I’ll be doing a series of short blogs – a blip in your day when the extra time we thought we all had is now full with ALL THE THINGS being offered and shared online due to COVID-19. Hope you have a minute in your day for a glimpse into my training thoughts!

Training Blank Search Areas

With the changes in NACSW NW3 and “anything” goes in L3 EST, Elite and Summit, we have more reason to train for blank searches. We already were aware that interior areas MAY be blank and now any element or search area can be blank.

I’ve always embraced training blank areas but I’m even more invested in them for many reasons!

First, detection training in general does not always result in finds. The sport is changing in that it’s not just about finding odor, but clearing areas of NO odor. Whether that is a large area with only one hide or an area with no odor. Dogs should understand it’s OK to not find odor. If they have high value for odor, they know when it’s there and they need to know it’s OK if it’s not there

Blank searches are something I am starting to train earlier in my training program. I believe it makes odor searches STRONGER, clearing a blank area EASIER, and can avoid potential false alerts if they believe they must.find.odor to earn reinforcement. And since they will be more common at the higher levels we need to treat them the same and reward them!

Changing Your Mindset

Change your mindset and teach your dog that your “Finish” call will be rewarded. No matter how the search goes! Whether or not you got a “no”, missed a hide, or cleared a blank room, your dog should be rewarded for the search. Since there is no “Alert” call that gets rewarded, you can build in a consistent “Finish” call that means ‘job well done’ and reward your dog.

There are so many reasons we may not find hides or get a no. Odor is unpredictable. A hide can became unsourceable. Maybe the judge made a “no” call that was rewardable to your dog. Maybe there was some contamination, or your dog has a physical reason and unable to source or process as well on that day on that search. All of these reasons, and including a blank search deserve support and reinforcement.

You also don’t have to use food, it can be praise, toy, or personal play (hand touches, jumping up). I want to reward my dog for doing their best whether they find them all, find some or if there were none to be found.

Here is a video of training a blank search. I reward the finish call and follow that up with odor in the search.

To recap, if your dog has a strong foundation for the game, has high value for odor, I truly believe your dog will have a clearer understanding of the game and be more reliable at odor and when there is none!

If you missed my previous Blog Blip on Evolving your Nosework Training Approaches, or the series of blips, check it out!