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. I know we've got a ton of things we want to talk about today. This comes out, though, on the 15th, which happens to be the last day of registration for the April term, so let's start with the April classes. What do you have on the calendar this term?

Stacy Barnett: I have three classes. The first one is NW 120, and that class is a follow-on to our intro class. That gets the dog out and searching. In the intro class, in 101, we get them searching basic hides indoors. But then, all of a sudden, we take this step into the whole new world of nosework where we can start to go search anywhere and everywhere. And so, in that class, we start to teach them about exterior searches, vehicle searches, we do touch on a little bit of buried, we get deeper into containers. And really, it's like the world is your oyster at that point. We do a lot of work on getting the dogs ready for searching everywhere other than just your living room. So that's that class.

And then I have NW 230, which is actually my longest-running class. That was one of the first classes I taught for FDSA, although it's gone through a lot of revisions — a lot, a lot, a lot of revisions since then. And that is NW2 and NW3 polishing skills, which is really a skills-based class for the levels. It's NW2 and NW3, but it's also AKC, that kind of level, like Excellent Master type of AKC, it definitely applies to. It's a skills-based class. We just really work on the more advanced skills that you

need at the higher levels, including blank areas and unknown number of hides, which is definitely where I think things get really fun. Then the third class is NW 475, which is setups to improve problem-solving. That is about setting different searches for your dogs to help them to learn how to work that odor and learn how to work that odor in different types of situations that require them to search not only with their noses, but also with their brains. So that is this term.

Melissa Breau: Three classes, man. Full schedule.

Stacy Barnett: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Melissa Breau: In Intro to Nosework Search Elements, there is a big focus on generalizing searching skills. You mentioned that a little bit in your teaser there. In what ways is generalizing nosework skills similar or different, maybe, than other behaviors that people might train?

Stacy Barnett: Part of it is that the dog has to really be able to understand when to search, regardless of where they are, and honestly, eventually, regardless of whether or not there's odor in the area. The dog has to understand, when you set them up and you ask them to search, that they're searching the area, so we need to then build up to the point where they can do that.

In the very beginning stages, we have to do a lot of generalization, which basically means, can the dog understand how to go out and search in a variety of environments. Maybe it's the park, maybe it's the trailers at the Home Depot, or whatever it is. Wherever you are, you want your dog ready to go and to search. To do that, we have to get them used to their routine. We have to get them used to the setup. Their start lines have to be … they have to really understand what they're doing there. So it's giving them the skills, but then also being able to apply that anywhere you're searching.

Melissa Breau: With a sport like nosework, where novelty is a huge component, the core part of the sport, are there things you can do to really help dogs to analyze more efficiently or more effectively?

Stacy Barnett: Yeah. A lot of that has to do with routine. Routine is your best friend. And the routine really should be when you get the dog out of the van, everything becomes routine. I have a specific routine of how to get them out of the van, how to get them dressed. We have a certain amount of time that they're allowed to potty. You get out, you potty, we go search. They start to understand what that sequence of events looks like, so that when they get to the point where I set them up on the start line and I release them, they know exactly what they're doing at that point. So you could search anywhere and everywhere, and let me tell you, I have searched everywhere.

That's the cool part about the sport. You can search some really cool places. I did a summit trail Halloween weekend last year, and we searched the inside of a 727. How cool is that? We searched the inside of an airplane, of a jetliner, and that same weekend we searched train wreckage.

There's some really cool places, stadiums, all kinds of stuff. These are places where, first of all, your dog has probably never been to, so they have to be able to get to the line in a place that looks completely foreign to anything that they've ever even seen, and they know what to do and to do it within a tight timeframe. If we can give them that routine and we can help them to understand what are those steps that they need to do, or what are those steps that we do that informs them of what they're going to do, up until the point that they get to that start line, they'll get there with confidence. If you do that same routine all the time and you really help to build those expectations, they learn to develop that confidence when they come to the start line. I would say that probably the biggest thing is routine.

Melissa Breau: Moving from that class to the polishing skills for nosework to NW2 and NW3 you mentioned, is it the third class or the fourth class in the nosework curriculum?

Stacy Barnett: 230 is one that I teach on top. There's 101, 120, 130. Those are the three core classes. After you do 130 … 130 basically introduces some of those skills, introduces multiple, some elevation, introduces some inaccessible stuff. 230 takes some of those ideas and then it builds on the skills and starts to make them a little bit more trial ready.

Melissa Breau: What skills do dogs need coming into that class before joining?

