Managing Returning to Source

Green dogs will often return to source when started on multi-hide searches.  This is completely normal.  In fact, it is demonstrating that budding fundamental of odor obedience.  For ORT's and NW1 this is wonderful...  we are building that beautiful, strong desire to find source and to stay at source.

Here's a video of a green dog showing the very start of odor obedience.  This is Joey and he's just starting Nosework.  Joey is on odor only and is not pairing.  Watch his insistence and desire to return to source even though I'm cueing him to search some more.  In an experienced dog, I prefer that the dog not return to source, but for a green dog, I'm thrilled with his desire for odor. 

As we start to introduce the concept of multiple hides, the rules start to change.  Now we want our dogs to start to find the first hide and then understand the previous hides are no longer in play.  This is part of every dog's learning journey.  Overall, it's possible to progress through NW2 and NW3 with a dog that returns to source but it cuts into our time in a trial.  If you have a slower dog to begin with, this can be catastrophic and can even result in timing out in serious cases.  Or we can get frustrated and start to pull our dogs away from odor...  and possibly away from another source of odor in a converging odor puzzle.  So how do we start to communicate the change in rules to our dogs?  How do we balance odor obedience and the game of multiple hides? 

Let's first talk about the ideal picture.  Ideally, the dog works independently to find the first hide.  Once found, the dog sticks to the hide until rewarded.  Then on verbal cue, the dog leaves the hide with the knowledge that the first hide is no longer in play.  The dog leaves and finds the next hide with the same fervor and sticks to that hide until rewarded.  Upon finding all of the hides, the dog communicates to the handler that there are no more hides to be found.  What is the result of this best case?  The result tends to be fast, accurate searches that consistenly win element placements and pronoucements. 

So how do we develop this? 

This behavior is a series of behavior chains: 

(1) The dog must stick to source and wait to be rewarded at source.  Rewarding at source is critical.  If the dog is rewarded away from source it becomes very easy for the dog to boomerang back to the hide once cued to search again. 

(2) The dog leaves the hide on command to search for the next hide 

(3) The dog sticks to source at the next hide and waits to be rewarded at source 

(4) Once all hides are found, the dog looks to the handler with a "what next" expression or communicates to the handler in another fashion (e.g., disinterest) that there is nothing left to find. 

Once a dog has this behavior chain, large and small areas can be worked successfully off leash and on verbal control.  Areas can be perused and successfully covered so that the handlers job is minor adjustments in the search pattern so that corners and thresholds are covered (this can be managed through body movement of the handler or through limited directed searching). 

The result of this training is beautiful, fast teamwork between dog and handler...  the perfect balance between independence and handling while maintaining motivation and odor obedience.  This will also result in the "Three P's"...  Pronounced, Passes and Placements. 

So how do we train this? 

First we need to have the basics...  Odor Obedience.  Odor Obedience is beyond the scope of this discussion but it can be achieved by adhering to the sequence: Understanding --> Confidence --> Drive --> Proofing. 

Once we have odor obedience we can start to train the dog that the hide, once found is now out of play.  Lisa Pattison taught me this technique and once I used it, my dog quickly learned the tools of the game.  Thank you Lisa!  In training, once your dog has found the hide, reward AT SOURCE.  Then step between the hide and your dog while touching the harness to ask your dog to turn away from source.  Wait for your dog to catch the odor of the next hide and release with your search cue.  Using this approach in converging odor puzzles is especially effective. 

Here's a video of me using this approach with Judd in a basic vehicle search where the hides are mirrored images in the wheel wells of opposite vehicles.  Notice that because the second hide is available, he changes his focus away from the first hide. 

I take this training to the next step.  I have added a new verbal cue to finding the next hide.  I use "Find Another" rather than "Search".  To introduce this cue I use "Find Another, Search" and then fade "Search".  This cue develops the meaning that the first hide is done, now the second hide is in play.  On this cue after my dog's reward, he will leave the first hide and not return.  On the rare occasion that he DOES return, he is verbally praised and with "Yes, You Found that One, Find Another".  In this way, I am acknowleding the information that he has given me but I have communicated to him the reminder that the first hide is no longer in play.  It's rare for him to return to the hide again. 

Here’s a video of a dog nearly ready for NW1.  Why is learning how to move to subsequent hides.  In this case, I am still blocking access to the first hide.

Heres another video of a team learning this approach.  Watch how Ginny steps in front of the hide as Sheila starts to investigate the found the hide.  The result is beautiful communication between the two that the first hide is no longer in play.  Ginny and Sheila are an Elite team and are working a complex converging odor puzzle in this video.

Heres Judd who has finished this training.  Im able to work him off leash in a converging odor puzzle with just my voice.  Ive been able to fade stepping in front of the hide and he works solely on “Find Another”.  His search is fast and accurate.

So how do I know when Judd is finished?  He stops searching because at that point he is only searching unproductive areas.  He may give a cursory sniff to something I asked him to search and then look me.   (Looking at me is not his alert.  His alert is nose at source).  For your dog, this may look different. 

Is this training foolproof?  Certainly not.  I have my fair share of NW3 Misses but what I can say is that the Misses were nearly entirely handler error (I'm just as guilty as the next handler of "stupid mistakes") and when we did Pass, we have been HIT and Second Overall.  Even when we don't pass, Judd never comes away without at least one element placement and we usually have a couple of P's on our sheets.  Our times are fast and our comments are usually "Good motivation.  Good odor obedience".  What I can tell you is that this approach works.   

Happy Sniffing!


© Stacy Barnett 2015