Patterning for Systematic Searches and Faster Times

Do you have trouble remembering where your scent dog has searched and where he hasn’t? When you’re searching large areas for scent work, it’s a common problem. Novice dogs can demonstrate a lot of frenetic activity, often skipping thresholds, frequently skipping objects or hides. Patterning trains dogs to search systematically, from the start line and around the room in a clockwise motion, so that nothing is missed. Generally, the more efficient the search path, it’s easier to remember, and the faster the search time will be.

When we teach dogs to search for target odor, we begin by patterning in the scent detection lab (at our level 1 classes). We place hides at the #1 position, most often. Then we introduce position #2, then back to 1, then 2 and 3, etc. Over time, this makes it worth the dog’s while to search box 1 then box 2, then box 3, in a systematic fashion. Not surprisingly, when our dogs are introduced to interior searches, they will tend to systematically search clockwise, around the perimeter of the room.

When it’s a threshold hide (on or close to the start line), systematic searches are usually more efficient than a haphazard search where the dog explodes into the room, missing the first box, then searches all the rest of the room before returning to box#1. Ideally, you want to follow your dog’s rear end. When you give a well-trained dog your search cue, and he runs in gangbusters, he’s telling you that there is no threshold hide. And if he crosses the threshold slowly and carefully, he’s probably already in odor, so give him space and let him work.

Fast, highly driven scent detection dogs often miss checking the threshold. In that case, it’s even more important to frequently place threshold hides to encourage the dog to check the threshold, and maintain the skill in the long run. For example, place the hide in the doorway of the room the dog will search, or on a pylon that’s part of the start line. (That pylon would be treated as “hot” forever, and never used as a cold marker pylon again.) Reward highly and praise as soon as the dog finds source.

This video shows Truffle pattern training on exterior hides. Truffle has a nice indication on wooden boxes, and is excellent at finding source, so we’re working on incentivizing checking the first object on the threshold. Note the warm-up and cool-down should be easy for the dog, so novice dogs should not end the session on long, difficult, exterior searches with distractions. Truffle’s cooldown was an off-leash search at the park, which is a fun way she loves to blow off steam. Thanks Ellen and Truffle for being great students! It’s fun to watch you work.

As for all dogs, complete training includes sourcing with:

  • Threshold, middle and end position hides
  • Nose height, low and high hides

Once training is complete, you need to trust and follow your dog. When he encounters odor, his job is to drag you away from the path you imagined, to source the current location of the hide, even if it’s not where you expect, and especially when you can’t see it.

Register now for nosework class starting April 5, 2017, at Kayenna Kennels, Calgary, and we’ll show you how to take your nosework to the next level:, or

Learn how to train your nosework dog online with video coaching for 6 months:

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