Perfect Sourcing is a goal of every Nosework handler, yet I find in talking to people that the understanding of what sourcing is and how to really achieve excellence isn’t well known. All too often people confuse “precision” with pin-pointing and they focus all of their attention on a perfect final response at the tin. In the end though, these folks are missing the punch line. If you can’t narrow down the location of source, you can’t be precise. Sourcing is at its core, more “Drive to Source” than pin-pointing.

The challenge of course is how to achieve this

Dogs who have sourcing problems usually have one of several issues.

The primary issues that I see are:

  1. Commitment for solving the problem,
  2. Confidence in the task or the environment, or
  3. A lack of understanding in how to keep working to a higher concentration of odor. 

I’m going to be honest…. Aside from thoughts related to using markers (and more importantly, WHEN to use markers), I really have no opinion on the actual final response itself.  (Although I HAVE seen more sourcing issues with handlers who have chosen a “Sit” at a final response than with other final responses).

Interestingly, I’ve found that a certain type of training setup helps all 3 issues related to sourcing.  Although these types of setups aren’t necessarily new, I’ve adopted them into a larger sourcing strategy that I use in training dogs to become more effective.  In particular, I like to employ what I call “3D Searches”.

What are 3D Searches?

When odor travels, there is natural depth to the path of travel.  It goes over, under, around, and sometimes even through objects and barriers in the environment.  3D searches are set in a way that requires the dog to drive in or push in in order to get to source.  3D searches encourage the dog to continue to work towards source rather than pull up too soon resulting in a fringe alert (a “fringe alert” is an alert in the presence of odor but not near source…. This is a type of “false alert”)

How you set hides matters!

If we aren’t careful, we can condition the dog to check “things” and do more of a Yes/No assessment rather than continuing to seek, driving into and though the air currents.  When the dog becomes an object checker, your chance of fringe alerts skyrockets because odor may in fact be traveling along those objects. In general, we need to avoid searching “by selection”. When we encourage the dog to search “by seeking”, the dog develops true sourcing skills.

Searching “by selection” increases your chance of Fringe Alerts. Searching by “seeking” improves your dog’s sourcing.

Encouraging the dog to seek is really a two-prong approach…

  1. Attempt to always search areas that look natural and not staged
  2. Occasionally set searches where there is “Depth” so that the dog is encouraged to drive in or push in to source (3D hides)

In order to always set hides in a more natural environment, I prefer to search the area as I found it. This means that if I am training at home, I make minimal changes to the room. I CAN move things around in order to practice different aspects (such as threshold hides or when building 3D setups), however when I do so, I try not to make it look like a collection of objects. You don’t want your search areas to look like yard sales! I also try to find areas around town that are conducive to setting hides without modifying the search area.

For 3D setups I will use anything and everything that I have at my disposal. X-pens, tables, pieces of furniture, or really anything that you have at home will work. In this case, you CAN build your search area, however you should avoid setting objects out in a random array (like a yard sale).

The key to building 3D Setups is to think in terms of Over, Under, Around, and Through

You want your 3D setups to encourage the dog to Navigate and Problem Solve. If you can accomplish these 2 things, you are well on your way to developing strong sourcing skills.

Mazes are a good introduction to 3D setups

With mazes, your dog needs to navigate the search area and consider both the olfactory input from the hide as well as the physical search area. By bringing together the senses of the dog and encouraging them to use both their eyes and their noses in problem solving, we actually build a more efficient dog who is highly engaged in the search process while maintaining the balance of importance on olfaction rather than visual input.

Here’s an example of a maze that I made as a part of the Fenzi TEAM Nosework titling program (for more information about the program, visit:

In this example, Joey has to navigate through several turns in order to work his way towards the hide. He found this both engaging and challenging!

Deep Accessible hides encourage driving all the way to source

Deep Accessible hides are another example of a 3D setup. In this case the dog learns to believe that they CAN get to source if they work a little harder. You will find that these hides, when setup in a way that the dog always feels confident to physically get to the hide, will build resilience and will create a bulletproof inaccessible behavior when you need it!

Here’a an example of a Deep Accessible that I set up in my screened in porch. You don’t need anything fancy! Here, the hide is placed under the window and Powder has to understand that the hide is accessible with a little work. The value of this hide was enhanced by Powder working the environment to find an entry to get closer to source.

Powder did a beautiful job working this all the way to source!

Ultimately, these are just 2 examples of 3D hides. Use your imagination and your dog’s sourcing will improve dramatically!

If you are interested in building your 3D Sourcing skills, take a look at my workshop, Building Commitment to Odor with 3D Searching. The lecture is available January 31!