Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What Can You do With a Single K9 Nose Work® Search Area?

Here's a challenge: confine yourself to a single area - it can be large or small - and use it in as many ways as you can come up with for searches with your dog. I'm not talking about moving the odor to every square inch of the area - although that's probably not a bad idea - I'm talking about searches that have some sort of purpose: teaching your dog the importance of corners, working lingering odor, elevation, converging odor, working on leash handling skills, etc. This doesn't have to be a marathon day of searching, you can use the same area over time. Take some pictures of your searches, submit them to the blog or to me, and we'll have our own little social search network - instasearch or k9nosebook.

Here's an example:

Search area at the park with blue line representing the
perimeter of the area
I went to a park the other day and saw this area that was naturally defined by the slope of the land. It had two levels of block retaining wall on one end, and a lending library resembling a birdhouse on the other end. Immediately, I knew I wanted to place two elevated hides on opposite ends of the search area that would be on almost the same plane, with a third hide at the lowest point between the two elevated hides.

I actually started Muriel from right beside the car about 50 yards from the search area (she'd done some searches between the car and this current area, so her motivation was pretty high). She took off down the slope, made a 180 back up the slope and into the parking lot and worked the scent on the wind all the way over to the search area. A few yards before the retaining wall hide she turned hard left down the slope and went right to the tin on the block wall.

Hide in tin on block within blue outline. Through the trees would be the
ground hide in the valley, and beyond that, the elevated lending library
hide up the slope at the opposite end of the area
Her next move led us down the slope, across the walking path and beyond what I would define as the search area, but I wanted to see where this was leading. About 20 yards beyond the search area she made a choice to turn around and this time she was on to the elevated hide on the lending library. She got about 5 feet from the hide and hit the skids, turned down the slope and started working the ground hide. Muriel's herding instincts were telling her to round up the flock, which resulted in about thirty seconds of her bouncing between the two scent trails like a ping pong ball. Luckily, her more recently acquired scent detection skills took over and she knew that to find both sources, she best find one first. Up the slope she turned to tackle that elevated hide. The wind was blowing the hide straight across the lending library, Muriel went up and alerted to the first gust of scent she caught - still about a foot away from the very accessible hide. I gave her a shrug and one second to think about her decision and she right away went back to work, sniffed up to and nose-kissed that odor tin.

The distance from the lending library hide to the block
wall hide is about 50 yards. Notice how all three
hides are more or less in line. The wind was
blowing towards the houses in the
background, beyond the parking lot

Nothing like a good hide & a good John Grisham novel

After resolving one of the remaining two hide locations, the ground hide turned out to be pretty easy. Muriel raced down the slope on a scent avalanche from that elevated hide, then picked up the trail of the ground hide and went right to source. All smiles as she scarfed her reward over the odor, Muriel zipped off looking for the next hide (eternal optimist). Taking her back to the car was like telling your toddler that play time at the park is over - she looked a bit like a prisoner in her crate... so I tossed one more odor behind a tree just ten feet from the car, let her out for the quick find, then back into her crate a little happier (I wish it was this easy to get a toddler to leave the park).

The tin is in the bottom right corner of the image (trust me).
The retaining block walls are in the background

Given the way the search played out with the three odors in a line, two elevated, I would continue moving that line like I was creating a starburst pattern. See what happens when the wind isn't blowing two of the hides into the third, when only one or none of the hides are elevated.

Then, I might take away one of the hides and place two on opposite ends of the retaining wall. Or two along the edge of the walking path. Then, I'd try two on diagonal opposites of the search area.

Next, I'd go down to one hide and place it where the original ground hide was, see what kind of problem - or easy success - that creates. Same with the elevated lending library hide, see if that hide is easier by itself (no doubt it will be a little easier with the prior success, so factor that into your observations).

Sticking with the single hide, I'd move to different parts of the search area to start. See if starting at the top of the slope, or in the valley, makes the search different.

If my dog was on a searcher's high right then, I might use the block wall to run a fun exercise. I'd place four odors spaced out evenly on the wall and keep a short leash, giving her enough line to pass an odor, but not enough to pass it and get to the next one. For this exercise, each odor should be found before moving on. I'd do this down and back and rest on that.

Different colored dots and squiggly lines marking hide placements to
begin to illustrate the endless possibilities a single search area can offer

If Muriel and I had done all that in one day, she'd get carried back to the crate, blissfully exhausted from a search marathon! The better thing to do is to spread these different searches over many trips back to that same search area - this way you get the added bonus of different weather conditions to add variety to this single search area.    

See how easy it is to get out and have some fun searching in just one location! Your dog is game for whatever you can come up, wherever you can come up with it.

Let's get sniffing!


  1. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the great search ideas! Nina, Melvin and I have been practicing in the park a lot. Because of this, only now do I feel confident about being able to tell the difference between when she is just crittering around and when she is sourcing odor.

    1. Hi Kim,

      I use the park a lot now since everyone in MN takes advantage of the summer weather while it's here!

      When you're out practicing with Melvin & Nina, if you see them show critter interest somewhere, set a hide up near that area so you can really watch them in the decision-making process and see what it looks like when odor wins!

      Happy Sniffing!