Ep. 86: Who Needs Vehicle Searches Anyways?!

Jan 20, 2023

Have you ever questioned why people even bother doing vehicle searches? Are they a search element you simply do not practice or train?

Intrigued? Be certain to check out Michael McManus' Perfect Patterns: Vehicles Course.
You may also be inspired by some of the challenges posed in these eBooks:


  • Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things Scent Work and that includes training tips, a behind the scenes look about your instructor and trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode. I want to talk about vehicle searches. So before we start diving into the podcast episode itself, let me do a very quick introduction of myself.

My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University and Pet Dog U. These are online dog training platforms. They're designed to help you achieve your dog training goals. And we're very fortunate to have a client base worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars and ebooks that are all designed to help you throughout your sniffy journey.

So whether you're just getting started in Scent Work, looking to develop some more advanced skills, or if you're getting ready to trial or already trialing and trying to finesse your skills for the upper levels of competition, we likely have a training solution for you. So now that you know a little bit more about me, let’s dive into the podcast episodes itself.

So in this episode, I wanted to talk about vehicle searches and you may be saying, “Well, lady, I do things like AKC Scent Work, so I don't do vehicle searches so I do not have to listen to this podcast, BYE!”, no, no, no, come back! And the reason why I wanted to do this episode is for that very reason is that, again, particularly if you are interested in competition or if you're not interested in competition, I've been getting a lot of correspondence over the last I was a year and a half from people who've been like, Yeah, I don't need to do vehicle searches.

This is silly because again, I may be doing a Scent Work where they don't have a vehicle class or I'm not interested in competition. And to me that's just a really big missed opportunity. Vehicles are just can be a really wonderful learning opportunity for the dog and the handler. They are a very unique element and there's so many different things that you can be doing with vehicle searches.

Oh, my goodness. There's so many things. But we'll break down as far as trying to convince you, if you aren't already doing vehicle searches, why you should, if you are interested in AKC, some work is absolutely true that they do not, as of now, offer a vehicle search for their trials. That is not to say that during a exterior search or even an interior search, that you wouldn't have a vehicle within your search area that would be in play.

So if your dog has not done any kind of training with vehicle searches or if you have never done any training with vehicle searches, you very well may be missing out on some really important skills. If you're not interested in competition, right? You're just playing for fun. There is nothing more exciting for people who don't know what you're doing than watching a dog search a vehicle.

I don't know what it is. We can have groups of people who have no idea what's going on. Watch dogs, search outdoors, indoors, in containers. And they're intrigued. Absolutely. Soon as you get that dog searching a vehicle, oh, my goodness. You'll get a crowd like, oh, oh, that kind. I know what kind of is going on. This is interesting, particularly when they notice how the dog is working it out and if they know where the height is and they see the way the dog is working, it is so addicting because odor is very complicated and odor can move very strangely when we're talking about vehicle searches.

So may completely surprise our expectations. It probably will. And that's what they're like. Wow, this is cool. So even if you aren't interested in competing at all, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I commend you for playing this epic game with your dog just for fun. That's amazing. Gold stars all the way across the board. But I would say that trying to find vehicles to search again, things that you have permission to do so can be a really wonderful thing.

Why is that? Well, most vehicles, for all intents and purposes, are hollow. They are, you know, a mixture of different kinds of mechanics on a frame. Basically, that means that there's going to be a lot of air moving from one part of it to another. That means it's going to be a lot of odor movement and throughout the actual item, the vehicle itself, but also off of the vehicle and into the environment.

And that can make for a very interesting and even complicated order picture. So the thing that we see a lot in training is you'll have a hide on, let's say a traditional vehicles or a car, as an example, will be on, let's say, the passenger front wheel well. Right. But you have your wind is going from the passenger side to of the driver's side and your start line is on the driver's side.

So sure enough, the dog comes up and they're sniffing all over that driver's side wheelwell, that's not where the hide is, right? The hide is on the other side of the vehicle. So this is a wonderful learning opportunity for both the dog and the handler, because now the handler could, particularly if they know where the hide is, oh, they're just going to walk their dog over to the other side of the vehicle.

Well, that would kind of ruin the whole learning opportunity for the dog, right? Because now they're just depending on the person. Where the learning really can happen on both ends of the leash is when the handler just waits for the dogs are trying to figure out, okay, this is where odor is going, but where is it coming from?

And they may meaning the handler maybe to take a step towards the front of the vehicle. Just try to encourage the dog to maybe go this way and then wait again for the dog to actually take the initiative. And then they'll watch the dog curl around the front of that vehicle catching odor all the way and then actually go bang.

