Photo of a Chihuahua puppy playing with a tennis ball

How Close is Close Enough?

How close should your dog get to source? Will you know it when you see it?

After your dog indicates and you call “alert”, the judge can ask “where is it”, so you should be prepared to answer (either with words or showing with gestures that don’t involve touching anything or contaminating source.)

Current UKC Nosework rules don’t specify how close a dog must be to source. I’ve heard judges say anywhere from 2-6 inches. To put that into perspective, your dog’s favorite tennis ball is about 2.5 inches diameter (or 6.6 cm). That’s smaller than a Post-it Note (3 x 3 inches). So keep that visual target size in mind while training.

In our scent detection lab, we usually use white cardboard boxes with holes that are 2.5 inches in diameter. When you train to find source with this degree of accuracy all the time, you become comfortable with that degree of precision, and will probably get full credit for finding source in most searches.

Note that in pre-trials and container searches at UKC Nosework, you only need to identify the box that contains the hide, and will not be required to narrow it down any further. So if you’re trying your first pre-trial you probably don’t need to worry.

But once you’ve gained experience and progress to interior, exterior and vehicle searches, precision matters. For example, in interior searches where the hide is under a moving trolley, I have seen judges fault teams that located source on the wrong corner of the trolley (calling this a fringe response). I have seen judges fault teams that indicated the wrong side of the space under a door. In vehicle searches, I’ve seen judges fault teams for indicating the wrong corner of a license plate. In those cases, if the teams had located source within 2-6 inches they would likely have passed without any faults. Yes, you can achieve a qualifying leg even with a fault, but if you want to perform well, aim for locating source precisely.

Remember to be patient while your dog is locating source. You’ve probably learned to recognize changes of behavior when your dog first becomes interested in an area. Wait a little longer. Resist the urge to call an alert when you think you see the object with a hide. For example, don’t call the alert and say “it’s the license plate”, while your dog is still sourcing! Give him time to find the exact location of source and show you he has made a decision. Then you have the opportunity to be far more precise, with far greater confidence.

Never forget that hides don’t need to be with an object. I’ve seen exterior searches where the hide is in a crack in the sidewalk, and all the objects in the area (including strollers, toys, columns, garbage cans and statues) are just distractions. In some events, every team has failed because the handlers all stood on top of the crack and blocked access to source, while they spent all their search time directing their dogs to search the objects instead. It’s hard to get close to source when you’re standing on it.

In nosework, your dog is the nose and only he can find source. You are the brains and you need to exercise a lot of self-control and trust your dog to perform the job you’ve trained for. Be patient. Follow your dog (usually by staying behind his butt), and wait until he finds source, within the target size of a tennis ball, and you’ll not only get “close enough”, but get right at source.


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