Relationship is everything.  

Hands and paws

It’s true!  Relationship is Everything! It’s what every handler should be seeking with their dog regardless of the sport.  Relationship is the foundation of solid teamwork.  In competition scent detection this is no different.  When we are handling effectively, we are partnered with our dog.  We are moving with our dog with FLUIDITY and ELASTICITY.  Picture two wolves hunting.  Once doesn’t stand off to the side and watch!  They are both engaged, working together in perfect harmony.  When we search with our dogs, it’s the same…. and when we are doing this in step, with teamwork, it’s beautiful to behold.  The dog has the nose but the handler has responsibility as well.


Recently, I’ve found the aspect of dog behavior and response to social cues to be fascinating.  This sociological aspect of what makes a dog tick is fundamentally important to how we handle.

For instance, did you know that a dog will IGNORE olfactory cues when presented with a conflicting social cue?

Wait, what?  Yes, go back and read that sentence because it’s the most important thing that I’ve written so far this morning.

And, guess what?  Your dog cares what your think!  A dog’s natural independence could actually be measured according to how much they care. And…. the more your dog cares, the more those social cues are going to be an important part of the search.  And… keep in mind that the sport of canine scent detection is mostly a pet dog sport.

So your great relationship with your dog may in fact be the source of your False Alerts!

But isn’t a good relationship, IDEAL?  YES IT IS!!  It also means that when you handle, you need to be cognizant of your subconscious inclination to express your opinion.

How could you be expressing your opinion to your dog?

Your dog is a master at reading you…. and they want to please you….  because of your excellent relationship.

What cues could you be giving your dog?

– Relational Acceleration / Deceleration

– Proximity

– Preference

Acceleration / Deceleration is based on a change in your speed IN RELATION TO YOUR DOG.  You speed up or walk past your dog and you risk pulling your dog off odor.  You slow down near a cold box and you risk a false alert.  You slow down in response to your dog’s slow down (change of speed / behavior) and you risk your dog throwing a final response prematurely.

Proximity represents your distance from your dog.  Dogs have a sweet spot and it may vary depending on the dog.  Get too close and crowd your dog, you may cause either a false alert or you could push your dog off of odor (dogs respond to pressure – some breeds more than others).  Stand too far away and your dog may feel insecure and unable to communicate the hide location.  (Standing of course is an element of relative deceleration… hmmm….  see how these parts start to fit together?)

Preference!  Have you ever been in a blank room, about to call “Finish” and your dog throws a final response and you call “Alert”?  Oh boy….  the bane of many NW3 teams! How about going into a search area thinking “that’s a good place for a hide” and your dog alerts there but you get a “No”?  In both of these situations we have communicated our preferences to the dog.

The reason why dogs respond to these cues is because they are descended from animals whose very survival depends on teamwork and cooperation.  This is WHY your dog cares what you think!

False Alerts are usually the result of dogs trying to be good teammates with us.  Sure, dogs can make a mistake and fringe (meaning alert on the edge of scent cone unintentionally due to scenting conditions).  But False Alerts are usually handler induced in some way, form or fashion.  What about the optimistic dog who throws a behavior in order to earn a cookie?  Well, in all likelihood that is just trained in.

And when you started this sport, you thought the DOG did all the work….

Happy Sniffing!!