Every hide has a purpose. A well balanced training program includes both Known and Blind hides. The success of your training may depend on how much of each you do!

The balance between Known and Blind Hides depends on your point in training and the training challenges you are facing.
The balance between Known and Blind Hides depends on your point in training and the training challenges you are facing.

The Purpose of Known Hides

The purpose of Known Hides is to train the dog and to educate your eye. Hide placement shapes the dog’s searching behavior and teaches them about scent theory. Because dogs are thinking animals and because they will do what has worked in the past, how you set your hides will shape their future searching behavior. At the same time, all target odors behave a little differently. Essential oils create large, lofty scent cones. Hide placement helps the dog to draw conclusions that make the search more efficient. As you watch the dog solve these Known Hides, you learn what their behavior tells you about the hide placement.

An excellent example of a Known Hide that I did with Prize when I visited my good friend Robin Greubel at The K9 Sensus Foundation in Lucas, Iowa

The Purpose of Blind Hides

The purpose of Blind Hides is to train the handler to work under pressure and to interpret the dog’s behaviors without preconceived thoughts about hide placement. Blind Hides are most powerful when you are learning how to clear areas of an unknown number of hides. Blind Hides are more about where the hide ISN’T than where the hide IS.

Here’s a great example of a Blind Search that I did with Why when I got together with my good friend and training partner, Ana Cilursu. Why is competing at Elite and in our Elite debut I realized that I have been handling him more based on how he used to search than how he does currently. I needed practice clearing an area without knowing where the hides are located.

What is the Right Balance?

The optimal balance between Known and Blind hides depends on where you are in your journey with your dog and what strengths and weaknesses your team has.

In general, the more advanced the team, the more Blind Hides are important. Unless you are competing at a level or preparing to compete at a level where the number of hides is unknown, you should limit your Blind Hides to a small percentage of your total searching. At the levels with a known number of hides, a very dog driven approach with limited interference from the handler is usually the ideal strategy to be successful in competition. The handler’s role increases in importance as you move up the levels, therefore blind hides can help you to know how to cover your space.

Beginning teams or green dogs should really only be doing Known Hides. As long as the hide placement is good, it’s essential to focus initial training on building confidence and independence. Working Blind Hides while the dog is still new to searching is a great way to dampen confidence and destroy independent searching behaviors. Working Blind Hides is fun, however there is no actual benefit to the dog’s training.

How do you know if you are doing too many Blind Hides?

The best way to know if you are doing too many Blind Hides is to evaluate your dog’s searching behavior. Here are some Reg Flags to watch out for:

  • Your dog starts to look to you for information in a search. This may look like check ins or confusion.
  • Your incidence of false alerts goes up. This means that your dog is now asking YOU if they are correct rather than communicating to you where the hide is located. The dog is guessing.
  • Your dog is reluctant to move into a new part of the search area without being told to move on. This is a symptom of lack of independence that is caused by over-handling and over-directing the search.

All of these Red Flags point to a loss of independence and confidence in the dog. If you see any of these situations start to show up in your training (or trialing), it’s time to do more Known Hides!

It’s always good to constantly evaluate your training. Changing the balance between Known and Blind Hides is one way to modify and improve your training.