I have two competing shepherds, and one mixed breed I used Nosework as a confidence builder for.
What Is Source?
Without a source, Nosework wouldn’t exist. It is what fuels the game for dogs.
No matter where you go, odor is everywhere. It can be food crumbs, shoe smells, elimination spots, chemicals, pollen, etc. It is the job of the handler and dog to work together to differentiate the two.
Remember: The object of the game is to always find the strongest source of the odor
When Your Dog Leaves the Source of Odor. . .
Sometimes dogs will find and then leave the odor. The following are situations why:
- The dog has their own agenda. My GSD, Dea, will be on target and then veer off following a different trail of odor. Sometimes she will get back on task and other times she couldn't care less.
- If the search area has multiple hides, the odor can intermingle. One strategy dogs can develop is finding a source, leaving it and finding another source of odor, before circling back to the original odor.
- Some dogs like to perimeter check the whole search area, before easing into their job. In practice, this is a good strategy as long as they’re moving along. My other GSD will do this before catching the scent and beelining it for the source.
- Confidence can make or break a dog. They may lack confidence and leave the source, or distraction in the environment can deviate their attention.
- Lack of value placed on the odor. The odor must be considered high value to the dog or what's the point of searching?
It is not a failure if you return to the foundation of Nosework training—meaning you pair the treats with the source for instant reward. The dogs will stay on the source, scenting it while they eat the treat, reinforcing the odor.
It's best to feed a treat at a time, at a good pace, when the dog finds the source. It is better to reinforce the odor by feeding generously than it is to rush and get as many practice runs in as you can.
Sometimes the handler can be the problem. No worries if so. Practice makes perfect. The following are reasons why it may be a handler error:
- Are you trying to fit as many runs in as you can during practice? Don’t. As mentioned, it’s better to reward slower and more generously and have fewer practice runs than it is to rush. Remember that dogs are very in-tune with their humans. If they feel your angst, they’re going to be anxious too. This can throw them off their game.
- Are you too focused on wanting your dog to give you a certain sign for ‘Alert?’ Dogs will adopt their own ways of alerting on odor. They may sit, lay down, poke the source, look up at you, vocalize. There are many different ways your dog can tell you where the odor is. Still, there will be dogs who breeze by and give you no indication of odor. (My chihuahua mix does that).
- Do you wait too long to reward? This happens to everyone. Your dog is in the search area and for a split second, your mind wanders. Meanwhile, your dog indicates the odor and you miss the body language. Oops. In practice, it’s not the end of the world, just be more vigilant. but know in trials, that could hurt you both.
NW1 trials set one hide per element (interior, exterior, vehicles, containers), however as you move up the levels, you could have multiple hides or be given a blank room (No hide). The hides can also be different odors within the same search area as well (birch, anise and clove).
Elite levels will put hides close together during NACSW trials, while in lower levels judges will place odors far enough away from each other they don’t mix.
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Dogs will often return to the source they already found if they're looking for multiple hides and they get frustrated.
In practice, my trainer calls it the ‘Pez dispenser.’ The dog returns to the hide they already found and their owner rewards them again and again.
To discourage such behavior, it best to praise them and not feed them when they alert on already found hides. Encourage them to keep searching.
If you keep rewarding old hides, you are not teaching them to branch out and find new hides.
Inaccessible hides are exactly that: A hide the dog cannot physically reach but can pinpoint its location.
The most nerve-wracking part of trials, especially in the higher levels, is calling "Alert" on inaccessible hides. Is the dog even at source?
Maybe it’s a vehicle hide. The hide is located on the right undercarriage, but the dog is stuck on ‘the odor’ on the left lower tailgate. Odor travels. Odor pools. The handler must bear that in mind as they work together with their dog.
Judges call “yes” or “no” based on the airflow and the location of the source. The more inaccessible the source is, the broader range you have to call ‘Alert.’ But that does not mean you can call “Alert” on that left lower tailgate because the odor traveled and get a yes.
- Practice inaccessible hides. The dog must understand the difference between source and inaccessible. They are smart, they can do it. They need to know it is not always possible to put their nose directly on the source.
- Know your dog and their unique way of indication. Some dogs will pivot back and forth quickly over the source before they alert on its precise or close location.
- Know the object and airflow. The accepted area for ‘Alert’ on source depends on what/where the source is coming from. An inaccessible hide in a cabinet will be different from an inaccessible hide on a vehicle. Your dog can likely ‘alert’ on the seams of the cabinet and get a “yes.” You don’t have to wait for your dog to alert on the precise corner of the cabinet. For a vehicle: The inaccessible hide may be located around the muffler, but the dog alerts on the odor coming through the wheel well due to the airflow. That could be considered a 'yes.'
There is nothing more thrilling in Nosework than calling 'Alert' and getting it right. As heart-pounding as it is, there is always a sense of accomplishment. You and your dog worked well as a team and conquered the search area.
There is only one more thing to remember from this article. To successfully find source and inaccessible hides, always have faith in your dog. They always know best.
© 2021 Regin St Cyr