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Hide Placement in Nosework: It's an Art Form

Just a person with too much time on their hands, spreading the gospel of Nosework to the best of their knowledge.

Scout on the hunt!

Scout on the hunt!

The Placement of Hides

Without places to hide your odor, there would be no nosework. What’s the fun in the odor sitting out in plain sight? There would be no challenge and the game would be over before it began.

One question I’ve been asked is how many Qtips a person should use when practicing on their own. There is no set number. Typically, the more novice the dog, three Qtips is usually the magical number. As the dog becomes more advanced, they will be able to find a hide with one Qtip. It’s better to change it up. Dogs see the world in pictures. If there is a sofa in the middle of a room and the dog leaves and comes back, with the sofa against the wall, that is a “different picture.” This same philosophy goes for Nosework. One Qtip, two Qtips, or three, all make a different picture for your dog to puzzle out.

The world is literally our playground when it comes to Nosework. Any scene anywhere can be used for a search area. Driveways, supermarket parking lots, front loaders and big trucks (with permission), the list is endless.

You can buy scent tins with earth magnets, these are incredibly helpful when you are working with metal. If you want to stick the hide somewhere non-metal then you can use museum putty or any derivative. Some people use straws or heat shrink, glue dots, putty, and more.

Another thing to remember is dogs will search with their eyes. Dogs see yellows and blues quite clearly, while red comes in faded hues. Keep that in mind if you use the straws or any hide container, you could be setting out a bright yellow or a blue beacon. It’s not that we want to trick the dog, we want them to be their best when it comes to the sport, especially if the owners have lofty plans of trialing.

Storing Odors

Once you are using all three odors (birch, anise, and clove), you'll want to store them separately, otherwise, they will eventually all smell alike.

Glass Gerber baby jars are amazing; not only do they seal the odor inside, but they are also big enough to hold Qtips. Mason jars are also a main staple of many Nosework participants; these easily hold multiple tins together, again with like odors.

Although, I personally avoid putting the tins together while loaded. When the tins are kept loaded, meaning the Qtips stay in them, the oils corrode them quickly especially when they are sealed in a jar. It’s a double-edged sword. It's convenient as hell to have the tins at the ready but they rust almost immediately and the odor gets all over you. It is a pain, but I wash my tins after every use with Dawn soap, although even I haven't managed to completely avoid the rust.

The Search Area

Evaluating your search area is always important; it doesn’t matter if you are in your home or out and about. There are many components to a successful nosework search. There’s airflow, sun/heat/cold exposure, objects, and more. Take the example of a shed. The door is open, the shed is full of garden supplies and a mower, etc. It's a nice sunny day and your dog is in a long line ready to go.

*Be advised: This is a tricky scenario.

The Sun

The sun is a ball of gas, the UV rays heat the planet. The warm UV rays will draw the odor out the shed door and upward. (Hot air rises, cold air falls).

Air Flow

The wind will push odor inward and onto the back side of the shed. Maybe it isn’t windy, but if you shut that shed door after you set a hide and then open it, the act of that door opening would produce the same results, sort of like a vacuum as the air is released.


There are always critters living in sheds, garages, shelter logic tents. They poop, they pee, they eat, and they sleep, leaving a delicious trail of scent everywhere they go. (Delicious to the dog). Your dog will have to learn to ignore those fantastic distractions and stay focused on the task at hand. As they advance in the sport, they will get better, but there will always be those with “their own agendas,” just like my Dea.

Ultimately, it is a delicate balance. If you’re just starting out in Nosework, you don’t want to make the hides too hard, it will breed frustration and disinterest in a game if the dog cannot win. You don’t want a too-challenging hide in a too-challenging area with even tougher environmental parameters, at least not yet. Once your dog is experienced then you can do the tough hides.


The Plan

It is important to remember as fun as Nosework is, the hides and training should never be random. You get what you put into the training/hides. And the dog will become inconsistent in their alerts if their training is haphazard.

You want variety. High and low, objects, no objects, grass/asphalt, no grass/asphalt, metal or nonmetal. Is there one hide or more (once your dog is proficient)?

The variety has to have meaning. If you put a hide in a shed full of equipment that houses small rodents, and your dog is a novice, is that the right hide placement? Or should you stick to a room full of bowls with a hide in one of them? What is easier? What is not going to frustrate your dog based on their level of expertise? What habits are you instilling in your dog either purposeful or by accident? Placing hides really is a form of art and only gets better with practice.


Final Reminders

  • Airflow is not the enemy. Downwind is always your friend.
  • If the dog can’t find the hide, it is probably a placement issue. Pause and reset, remembering to keep the situation fun for the dog. Your dog will pick up on your frustrations.
  • Odor hygiene. It’s hard but necessary, otherwise, contamination is rampant.
  • Switch up your training. Don’t always focus on ground hides and don’t always focus on high hides. Don’t stick to just metal or non-metal surfaces.
  • If the search area is tough, make the hide easy until your dog is proficient.
  • Materials like cardboard, plastics, and anything fabric will absorb the odor and may be counterproductive to your training. Not that it’s a terrible idea to use those materials, but wait until your dog is more proficient.

Things to Avoid

  • Consider your dog’s temperament. Are they softer—meaning timid? Don’t force them into a situation that may be scary for them. This includes search areas where the dog might have to go underneath, over, or through an obstacle. If your dog is so-called bomb-proof, meaning nothing fazes them, then by all means, have as many obstacles as you want without overwhelming the dog.
  • Don’t always use flat smooth surfaces. The world is not made of only such.
  • Different heights! Don’t do only ground hides or only high hides!
  • Don't always set the hide in a similar fashion no matter the search area. (so only in a corner or only in the back of an area) Remember, variety!
  • For novice dogs, avoid putting the hide in an area where the odor will pool. This is a skill that comes later for dogs, but not beginners!

There you have it! Enjoy your dog and have fun learning to work as a team!

© 2022 Regin St Cyr