Within any dog sport, there are many different training choices and preferences. For the past 10 years, I’ve been involved in Nosework as a competitor, in-person and online instructor, seminar presenter and judge. I have evolved and refined my approach to teaching the skills needed to be successful. Recently, I had this one thought …
I don’t care if you search for food, pair hides with food, start directly on odor, have a trained indication, use a marker or not, pay at source or not – I simply wish handlers to embrace the beauty of their dog working odor and to give them the time needed to solve the odor puzzle.
To accomplish this we must honor all their turns and sniffs and when they want to leave or come back. This may include letting them dismiss a novel smell and acclimating to an area before they settle into work. This sport requires patience and learning to observe our dog around odor and distractions. We have no idea the complexity of what they have to do!
Regardless of your handling approach, I simply want to remind people to give their dog time to source a hide.
To intervene or not – that is the question!
Not finding a hide right away is hard! We feel the pressure of time and it makes us want to help our dog. In area searches, we are unlikely to take them exactly to where a hide is. We are completely guessing or making assumptions.
The more we intervene, the less likely they will be able to work the scent plume to source. When our dogs are used to us helping, they are splitting their attention between working odor and watching us for clues and that affects the purity of the search! How can they figure this out if we are making a bunch of suggestions? If we let our dogs figure it out on their own, they will have more information for solving a similar scent puzzle more efficiently later on!
It doesn’t mean we can’t make a suggestion or sometimes intervene. It’s all in the timing. We might assume they are distracted or just sniffing the ground, but they may also be working odor or need to dismiss something first. If your dog is actively scenting/working, that is not the time to intervene with our guesswork. If your dog is ready to leave an area – let them or you risk getting a false alert. If your dog appears to be stuck, then suggesting a new area to search is OK to do. Some dogs are less sensitive to our suggestions whereas others will learn to rely on it.
As much as I want to intervene and will in some situations, I know in the long run it is better to minimize how much we direct and lead. We may get lucky with directing our dog. We may miss hides by letting the dog lead. I’ve seen more evidence that letting the dog do the heavy lifting provides the best results.
The art of patience
It’s the art of patience that I love seeing with the teams I work with. Once dogs have that autonomy – it’s a beautiful thing to watch. We can take great pleasure in giving our dogs the time to work odor, whether they find all the hides or not! Relish the simple joy of observing your dog in a search area. Here’s a great example from team Magic.