Stacy Barnett: I think they would do very well if they have already started multiple hides and they're pretty comfortable doing multiple hides, and if they also have a little bit of experience with inaccessible hides. I'm able to accommodate some of that, because if they haven't taken some classes where they haven't really built some of those skills, we could work with that.

But what I do like to do is to build on the handler's ability to really read what the dog is telling them. So if the dog has been introduced to the skill first, we can build on that a little bit better, but we could work on it. But they should definitely be on multiple odors, they should definitely be working multiple hides, and having started inaccessible hides is really a bonus at that point.

Melissa Breau: At this level, you're pulling in all of those advanced skills: converging odor, elevation, distraction, proofing, I think I saw working with luggage in the description, teaching stamina, all those things. When you're training, are you usually beginning to introduce these concepts as baby ideas earlier in the training? How do you begin to layer in those pieces? You don't just throw them at the dogs all at once.

Stacy Barnett: If we take a look at those skills and we drill those down to the basic part of those skills, it's all about general foundations. For instance, if your dog really understands how to drive into source, meaning they'll keep pushing into an area and keep working toward the hide with a little bit of tenacity, you're going to find that working things like inaccessible hides gets a lot easier.

There are some components there. If you have the confidence and the motivation to keep working, and the desire to drive to source, I start that super, super early. A lot of that has to do with problem solving and trying to problem-solve their environment. That is a key component to that.

Another key component, which I also start teaching very early, is with multiple hides, which will help you with converging odor. With converging odor you have multiple hides where the scent cones overlap each other. I start to work multiple hides, but they may be a little bit further apart. What I try to do there is I'm really big on installing a release cue into the reward event. As you're rewarding your dog on your first hide, I release the dog with an "okay" before I cue the next hide. What that helps the dog to understand is that that hide is now finished, and if they can understand that, now they are open to being able to find another hide in close proximity.

So there are different components of those advanced skills I start to teach earlier on, things like elevation. First I install the belief that they can always get to the hide. That's regardless of if it's a deep hide or if it's an elevated hide. If I can install that early and I can teach the dog that it may be above their nose level or down to the ground, or I give them a variety of heights that the hide can be at, they start to believe that they can get to it. So when we get to a point where then that hide is really out of reach, it becomes really easy from a handler perspective to be able to call it, and it becomes really easy from the dog perspective to actually be able to work the hides.

Melissa Breau: So many pieces there.

Stacy Barnett: It really is. This actually is a much more complicated sport than a lot of people … they start with the sport like, "Oh, this looks really easy. The dog just tells you where the hide is." And I'm like, "Yeah, you keep believing that one." There's so much to it, honestly.

The cool part about the sport is that you don't have to be overwhelmed by this mountain of knowledge that you want to try to develop over time. You can really get into the sport. The barrier to entry is low. You don't have to train for six years before you trial. You can get out there. You can start to learn it. But the cool part about it is that there's always somewhere to go. No matter what, there's always something more challenging. There's always something to build upon it.

It becomes like this layer cake of skills and capabilities to get to the point where you're searching the insides of a 727 in three minutes or whatever crazy amount of time that they gave us. You build up to that, and what's really cool about the sport is that you always have someplace to go with that. I start getting on a high on that one. I just can't stop on that one. It's super-exciting. There's a lot to it. There's a lot to the sport. There's definitely a lot to the sport.

Melissa Breau: Nothing wrong with that, being excited about what we're talking about. Speaking of, the third class this term that you mentioned, Challenges to Enhance Problem Solving, it seems like it's equally about training the dog and teaching the handler how to set appropriate problems for their dog. Is that right?

Stacy Barnett:. Yes, because here's the crazy thing about this sport is that you're not actually training your dog. The hides are. You're indirectly training your dog. You indirectly train your dog by placing the hides, but the dog has to, in order to become better over time, they have to basically learn the scent theory. They have to come in and they have to start to understand how did they start to problem-solve the odor and how is that odor going to behave? We want them to be able to do this in a very efficient manner and quickly. They have to understand how to problem-solve an area, and sometimes these areas get huge. They get huge or really complicated from a scenting perspective. Sometimes they're really tiny, sometimes they're huge. There's a whole lot of variety. So if we can give them the problem-solving skills by giving them setups that help to layer on that capability, it helps to teach the dog. But it also helps us to understand how we're going to set our hides, because you're not going to build that up by just going out and setting random hides. If you're just, "Oh, that looks cool, I'll set one there," that's not going to give the dog the capability that they need. This class will help you to think about what do you need to do to be able to set those hides that's going to grow your dog's capability.

