I was inspired to write this blog because of some self reflection that I had at a recent trial. Our False Alerts are very rarely the “fault” of the dog. Fault is a word that I use loosely here because honestly, it’s not a False Alert unless the handler utters the “A-Word”… Alert. It is always your choice to call a hide!

There are Five Types of calls that result in a “No”….

At Elite, you can have 2 False Alerts and continue searching.  At NW3 you can have one and continue.  None of them are fun!
At Elite, you can have 2 False Alerts and continue searching. At NW3 you can have one and continue. None of them are fun!

False Alert #1: A TRUE “False”

A True False happens when the dog completes a Final Response incorrectly. When the dog is in odor but not at source, we often refer to this as a “Fringe”. Making the distinction between a False and a Fringe is helpful information for training.

The True False occurs when the dog is not in the presence of target odor. This is either a discrimination issue or is handler prompted. If you stepped in when the dog was working, over worked an unproductive area or asked your dog “Show Me” or “Where is it”…. well… that is your fault and not the dog’s! A discrimination issue, a TRUE “False Alert” is the result of the dog false alerting on novel or distraction odor.

The fix to this sort of False Alert is making sure that your dog TRULY understands target odor (and get the handler out of the picture.)

I definitely need to write a blog about the dubious “Show Me” and how it’s the downfall of many a search! Short-hand… don’t do it!

All the rest of the causes for False Alerts are completely handler derived!

False Alert #2: The Premature Call

We have all done it… we are SO excited about our dog getting into odor that we call it a little too soon! The premature call happens when the dog is on fringe odor and hasn’t quite worked the hide to source. This can happen in the case of trapped odor or in the case of an over-excited handler!

In this video, Why and I have a Premature Call during an Elite trial. At this level, we are allowed to get a “No” and continue searching although as a team, we lose a half a hide’s worth of points. In this case the odor from the hide under the desk is getting trapped under the conference table and chairs. This is due to airflow naturally moving towards the door and the windows. There is a second hide in the area at the door hinge, however I don’t believe that this odor is converging under the table. After the “No”, Why correctly sources the odor under the desk.

Premature Call False Alert due to Trapped Odor

The fix to this sort of Fringe response you need to slow down your calls. Let the dog finish working. Dogs problem solve at different speeds. Working on diffuse odor away from source with known hides can also help. You need to know what your dog looks like in odor away from source and your dog needs to know how to solve it.

False Alert #3: The Manufactured Hide

This sort of call is really common with subtle dogs or dogs without a specific trained final response. A False Alert that comes from a misinterpretation is a tough one. As handlers, we carry the history of all of our past searches with us. In some cases, we may have a lower confidence dog. Low confidence dogs are usually pretty subtle in their indications. That can lead to a handler reading too much into what they observe.

When we have a low confidence dog, we may not know what dog has stepped line with us. Did the confident dog come to the line or the worried one? With Why, he had a history of 7 years of subtle indications. Now that he is much more confident, I am finding it hard to let go of 7 years of observation and assumptions about his searching behavior. The struggle is real!

I call the Misinterpreted Call “manufacturing hides in your head”. You literally make up a hide in this case, usually because you think you saw odor behavior. This can also happen when we are hoping for a hide or when we start to think for the Certifying Official or Judge. Just because you think that chair is a great place for a hide doesn’t mean that there is one there!

Here’s an example of a manufactured hide. In this case, at Why’s first Elite trial, we had just searched a blank area. We called it correctly although I did not know at the time that we were correct. In my head, he had lost confidence in the afternoon. That shifted me to my history with him and after Why sniffed and dismissed this part of his Speed Search, I asked him to recover the area (Doh!) which resulted in a No.

Manufactured Hide False Alert

If you compare that to the first hide that we found in that same search, I should have had more confidence in him! It’s so hard being human sometimes!!

As Opposed to the Confident Alert!

The fix to the Manufactured Hide focus on the change of behavior. If your dog is newly confident remember that your dog is now the “2.0” version. Why 2.0 is confident. Why 1.0 was still a work in progress!

False Alert #4: The Blurt

Oh we have ALL done this one! The Blurt happens when we don’t settle down and we call something WAY too fast! If you have a dog with a final response, the dog may throw rapid final responses as they “think out loud”. This is VERY common with a dog who uses their foot in the alert.

Disclaimer: I dislike the paw as an alert behavior. As a gentle “toe tap”, it’s not terrible because it doesn’t result in damage. My lower drive Mini Aussie often uses a toe tap and my Standard Poodle also used a gentle tap. With 99% of dogs however, it makes sense to replace the behavior with something more appropriate and less likely to cause damage. Damage to property during a trial is NEVER okay.

The Blurt is very common with Containers because Containers is a selection exercise, not a hunting exercise.

In one of Why’s recent Elite trials, we had a Container Interior combination search. There were 3 sets of Containers spread out in three warehouse aisles and we had an additional Interior warehouse space. There were two hides in the containers in the third set. The odor from the hot containers blew across the warehouse partition and into the blank set in the middle. This is a portion of the search. The first two sets of containers were blank. I blurted on the middle set! Watch how Why indicates and then leaves…. Breathe Stacy!!

Blurt Alert False Alert

Here’s the set of Containers that was the culprit! There are two hides in this set with only one cold container between them.

The Source of all of that Odor!

The fix to the Blurt Alert Breathe In then Breathe Out before calling Alert! Relax!!

False Alert #5: The Hail Mary

The Hail Mary False Alert happens in the last seconds of a search. Our time is running out and we call a False Alert because we feel like we need more hides! The Hail Mary happens when our desire for more points exceeds our time allowed. This usually happens in fringe odor and is the result of a handler brain meltdown.

In this Hail Mary example, Why had found 4 hides in a search with a range of 3 to 5 hides. I was correct that there were 5 hides…. but I was incorrect as to where the 5th one was! The 5th hide was an elevated hide farther away. Because of the windows in this warehouse and the direction of the air flow, there was a lot of trapping odor in this corner. Hail Mary’s RARELY pay off!

Hail Mary calls often result in False Alerts!

The fix to the Hail Mary stay in the moment… just because you WANT to find another hide doesn’t mean that you will get a Yes. Clearly I need to listen to my own advice!

We are Human in the end

In the end, we are all Human. We will make mistakes. The beautiful thing about video is that we can go back and watch and learn. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes again but it does mean that we can try to look at our mistakes objectively.

As a handler or trainer, we tend to share our successes on Social Media and we often don’t share our mistakes. It’s important to realize that a “Good Search” can still have mistakes! The video with the Hail Mary that I shared also had 4 successful finds. Calling a False Alert doesn’t make you a bad handler. It just means that you learning and that you are on a journey. I am so grateful to be on this journey with Why. I am very much learning how to trial with him at the Elite level.

In the end, mistakes are just information.

This blog and many others will be a part of my new class NW525 Achievement Unlocked: Success at the Upper Levels.