Making Sure the Shoe Fits

Our dogs are born with a Harvard Degree in Olfaction. Because of this, so often I see people training by throwing cool hides out to see how their dogs will do.  They may place a high hide out that is beyond their dog’s skills or perhaps some massive converging odor.  Ooooo…..  how about a suspended hide?  Doing this can be the worst thing in the world for most dogs’ training.  Why?  Because it can destroy their confidence and motivation.  We wouldn’t ever take a green dog and run them on a Masters level Agility course or as a Novice dog who is just learning to heel to do a full Utility run through, would we?  Of course not.  However, for some reason in this sport, we think nothing of setting a ridiculously difficult search and running any dog through it who knows how to recognize Birch.  But don’t they already have that Harvard education in Olfaction?  Sure!  But they are diamonds in the rough….  they are untuned, not yet sculpted.  Scent Puzzles sculpt our dogs into Rocket Scientists of the Nosework world.  The catch is that the scent puzzles HAVE to be appropriate.

Are you confusing your dog or giving him skill appropriate searches?

The Big Question

Ok, great.  I have your attention.  But the real question that everyone asks is HOW do you do this?

Well, you need to understand and know your dog a little first…  and….  you need to understand the basics of scent theory.  So let’s say you understand basic scent theory…  now what?

Be truthful with yourself and answer these questions…

  1. What is your dog’s current skill level?  Be truthful here.  Can your dog easily solve the challenges of your level?
  2. How resilient is your dog?  Does your dog get frustrated easily?  Can your dog bounce back easily from something that is too hard?
  3. How much drive does your dog have?  When things are TOO simple, does your dog still go after it with gusto?  How about too hard?  Will your dog continue to drive to odor?


How resilient and how much drive your dog has will define your dog’s flexibility.  A dog with little resilience and little drive will need carefully set puzzles that are neither too hard nor too easy.  These dogs need a level of challenge commensurate with their skills.  Too easy and they will think that it’s not worth their time.  Too difficult and they will quit on you.  It’s a delicate balance!

If you have a resilient, drivey dog, you can experiment a little more.  You can set hides of varying difficulty.  These dogs are much more flexible than their less resilient cousins.  It’s easier to not mess up with these dogs.

How you structure your sessions needs to be based on your dog’s flexibility.

A Model…

I developed a model to demonstrate how difficult of a search you might want to aim for depending on your dog’s skill level.  Keep in mind that this assumes that your dog is confident and works in drive!  If your dog lacks confidence, work on that first.  If your dog isn’t in drive, look to arousal modification.  Figure out where your dog is on the Skill Level (x axis).  That will tell you the optimum challenge level you should set.  Based on Resilience and Drive, the Buffers (transition zones) will shift.

Interested in Learning More?

My class NW240 Nosework Challenges will go more into depth with resilience and drive.  Learn to set appropriate puzzles!  Classes start August 1.  To register: