NW3 can be an abyss. It can be a frustrating exercise of one too many errors…. or it can be a fun journey where you get your feet wet with unknown number of hides. The difference is the pressure that a handler puts on themself.

Coming out of NW2 with your first dog, you are likely going to find NW3 to be challenging. However, you are going to find that if you make it out to be more than it is, it’s going be especially challenging. NW3 tests your ability to read your dog and cover you area consistently over a long day.

In NW3, you will have 6 searches in any combination of Containers, Interiors, Exteriors, and Vehicles. Each search will have 0 to 3 hides although you will not have more than one blank area. Although it’s not written anywhere, don’t expect more than one 3 hide search in a trial. You will need to find all hides and call Finish before the time runs out in order to tell the judge that you are confident that you have found everything. If you are perfect in the day, you title. If you make only one mistake (an error) in a day, you earn a Qualifying Leg which can be combined with another Qualifying Leg for a title.

So what is the key to NW3?

The key is truly in NOT overthinking it…. the hides, unless something is set out of the ordinary, will be straightforward. The Certifying Official will NOT be out to trick you or catch you up. You are unlikely to see extensive convergence and even though you CAN have a 6 foot hide, don’t necessarily expect one. And if there IS a challenge, most likely you won’t have layers of challenges. The hides will be doable in the timeframe that you have provided that your dog is confident and has reasonable odor obedience.

Look for a change of behavior and then let your dog work to the hide. Then look for another scent cone. If your dog doesn’t give you a real change of behavior (and your dog is not distracted), don’t assume that there is a hide! It’s much better to leave a hide behind than to talk your dog into a hide.

Here’s an example of a more recent NW3 with my youngest dog, Prize. Prize comes in focused and works effectively. I only need to move through the area and look for distinct changes of behavior.

This is a typical NW3 Interior. The hides are well spaced and straightforward. They are testing clearing, not can you find super difficult hides!

If your dog is focused, that is half the battle of NW3

You have trained hard… you have the skills. Get your dog focused and the rest will fall into place. That means that you need to know what your dog looks like in focus and how to get your dog focused in new environments. If you can do that, the rest is much easier.

If your dog lacks focus in the beginning, recover that area. The NW3 areas are not huge. You have time to recover an area if you need it.

In this video from Brava’s final NW3, she was in a very high state of arousal coming into the search. Because I recognized this, I knew I needed to recover the threshold. That was a good thing too because there was hide there!

What if you DO make a mistake?

No big deal! Look, I am going to be honest here…. although we would all love to get our NW3 Elite in 3 perfect tries, it’s really not to the handler’s advantage to do so, especially not with their first dog. If you think about title progression in NW3, it’s about teamwork development more than anything. NW3 is the perfect springboard to give you a wee, tiny taste of just a little bit of Elite. However, getting through NW3 fast, usually means that you haven’t had a chance to develop your teamwork. If you make a mistake, that is actually a reprieve because it means you get more experience before Elite. Making a mistake at NW3 can actually be a GOOD thing (sometimes)!

I often hear people lament about how many tries it is taking them to get through the NW3 level. Please know that the number of tries does NOT have any reflection on how good you or your dog are. What it means is that your teamwork is still in flux. Maybe you had a blip in a trial or there was a weird hide that didn’t present well…. or maybe you were just unlucky and something happened to cause an error. NW3 is a Journey…. and your journey with your dog will be different than anyone else’s journey. It’s personal… and it can’t be compared.

And above all ENJOY IT! NW3 can be fun, if you let it be! Breathe and focus on the search (and the dog) in front of you.

If you want to know a little more about searching and focusing on one search at a time, I wrote a blog back in 2019 on this subject…. One Search at a Time