Yeah, that's right. This is where it's coming from. Amazing. Right? So important. Wonderful learning opportunity for the dog. Also a really good learning opportunity for the handler on multiple fronts. One is you get to see what your dog looks like when basically they're being blasted in the face with odor, but they're not at source. That's not where odor is coming from.

That's where odor is traveling, too. So, yes, there's a whole lot of interest, but the dog has not made a decision yet. The dog has not finished sourcing their hide. They're merely in the process of doing so. So that's an amazingly important thing for us to see because that absolutely carries over to your other search elements as well.

You can have other types of air movement and odor movement inside your other types of search elements where that very same thing may happen as well. In addition to that, the handling piece that I just talked about where you had these decision points of what is it that you're going to do if you recognize either what's going on or if you know where the hide is?

Or are you just simply just going to walk your dog over there while again, if you're interested in competition, that's not going to help you. But even just taking that small step, that is still information to your dog, right? So now we're going to want to make certain that we wait longer before we do that in the future.

So the dog is taking the initiative to do those kinds of things. All of that is really easily possible with vehicles. The other really nice thing about vehicles is that they provide a way of teaching patterns to dogs with high placement in a way that allows the handler to be out of the way, if that makes sense. So what I like to do is I like to start off where I'll have a hide on.

Usually it's the front bumper, but it doesn't really matter and it's right in front of the start line. The start line is like right there. And then I'm going to be adding hides and I start with primary. So I'm starting with food all the way along the vehicle. I usually go counterclockwise and bit by bit the dog basically learns to wrap the vehicle.

And then once we've done that, then we have a single hide, maybe on the opposite corner of the vehicle. The dog is able to wrap themselves all the way around the vehicle in order to find that hide. And this is a wonderful learning experience, obviously, for the dog teaching them what parts of the vehicle are indeed productive, which should be all of them wisely, not high, right?

We're not looking to put anything. I try to keep hides basically at the top of the wheel well and down. I'm not trying to promote the dogs to jump up onto the vehicle, so I don't even put highs up on the mirrors more often than not because I just don't want the dogs jumping up. But I will use the whole part of the vehicle, you know, your corners, your bumpers underneath the doors, you know, all that other stuff.

It's on the outside of the vehicle. Nothing is inside of the vehicle. Nothing is with the undercarriage where all the pipes are. But what this whole little pattern does is it teaches the dog through high placement. I am not doing anything as a handler. I'm just following behind and then providing additional reinforcement. When the dog finds the hide that they're able to figure out how to work that all out on their own.

And then as a handler, what I find works really well for my clients is because they're doing all of this back to back to back, they start with one high than two highs and three hides. And depending if their dog has the endurance, there's like eight hides at the end of the final surgery. Doing this exercise, they're learning where to position themselves that whole time.

So it's a lot of really good leash handling practice and handling practice so that you are allowing the dog to still be in the lead while you can also get into reward and then provide them space again. There's a lot of really good learning going on that could you do it with other things? Like as an example, maybe a table that's out in the middle of a space for an interior exterior space?

Yeah, you can. That's fine. But I think that it's much easier with the vehicles quite frankly. And vehicles, again, can be really super complicated. So it's good to have all this learning going on. Michael McManus has a fantastic course that he put together for us called the Perfect Patterns Vehicles Course, where again, he's just helping the dog understand how to work vehicles using high placement.

And he also talks about handler positioning and how all of that interplays with one another. But he also uses back chaining basically where it is brilliant. And when he puts a course, this is just a smart where basically he has a high placed and then he adds an additional height and moves the position of the dog. So now the dog is closer to the new height placement and they're working towards different parts of the vehicle that are familiar to the dog.

It is a brilliant way of doing it. So, so good chefs kiss, get to the point where I've actually integrated some of those very same types of exercises into my other horses, making certain to give Michael as much credit as possible because again, brilliant. And I've seen a lot of really good results because of that. The other wonderful thing about vehicle searches for anyone who's like, Oh, I'm not sure I want to do this, is that if you do have a dog who tends to be a dog that's using the environment a lot, right?

They're constantly trying to go out into the space to use different landmarks and things to get odor information, then get back to source. You can be doing a whole bunch of different types of set ups on your vehicle searches to help the dog focus more in that area where they maybe don't need to go, you know, 50 feet out and come back in order to find their hides.

