The whole world is in a crisis… Trials, at least in the very near future, are being cancelled. It’s truly terrifying, especially for those of us who are high-risk ourselves or have loved ones who are. Nosework is by design, a sport that allows for social distancing. With trials cancelled, folks may be thinking,”Now what?” My suggestion is to use this time to REALLY train. Train and build on fundamentals. In an effort to help, I plan on writing a series of blogs to perhaps give some inspiration and ideas for things you can work on. We WILL get out of this on the other side… The only thing I can go is maybe help you get to the other side with a better trained dog.

What IS Sourcing?

Sourcing is one of the most misunderstood phrases in our sport. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding can cause tons of training issues. Let’s talk about the language:

What Sourcing is NOT: Sourcing is NOT pin-pointing. It’s not trying to get the dog to freeze on a tiny point that is not one inch in error to either side. Sourcing is only pin-pointing when you negate air flow and you are working in 2-dimensions (such as using a scent wall).

What Sourcing IS: Sourcing is the desire to continue to work as close to source as possible, and it is agnostic to the final response. When you increase the DESIRE to get to source, the dog is able to work the hide in 3-dimensions in any air flow situation.

What the downfall of Pin-Pointing?

This is where I lose most people… there is such a movement out there for people wanting to look like the Pros and to build a nose freeze into their dogs as a final response. Although I am not against a nose freeze, I try to warn people that IF you go that route, be aware that you MUST execute your training with excellence and a real understanding of what Sourcing is in order to avoid serious issues.

Well executed (short-term emphasis) Pin-pointing exercises have their place. Pin-pointing is NOT about putting the nose on the hide. It’s really just about the dog realizing what the human considers to be correct. This is where the need for balance comes in… IF you over-emphasize this step, your dog will worry more about what you consider to be correct, than actually working to source. I see this so often as it results in the dog freezing on many, many objects in the vicinity of odor as he or she tries to guess where the handler will finally reward. (This results in the handler worrying about false alerts… and unfortunately also results in more pin-pointing exercises).

A dog who is focused on Pin-pointing becomes less precise as the hide conditions become more complex. Inaccessible hides for dogs trained to emphasize pin-pointing can be very stressful.

Pin-pointing DOES create clarity for the dog. But once you have that, Pin-pointing exercises need to be set aside, only to be brought out again briefly when needed.

This is a VERY rudimentary sketch of a dog working Pin-pointing exercises on a Scent Wall. The dog has to pick which hole the odor is located in.

So what then IS Sourcing?

Sourcing is the DESIRE to get to source. Recently I flew on an airplane to get to a seminar to teach. Because of germ worries, I paid to upgrade my seat to Business Class thinking that there would be fewer people (I was correct). Well… as I was sitting there, the stewardess came by with dinner and in my haste I knocked my tablet off of the armrest and it fell behind the empty seat next to me. So the stewardess and me both were trying to reach the tablet. We DID get it back. Interestingly… with the tablet just at fingertip reach, my desire to reach farther in to get it increased dramatically. THAT IS SOURCING.

This is me demonstrating how I was trying SO HARD to get to my tablet!

We can easily extrapolate this concept and use something that I all the “Deep Accessible Hide” to build the desire to get to source. THAT is how we ultimately build Sourcing skills!

(By the way, once the Pros get off the Scent Wall, they are always working on the DESIRE to get to source….)

A change in language…

Try to change your language away from “Sourcing”, and rather think of it as “Drive to Source”. Once you make that fundamental change in your language, you will be amazed at the results of your training!

When we think of the word “Sourcing”, it’s too easy to default to Pin-pointing. When we think of “Drive to Source”, we start to consider the aspect of DESIRE.

There are THREE STEPS in this training approach

This is where this blog becomes instructive. I’m going to give you the steps necessary to build these skills. I would love very much if you practiced these steps and reported back in the blog comments! People ask me, “Why do you reveal your secrets?” My answer is that my goal in sharing information is to help grow and propel this sport into a higher level of competency. I love sharing knowledge because I think it benefits all of us.

Step 1: Pin-Pointing

Although this step has downfalls, it IS VERY helpful! Your dog has to understand how to settle on source.

I developed the following exercise a couple of years ago to build this capability in my own dogs. This is a video of Brava. She is about 6 months old in this video. She is currently almost 3 years old and is getting ready to enter NACSW Elite trials. She has her NW3 Elite (earned all 3 NW3 titles in only 3 tries!) and her AKC Scent Work Master title. She also has an Advanced title from SDDA in Canada.

In this exercise I use a collection of electrical switch boxes. When she chooses the correct box with the tin, I mark her and then toss the cookie away while I rearrange the boxes. Although I DO reward at source when I am searching, in this case it’s OK to reward away from source. Chasing the cookie builds motivation. Sometimes we need to be ok with doing things differently in exercises. (NOTE: Although I use a clicker in this exercise, I don’t use one for general training)

When Brava finds the correct box, I mark and then toss her reward. This gives me enough time to rearrange the Switch Boxes.

Step 2: Weird Hide Game

This is a game I developed in order to challenge the dog’s contextual understanding of our hide placement. Did you know that you automatically create patterns in your own hide placement that your dog understands? Dogs have an incredible understanding of context. Have you ever given a 9 year child hides and asked them to hide them for your dog? I guarantee that you will get hides that are out of the ordinary! (If you have a child home from school right now, I would encourage you to include them in your training of Weird Hides!)

Here’s an example of Weird Hides… the first hide is on the middle center back support under the bed. The second hide is on a door hinge that the dog can only access by getting on top of the second bed.

Brava working on the Weird Hide Game

Step 3: Deep Accessible Hides

In the third step we add on to the DESIRE for source that Step 2 started to build. This is also the step that is the FOUNDATION for Inaccessible hides! This is the step that builds that beautiful desire to reach source.

In this step, you want to set hides that the dog has to really work Over, Under, Through, or Around in order to get to. The dog in this case needs to think and work out the spatial environment. This is where we trigger that beautiful desire to get to source.

Here’s an example of a “Deep Accessible” hide that set recently while teaching a seminar. The hide is on the back left wheel! All of the dogs in this seminar worked this as an Accessible hide. THAT is Sourcing!

Hide is on the back left wheel. Setting a Deep Accessible Hide develops the DESIRE to drive to source and develops TRUE sourcing ability.

As we do the Deep Accessible hide it’s important to mark when your dog gets TO the hide, NOT on the final response! This helps to build the understanding of Push to Source.

Eventually, this turns into an ability to work Inaccessible Hides. Here’s a video of Brava pushing into an Inaccessible hide while utilizing her Deep Accessible skills.

Brava is pushing into an Inaccessible hide because she is utilizing her Sourcing Skills built on a foundation of a desire to get to source.


Ultimately, by following these steps, you will create a Drive To Source Maniac! If you have a dog stuck on Pin-pointing, work on Steps 2 and 3. I you have a tentative dog, work on Steps 2 and 3. Just work the steps!

My plan is to release training tips throughout this crisis that we are going through. I hope this helps you! Please subscribe for more blogs!