One of the scariest things about moving up the levels is calling Alert on an inaccessible hide. Is the dog at source? Is it close enough? At levels 2 and 3 you have to have the guts to make the call and to make it with conviction. I get questions all the time about whether a call was made at the right moment or whether the call was made in the right spot.
When judges make a “yes” or “no” determination it’s based on air flow and hide characteristics. Think of a bullseye… the judge has picked a bullseye and will accept calls within the boundaries. The more inaccessible the hide, the broader the boundaries will be. The drawing below depicts an example potential acceptable call region for a recessed hide on the undercarriage of a car.
So in a trial situation how do we know that we are in the boundaries of the “call zone”? We don’t.
There is an element of risk every time we say “Alert”, especially when the hide is inaccessible. The real question is how do we minimize this risk.
1.) Practice inaccessible hides
We are told in our training to train 80% accessible… that means that we need to train 20% inaccessible. Although it’s necessary for our dogs to believe that they can always get to source we need them to also understand the concept of an inaccessible hide. This is especially important for a dog with a Trained Final Response such as a Sit or other obedience behavior. For dogs with a natural alert, practicing inaccessible hides reduces the frustration that a dog might feel for not getting to source.
In professional scent detection (as opposed to competitive scent detection), some dogs are trained to have an aggressive alert. This means that the dog has developed a true belief that he can always get to source and will try to dismantle an object to get at source. This results in digging and biting. In competitive scent detection we prefer a passive alert such as a nose oriented towards source. In the case of an inaccessible hide, source can be a broad distinction. The only way we and our dogs can be comfortable with these hides is to practice.
2.) Know your dog’s indication
Depending on the type of inaccessible hide you might get variations of your typical alert.
“Bracketing” is the behavior that a dog shows going back and forth over and area trying to find the ultimate source of the odor. (Think of bracketing as putting parentheses around the source of odor.)
Here’s an example of bracketing:
In the case of an inaccessible that is out of reach you might get a neck stretch. Here’s an example of source that is out of reach:
These are just examples of one dog’s inaccessible indications… you will need to build a history with your dog learning your dog’s specific indications.
3.) Consider the object and air flow
The target zone that will be acceptable will depend on the object and the air flow around it. The target zone for a filing cabinet will be different than a recessed hide under a jacked up truck. Your dog will alert where odor is available as the source of odor is not available in the case of an inaccessible hide.
On an object like a filing cabinet, consider that odor can escape all along the edges of a drawer. An alert anywhere along the seams of the drawer would likely be acceptable. Don’t try to wait for your dog to pinpoint source because there is nothing to pinpoint.
Here’s an example of a dog alerting on a hide under the gas flap of a truck. The truck is rusted out and the concentration of odor is actually coming through in the wheel well. Given the air flow considerations of this vehicle, this alert would likely be acceptable.
4.) Make sure it’s not an accessible hide
Some accessibles masquerade as inaccessibles! Take a desk for instance. A hide on the back hide of the desk may actually be accessible. However the odor will travel to the front side of the desk making the hide LOOK inaccessible. The best thing to do when confronted with an inaccessible seeming hide on an object that you can go around, is to check the other side!
5.) Say it with conviction!
Have faith in your dog! Say ALERT with conviction… If you’ve trained inaccessibles and you understand what your dog is telling you, call it.