In nose/scent work there’s a lot of talk about false alerts and how we can talk our dogs into a hide. This is more common in container searches but we also see it vehicles, exteriors and interiors where airflow can pool odor. This got me thinking how both the DOG and the HANDLER expect there to be A hide or MORE hides. Even when we know there can be 0 or 1. This is true even with Elite and Summit level teams.

At a recent trial, CO Dorthy Turley said and I paraphrase, the game is not just about finding hides but also reading your dog in clear areas.

One of the reasons this is challenging for teams is that we don’t train blank areas enough! This can lead to us or the dog finding a hide that is not there!

I’ve always been a strong believer that dogs won’t fall apart or lose motivation because they search blank areas and don’t find a hide. If we think that and don’t train it in a way to be motivating, then we will create the idea to us and the dog that it IS demotivating.

Dogs search blank “areas” all the time. Large areas will have areas void of odor or a single hide can be placed down wind from the start where dogs don’t pick up odor.

When threshold hides used to be the trend, we are now starting to see patterns in Elite trial searches with few hides in large areas or NO hides in the threshold area. At a recent trial, the judge/CO commented that many teams over searched a threshold area that was “blank” and would come back to check it again (me included!). We need to be more accepting that areas will be blank (per watching and reading our dogs) and not assume there is a hide.

We’ve already heard about blank container searches and large blank areas in NACSW Summit trials, and just now NACSW has released information on new rule changes, including that any element at the NW3 level can have a blank search area! How fun is that?!?!

Quoting the recent announcement from NACSW:

An added challenge for NW3 competitors will be that any one search may be blank. For example, rather than being limited to interiors, you could have a blank vehicle search, or a blank container search.  Also, you will not know which element will have multiple searches until the day of the trial. This change will go into effect January 1, 2020.

For those who mainly do AKC Scent Work, rules are changing also, effective October 1, 2019 where one of the search areas may be “blank” in Master Interiors.

To start training, pick 2 rooms in your house. Make the first room blank, and ideally a room that has never had odor in it or it’s hasn’t been used in a while and then place a hide in the next room. Make sure to video!

Run them back to back – running the blank room first. Search for about 20-30s and then call finish. Praise your dog, leave the room and give your dog a cookie. Start the next search where your dog will end on finding a hide.

Once you have run this setup, review the video and see if you can tell that your dog couldn’t find odor in the blank room. Some dogs will try to immediately leave, others will search HARDER and sniff LOUDER. Others will jump high trying to find odor and some may actually stop and look at you.

I also like to run an area blank, and then place a hide in the same area to compare how differently the dog responds. It’s night and day when there is odor! You’ll learn how fast your dog usually finds a hide – a good NW3 skill – and you’ll know better when to call a search area blank.

Once our dogs get used to the idea, they won’t see it as demotivating but as just part of the job! And it’s our job to set up training to keep dogs motivated by also finding odor in another search.

Now, you can start to have fun with running blank searches in OTHER elements!

Here are two searches running blank search areas, first a container search and then a vehicle search. Both are followed by hides placed in the area. You can see that Savvy has almost come to expect that the last box in a row could have odor especially if the rest were blank.

Embrace blank area searches …. and let me know how it’s going!