Melissa Breau: I was going to say, why is that such an important piece, but you've already touched on that a little, like, basically your dog's ability to learn how to problem-solve is directly influenced by your own ability to set hides and set hides well and set hides appropriately.

Stacy Barnett: Yes, yes. And that's actually where it gets really interesting, because dogs, just like people, they have different ways of thinking, and if you look at different dogs, you're going to see that some dogs think in a way differently than other dogs do.

I'll give you an example. I have two half-sisters. I have Brava and I have Powder, and they're both at the upper levels of nosework. They're both experienced. If you look at Brava, Brava is a snap decision maker. She comes in, she gets lots of information, and goes, "Okay, here's the answer." Powder is a very linear, black-and-white thinker. When I was trying to teach her agility, when we were starting, she really thought that the tunnel had a true entrance and a true exit. She doesn't extrapolate. She was really funny; she's real cute. So she's a very linear thinker, where Brava is a snap decision maker. So how you set your hides and how you build on some of those problem-solving skills, you really have to understand your own dog.

This class helps to give you different options, and through the analysis in the forums, what we do is we start to lay out, "This is how it's going to be teaching your dog," and "This is what your dog's doing," and "This is why," so that you start to understand how your dog is processing the information, so that you can then adapt to that a little bit later on.

It's really cool to see them. You see the gears are moving in their head, and they do sometimes move a little differently. A lot of my example videos that I'm posting in the lectures, I try to use different dogs doing the same search, because when you start to do that, you start to see how differently the dogs might work, or how they might perceive the information, or even based upon their preferences.

The first week, we did a lot of work driving into pressure. If you have a lot of objects in the search area, that provides some environmental pressure. I want to give the dog a huge amount of reinforcement for working through that. And you're going to find that some dogs, like my youngest, Prize, is pressure sensitive. So how she works that is very differently than Powder, who has absolutely no concerns about pressure whatsoever. Where Prize dances around and comes around the back end of it, and it takes her a bit longer to drive into the area, Powder just goes, "Here it is." It's interesting. But in other situations, Prize is going to be a little bit stronger because of the way she works.

It's so cool as you start to see what the strengths are of the dogs, and how you can start to set up hides to build upon the areas that can really help them. At the same time, you build your repertoire of really understanding your own dog and understanding what you're seeing when you see another dog work. I think that's a cool part. You start to just see all the different flavors of it. It's so much fun. It's a blast.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned pressure. What are some of the other factors that maybe need to be considered when you're setting up a nosework problem to tailor it to the dog? What kind of things are we really looking at here?

Stacy Barnett: When we talk about problem solving, we also have to think about the motivation and the general resilience of the dog. Thinking about, for instance, pressure. Let's say we take a pressure-sensitive dog and we're working a cluttered area. I use clutter to reinforce the dog driving in and getting to source, and that says, "You're amazing. You were a big cheese. You did it. You got all the way there." But if I use a ton of clutter and I have a pressure-sensitive dog, I'm not going to be effective in that. What we need to do is give them a little bit of … we need to back off on that a little bit, as an example.

And so part of what we go through in the class is try to say, "For your dog, we will probably want to make these kind of modifications, so that you can start to build that up over time and so the dog can build that history of success.

Did I answer that question? It's one of those things where you hear a question, I come up with an answer, and I go off on a tangent. This is the way my own brain works. Talk about brains. If I don't answer a question, you've got to let me know. I'll just come back to it.

Melissa Breau: I think so, because I was asking what factors you should consider when setting up nosework problems. You said motivation and resilience.

Stacy Barnett: Right. The resilience really comes down to how comfortable the dog is, doing what they're doing. You can build that up over time, but you don't want to give them something so challenging that they're not resilient enough to be successful. So you always have to balance that. You want to balance that challenge level with the dog's motivation and the dog's skill level. So it's all a balance.

That's actually what nosework training is. It's all a balance. You're balancing all of these pieces so you get this well-rounded dog. So you really want to think about the setup and whether or not your dog is going to be successful. We don't want to give them a layup either. If you give them a layup and it's so easy, they're going to be like, "Well, that was okay. I could do that." But they're not jazzed over it. But if we give them something really challenging that's on the upper edge of what they can do, and reward them like crazy, they're like, "Wow, look what I just did," which is pretty cool.

Melissa Breau: That's the classes piece, but as I teased in the intro, FDSA has something new coming. You're going to be hosting a fun new event specifically for nosework fans on May 14, Know The Nose, our first single-day online conference. Can you just share a little bit of information about what's going on?

