Have you ever heard the phrase “train like you trial”? Today I would like to talk about some of the differences between training and trialing. For me, I often approach my training hides differently than my trial hides. Why? Because each type of hide has a different purpose. Training hides (when working known hides to the handler) are about the dog’s education. Trial hides are about testing the team. Training is Training. Trialing is Testing.

Training is Training.  Trialing is Testing.

What is a Training Hide?

Quite simply, a Training Hide teaches problem solving and builds skills.  A Training Hide is most effective when the location is KNOWN to the handler and done off leash with no handler involvement.  Training Hides are usually very challenging and require the dog to REALLY work the problem.  I don’t typically time-bound my training hides and will let the dog work so long as I am not seeing a drop in motivation.  A drop in motivation usually signals an impending drop in confidence.  If my dog can’t find a hide, we simply leave it.  When working training hides it is essential that I don’t “help” the dog or steer the dog into the area.  Often people use the words “support the dog”.  This all sounds great except that it usually means “give the dog the answer”.  Once the dog learns that when things get tough that you will show them where to search or where the hide is, the dog may start to defer to you or cease working when the hide is blind and difficult.  It is much better to just leave the hide behind! (cheerfully of course!)

Training Hides are generally complex in nature and may ask a lot of the dog.  It’s also possible that you might ask “more” of the dog…  either by asking for more commitment or ask the dog to try to get a little closer.  This doesn’t mean more precise…  it just means working a little harder and longer in some cases versus “good enough to call”.

What is a Trial Hide?

A Trial Hide tends to test a fully developed skill.  These hides tend to be placed so that they are straightforward to judge.  In many ways, they are a lot less complex (in general) than training hides.  There also tends to be a little more leeway for a “Yes” with a trial hide…  with a training hide, if the dog CAN get closer, ideally we want them too.  With a trial hide, if the dog COULD be correct and the handler has taken the risk to call Alert, the team earns a Yes.  

Trial hides are under time pressure.  What this means is that the handler needs to do a risk assessment before calling Alert, especially in the case of inaccessible hides (stay tuned for a blog on that topic!).  Once the handler has decided that the hide is inaccessible, the handler has to interpret the dog’s body language and decide at what point they believe that they can get a Yes. This may require moving to a new area, enlarging an area, or casting a dog towards the potential source of the odor so that the dog can Sniff and Dismiss.  How you handle Trial hides is very different than handling Training Hides!

Here’s an Example of a Training Hide…

In this case, I work Prize on a long leash (off leash was not an option here) and I swing the pendulum to 100% Dog Driven.  The hide is elevated on a pole in the sun.  With the hide set in this way, a normal pole hide becomes incredibly complex. Essential oil odor is extremely buoyant and will loft when exposed to heat. Because of the walls and the poles surroundings, odor will deflect off of surfaces across the courtyard. By letting Prize work this from a dog driven approach, she can learn how scent moves and works when under thermal influences.  There is no steering involved!  At the point of this video, Prize was under a year old. Prize has since gone on and earned NW3 Elite just after her second birthday.

Compare that to Brava working the same hide…  watch how experience pays off!  Although this IS a “training hide” for Brava, this is also something that might be seen at Elite or Summit.  The only intervention that I really do here is redirecting her off of dog pee smells.  Brava solves this in less than half the time it takes Prize…  this is because of Brava’s experience and loads of training hides under her belt. Since this video was taken, Brava has earned her Elite Champion with Overall Pronounced and two Summit titles. Training hides pay off!

Here’s an Example of a Trial Hide…

In this example, Powder is working a deep inaccessible hide on a rolling cart full of junk.  This is during a trial at the Elite level in NACSW.  Notice that I look for information about the hide.  In this case I am NOT trying to completely source the hide. I call it when I feel like the risk is low for a “No” or a “Where”. A trial hide like this tests the dog’s skill for odor localization and the handler’s skill of reading the behavior enough to call a hide. The only true education that happens during a trial is to teach the handler what needs to be addressed later in training. A trial is ONLY a test.

Training is Training and Trialing and Testing

Have a purpose to your training and remember that training is for building the skills of your dog. Use your training hides to build problem solving skills through known hide placements. In trialing, all of that observation and all of the skills that your dog has learned come together so that you can confidently call Alert. In a later blog, we will cover the thought process that we go through to call Alert in a trial.