Early on in our Nosework careers, most of us will get judges comments about crowding the dog or we are encouraged to work our dog off leash when possible. Why is that? The answer is Proximity of Influence. Simply put, the closer we are to our dog, the more influence we exert on his behavior.
Let’s face it. In Nosework, the dog is the star. He’s the Team Captain and we play a supporting role. We are at best a navigator although our main role is as interpreter. What this means is that we want the dog working as independently as possible. We simply dance along, following and making sure we check our corners and thresholds. The glamour and stardom is ALL DOG.
And yet, dogs want to please. Their whole lives are devoted to us. They are truly Man’s Best Friend. He’s there for us through thick and thin and would gladly sacrifice everything for us. In most sports, the dog follows our lead. We tell them where to move, where to run, where to jump, what to retrieve. In this sport we pass the baton and allow our dogs to do something that we can barely comprehend and really don’t understand. It’s beautiful really. Through this sport our dogs transform and use their primal sense of smell with powers developed over tens of thousands of years of evolution.
And yet, dogs want to please. That desire to please can overwhelm even their desire to find Source. The result… potential False Alerts due to exerting too much presence through proximity. Have you ever tried to work with someone whether it be a teacher or a boss looking over your shoulder? It becomes hard to concentrate and perform. We strive hard to “do it right” and we make mistakes. When we hover over our dogs during the search, we are doing the same thing. When we are too close, our influence becomes too great. The dog tries to involve us and may seek to have us provide information. The trouble is, we can’t smell Birch, Anise, Clove, or anything else unless the odor is strong and right beneath our noses.
The other issue is disturbance to the scent cone. Our bodies create eddies in scent cone. Picture a stream…. what does a rock do? It creates an eddy and turbulence in the water. Our bodies do the same thing to scent.
Now picture these ripples in the Proximity of Influence… the farther away you are from the dog, the less likely you will cause ripples in the air flow. Our dogs use concentration of scent particles to locate source. Standing too close to the dog makes it physically more difficult for the dog to do his job.
One thing I always tell my students is to take a step back as soon as the dog is in odor. This is a general rule of thumb. The result is that it helps to remove our influence on the dog’s behavior and on the scent particles. Here’s a video example of me working my dog at a NW3 trial. Note how as soon as I step back he is able to quickly source the hide. (I step into him initially to encourage him into the corner). As soon as I see he’s in odor, I take a step back.
The other advantage of giving your canine partner space is that it cuts the umbilical cord. Dogs that are timid or environmental actually become MORE SO the closer you are. You will notice that as soon as you lengthen your leash and give the dog room, he will start to search rather than pay his attention to you.
Next time you are searching… step back when in odor and think about your Proximity of Influence.