Stacy Barnett: Yes, this is so cool. It's so cool. I'm so excited about this, and I am really excited to be involved in this. This is an all-day conference, and obviously it's virtual, so you can do this from your living room, you can wear your pajamas, your fuzzy slippers. It's on a weekend, which is great for everybody.

There's a bunch of instructors and we're going to have two tracks, so you'll have different presentations going throughout the day. And there's going to be two panel discussions. The first panel discussion is going to be focused on the foundation skills for competition. The second panel discussion is going to be focused on the advanced nosework focus for competition from the skills perspective, and it's really cool. We've got the nosework instructors for FDSA, but we also are bringing in a few people from the outside, other very accomplished instructors, and it's going to be a really cool way of sharing this great sport that we're doing and having a lot of huge educational opportunity. I'm really looking forward to this.

Melissa Breau: Do you want to tease your talk at all?

Stacy Barnett: Well, yeah. I'm really excited. I chose the topic "Decoding the Blind Hide: What is your dog trying to tell you?" This is not about reading your dog necessarily on a blind hide. This is learning what is your dog telling you about the hide, which is different than saying whether or not they're at the hide.

This is saying, based on the dog's behavior, "The dog just gave you this behavior on this vertical surface. What does that tell you about the hide over there?" Or if your dog is spinning around in circles, what is that telling you? Just as examples. There's a lot here, but basically watching your dog's behavior to see what are the qualities of that hide, so that you are more informed when you actually call "alert" or when you call "finish," so that you really understand what that search is looking like. So I'm really excited about it.

Melissa Breau: Fun. Who should consider joining us for the conference?

Stacy Barnett: Everybody. Seriously, if you're in nosework, if you're training to potentially compete or if you are competing, and I would say really at any level. We have presentations that are geared toward people more working on the foundational side of it. We also have presentations that are geared toward some of the more advanced side of it. And we also have a mental management presentation with Teah Anders that I'm really excited to listen to. It's going to be a blast. Honestly, if you are a competitor or if you're an aspiring competitor, it would be a great thing to do.

Melissa Breau: Everybody from those who are nosework curious to those who are nosework champions.

Stacy Barnett: Exactly. To give you an idea of the people that we're going to have, it's going to be myself, we have Julie Symons, we have Melissa Chandler, we have Lucy Newton, we have Holly Bushard, we have Sandra Tung, and we have Teah Anders. Those are the presenters. Pretty cool stuff.

Melissa Breau: Excellent, and in case that wasn't enough, you've also recently launched a whole new thing, a new nosework initiative. Do you want to tell us about it?

Stacy Barnett: I did, because you know what? I don't like having free time, apparently. It's like, "Oh, I might have an extra fifteen minutes in my day. I'd better do something new." It's so cool. I, with two of my good friends, we have launched our very own podcast. It's called The Canine Detection Collaborative.

It's really cool because I'm bringing the perspective of the sport side. My friend Robin Greubel is bringing the pro side perspective. She's from K9 Sensus and she's also a FEMA handler. She also trains bomb and narcotics dogs. We have Crystal Wing, who is a mondioring decoy and has done all the bite sports type of stuff, and she's also a human remains detection handler.

The three of us are talking all about detection, and we're really talking about the crossroads between professional and sports. And we're trying to bring a little bit of the female voice to detection, which is also really important to all three of us. So we're doing a lot of a lot of interviews, a lot of reflections, and a whole lot of showing each other respect and talking about really cool things with respect to detection. It's a lot of fun, and we're on all the major platforms, so check us out.

Melissa Breau: Very cool. I'm sure folks are going to be searching for that instead of listening to the answer to the next question. But I do have one more question for you, which is, to round out our chat, if we were to drill down all the stuff we've been talking about today into one little takeaway or one piece of information you want people to really understand after listening to this, what would that be?

Stacy Barnett: Oh, that is so hard. That is so hard. I guess what I would say is a common thread of some of the stuff that we've been talking about today is all around the need or the importance of searching in a lot of different areas and the aspect of generalization. And to always be thinking about searching new places, giving your dog a variety of experiences, because all of these classes, that's all what it's about. It's a variety of experiences so that the dog is better prepared to come to the line. When you set up on that start line, you release your dog to search. And if you really search a lot of different places, you give your dog a lot of different types of hides, a lot of variety, your dog will be a lot more successful.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. What a good note to end on. Thank you so much, Stacy. This has been fantastic.

Stacy Barnett: This has been a blast. Thank you so much.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back next week. 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.

Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training!


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.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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