Building Trial Stamina in Your Nose Work Dog

In a recent nose work seminar, a woman said this to me:  ‘we’ve been in nine NW3’s, and only got one.  My dog usually false alerts late in the day.’

I asked her if she set hides during the course of the day, to emulate trial conditions.  “Generally you’ll have two or three searches in the morning, and the rest in the afternoon.  Train like that.”

That’s a pretty easy training tip that will help build stamina and get her dog used to working over the course of a day.

My own dogs have had a reasonably successful career in nose work.  Toka has 4 of 5 master AKC scent work titles, and his Elite 1 in NACSW.  Kiyo is the first Akita to earn NACSW’s Elite Championship, and is closing in on four master AKC titles (she has two already).

This is what I’ve done to make sure my dogs have the stamina for long days of trialing.

Saturdays or Sundays, set up three or four search areas at various times of day — and in various (new) places.  Let them age – or not – and then run a dog.  10:00, noon, 2:00 and 4:00 for single searches, for example.

I also train for ‘search stamina’ in several ways.  I’ll run run back to back searches — two or three longer searches in a row so my dogs get conditioned for 10 or 12 minutes of searching.  Or one long search of 6 to 8 minutes. Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 8.44.45 PM

NACSW is moving towards fewer hides in larger areas.  One thing that’s important to train for is this:  a relatively long period of time before a dog finds a hide.  Both NW3 and elite searches can have blank rooms.

In one elite search Kiyo and I did, the blank room seemed enormous – a lecture room with objects along the periphery and tables and chairs in the middle. 3:30 time limit.  That’s a long time for a dog to search without reinforcement.  A number of dogs false alerted in that search — I have to wonder how many did because they were used to finding odor within a minute or two.  (Kiyo did not, by the way – good girlie!)

I’m not advocating for working a lot of blank rooms.  I do suggest, however, that you place hides so your dog has to search 60 to 90 seconds (or longer) before hitting a hide.

Don’t be fair weather searchers!  Practice in all weather! Cold, rain, snow, humidity, wind, “heat.” I put heat in quotes because I am extremely cautious about working in heat.  My dogs do not trial from late June through August.  With changes in the environment, that window is expanding to the beginning of June through mid-September.  Titling or earning a leg is just not worth risking my dogs’ health.

Here’s another suggestion.  Get your dog used to working out of  your car.  Make sure your searches involve some transit time, and a bit of waiting before you pull your pup out of your vehicle to search.  Trial days are long and fatiguing.  Yes, even just hanging out in a car snoozing can tire a dog out.

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Don’t forget to get your dog in shape.  And yourself along with him or her.  Having endurance for a long day of trialing is easier when you are both fit.

Last, and just for fun, take your dog on walks where he can sniff to his heart’s content. Many of us are guilty of this:  four minutes outside to potty, then rush! back into the house because we’re too busy or too stressed to take Rex or Rosie out for real walks.  Let ’em sniff!  Let them use their amazing olfactory system for exactly what it evolved to do.

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3 thoughts on “Building Trial Stamina in Your Nose Work Dog

  1. As someone with an Akita who just attended her first scentwork trial with an Akita this is great info! My girl loved the experience and handler discrimination is by far her favorite ! I need to work on buried as we hadn’t but she alerted the second day but I missed it. The first day there was something in the grass all the dogs wanted so she timed out. Thank you and will use your tips especially foul weather training .


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