Where do YOU focus when you’re training on your own?  Trial preparation at it’s best is a purposeful, thoughtful method for working on exactly what you need to focus on as a team without over-facing your dog.  At it’s worse, dogs are over-faced or the handler isn’t focused on what to train.  Many people just train skills….  or they just place hides in new places.  Honestly that’s great and all but that’s only part of the puzzle.

Puzzle Pieces - Learning

I like to think of trial preparation as having four cornerstones…  SKILLS, CONFIDENCE, MOTIVATION and STAMINA…  Here’s the magic of this…  when you’re training you can play a la carte with the cornerstones and they can provide you with a bit of structure that you need in order to present an appropriate challenge specific to your team.  In the beginning, it’s best to pick ONE at a time and work on that…  as the one cornerstone begins to get two easy, you can add a second cornerstone in for a real challenge!


This one should be pretty obvious huh?  To REALLY work this cornerstone, make a list of the skills that you need at your level and rate yourself.  Let’s say your dog needs work on inaccessibles…  that’s a skill.  The cornerstone framework would then suggest that if you want to work on inaccessibles, you don’t lump an area needing improvement in with other cornerstones.  So the magic of the framework tells us that you should be working inaccessibles at an easy location.  Once you have the skill learned and improved, you can take it on the road.


This cornerstone is especially critical for environmental dogs or fearful dogs.  This cornerstone is about generalization of the search area…  meaning teaching the dog to work confidently away from home.  The idea behind this cornerstone is that you take skills out of the mix by selecting skills that are easy for the dog and then systematically train these skills in new locations.  By doing this, we’ve given the dog confidence building searching in novel locations, thus building the dog’s ability to work in new places.


There are similar words and concepts to motivation: Drive and Odor Obedience.  This is the cornerstone where we work on the reward history of the dog and increase our rate of reinforcement.  Motivation work is FUN for the dog and easy for the handler to do at home.  To build motivation, we work on many, easy, fast searches in a known location.  Doing this builds drive because of the fast, fun factor and it builds reinforcement history on the odors you work.  The fun aspect of this contributes to a positive Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) to the odor which in turns also increases Odor Obedience.  It’s also a GREAT way to get dogs quickly built up on new odors!


Stamina is about long searches and lots of hides.  The amount of stamina required is relative to the level at which the dog is training.  Stamina is somewhat necessary at NW2 but really becomes critical at NW3 and Elite levels.  In fact, Elite is heavily, heavily dependent on stamina.

So which cornerstone should you train? Well that depends on your level…  this is where I suggest you focus your efforts:





At the NW1 level, skills aren’t emphasized as the dog only needs to find one fairly straightforward hide in each search.  The trick to NW1 is to have a dog that will confidently and happily work in a new location.

At NW2, skills become critical.  This is the level where the dog will learn the bulk of the skills that he will need to have a long and successful career.  Until all the rules get stripped away in Elite, NW2 skills will carry the dog through NW2 and NW3.  Drive starts to become essential as the search times are reduced.

At NW3, the search times tighten and the search areas get more complicated or bigger.  The dog needs to be able to navigate these areas efficiently.  Stamina starts to come into play as the dog now has to search 6 areas.

At Elite Division, skills, motivation, and stamina come to the forefront.  Now there are no rules to hide placement and dogs need to be able to work through some crazy insane puzzles.  At the same time, between speed searches and super large areas with long search times, the dog needs to be able to source quickly and keep working for potentially very long search times.

So where will YOU focus??

Happy sniffing!!!