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Hey all, long time no post. ;) I've been very sick with pneumonia, plus my work picked back up as the weather got nicer, and also SAR missions and training picked up...been absolutely swamped, in other words.

Abi is doing amazingly well. Even with the inconsistent (er, that's a nice way to put it) work she got when I was sick for 6 weeks, she never even lagged. She loves the work and is so clever.

Anyway, enough bragging and onto the question...we're working on her alert right now. She's air scent, does a recall/refind jump alert (remember, she's a 30-pound heeler, not a GSD!). We started on short runaways and me cueing it, and she learned it very quickly. We then transitioned to short runaways without me cueing, and she also aced it. We then started adding length and now a problem has cropped up.

Basically, if I'm kind of far away from the subject or the brush is really dense (basically, I can't see the subject), she'll do the alert every time without a cue. However, if she can see me (even through branches), she won't alert. In those circumstances, she'll leave the subject a bit (until she has a clear view of me) and then stare at me. If I don't cue her, she returns to the subject and mugs them for a reward (futilely; she has never been rewarded in error). At that point so far I've broken down and called her after 5 minutes of mugging the subject. Even that feels way too long to me, but I wanted to give her a chance.

Boring details: I'm not having the subject reward her on the initial find at the moment (although I did in the past). She almost has too much subject loyalty. ;) Right now, her first reward comes from me...but she does her re-find so quickly after alerting that I can barely give it to her. Currently we're using food rewards as she's one of those dogs that practically has an eating disorder she's so food-motivated, but she's also highly toy-driven and I wonder if maybe switching to a toy might help engage her with me more. The subject doesn't reward her until I arrive, at which point she gets a jackpot (she's currently doing 3 re-finds). Once she does the initial alert, it doesn't matter how close I am, she'll keep doing the recall/re-find until I get to the subject. It's only if she can see me at the initial find that she won't alert.

Because of my illness I've missed about a month of team trainings, and have just been training individually with some more experienced members so I haven't really been able to discuss this except with two people...who had two totally differing opinions of how I should proceed. ;) Our next team training is in 10 days and I will ask about it then and have people actually observe the issue, but I'd like to get some general thoughts in the meantime if y'all are willing to oblige. ;)

So I guess...what do you do with a dog who alerts 100% of the time when she can't see you when she's with the subject, but 0% of the time when she can see you when she's with the subject? Especially when you trained the alert with you being able to see her and the subject, but it was only when you started adding more complex problems that she developed this issue?

note: as long as this is, I've left out a ton of detail. Feel free to ask if I left out something you want to know, I'm happy to answer. :)
 

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You go back to the beginning and work the alert with runaways again. There are many times in trainings you back up

You can also just put her up during training if she is not working right. It seems to really work. She is probably a smart dog, You can also try walking away from her when she is mugging the victim and not returning to give her alert.

One reason it breaks down is lack of a reward, albiet a small one, for the actual indication. You can continue to give that reward in training...when you know....the reward misses on unknown problems, or intermittent problems will kind of build the whole "jackpot effect" and it is ok. But that behavior in the chain is the one that tends to fall down the most because it is not reinforced.

Sounds like it has been a rough time. Glad you are on the mend.
 
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