I actually have a client right now who the dog was doing just that very thing. And we saw it a lot in their exterior searches, but we also saw a lot in their vehicle searches. So we started doing these type of pattern setups and also the dog really liked to go in one direction. So then we made certain that we were setting the hides in the opposite direction in order to make certain that the dog was even in balance.

They've been doing a fantastic job. All of this is really to say that, yes, it's absolutely possible that you may be doing some quizzes at work that doesn't have a training class for vehicles, or maybe you're not interested in competition. Maybe were like, Hey, Santos lady, I don't have a vehicle. So there well, don't you worry, I've got you covered.

You don't need a traditional car. You don't need a truck or anything like that. You can just use anything that has wheels. Quite frankly, motorcycles work just fine. Bicycles work just fine. Lawnmowers riding lawn mowers. I mean, be creative with the stuff. Even carts, wheelchairs, the types of I used to have them when I was working in horses all the time.

I can't remember. They're called, we call them like giant muck trailers, but all the manure is up in there. We would drive it up with the tractor up to the manure. But there's all kinds of things. If it's got four wheels or at least two wheels or more, maybe one, then you're fine. Use those things. It doesn't have to be giant.

It doesn't have to be big at all. I've had plenty of searches where clients have taken things like those riding toy cars that kids ride around in, those big wheel kind of things that works fine. Do. It's all the same kind of concept. But then if you are working, for instance, if, let's say there's a bunch of your friends who also enjoy doing some work, maybe you all can get together and practice with some vehicles as an example, right?

The big thing with vehicles is just to make certain that you're not promoting the dog to jump up or damage the vehicle because no one wants that. But this can also let you know, are you depending on the dog doing that kind of thing right in your other elements like in your interiors and exteriors, maybe you're like, Oh yeah, you know, my dog is able to tell me when they find the hide by scratching the bejesus out of it.

Well, that's probably bad and that is bad. We shouldn't be promoting that. So we can again leverage the concern of obviously, hey, my best friend has decided to volunteer their vehicle for my search. I would like to say best friends with them. Maybe we don't scratch up their car, but that again, it's it's not that you and your dog are bad for having the dog have this what we call an aggressive alert in other elements.

You may have thought that that's great. Right now, I can really tell when they find the hide, but it's actually problematic. If you were interested in competition, it's still going to earn you a fault for those other elements. But we can take the care that we want to have in our vehicle searches and apply those to other elements as well.

Vehicle searches are just really fun if we approach them in the way that we should. So I will say as a trial official, all vehicle searches used to be the bane of my existence. I just did not like them at all because I couldn't. At that time I was still very, very new as a trial official and I was like, I can't seem to figure out how to get this to do what I want it to do.

And that was just a failure on my part. I had not put in the miles. I just didn't have the time underneath my belt and it really stressed me out. But over the years, I have come to really love vehicle searches because they are complicated, because there are so many different things that go on with a vehicle search that the environment absolutely makes a huge difference.

What is the vehicle parked on? What is the orientation of the vehicles to one another? What is the weather doing? Is it sunny out? Is it not like all of those things make a huge difference? We're not even talking about wind. That, of course, makes an enormous difference. But those are all things that we'll be playing with, with our training that you can have so many wonderful learning opportunities with your vehicles, just with one single vehicle that you move into numerous different locations for.

If you're an instructor, you could just do that for a class where you're just moving, just a single vehicle, multiple different places. It doesn't have to be a giant space. Sometimes it's a close to a building, sometimes it's in the middle of a parking lot. Sometimes it's part of over on some grass, sometimes it's next to some bushes.

You change the start line. The vehicle hasn't moved at all. There's so many different things that you can be doing that can be really super interesting and all of them would be really wonderful. Learning experiences for the dogs and the handlers. It's something that's interesting about vehicles is that people will either love them or hate them, and they can absolutely be a source of stress for instructors.

And I think also for trial officials and not to mention trial hosts, just trying to secure the vehicles can be a whole issue, can be a whole problem. And then trying to make certain that the vehicles are going to survive by the end of the search, that no dogs are going to be damaging the vehicles. And also, again, working with all those different elements, it's got to be safe.

That's the one thing that you have to think about when you are doing vehicle searches, particularly your traditional. So your cars, your SUVs, your trucks, stuff like that is there aren't any sharp edges. There's no antifreeze. You have to worry about any other kind of chemical leaks or stuff like that. Broken glass. But also you got to be worried if it's really warm.

So if it's hot outside, potentially, maybe your vehicles are parked on pavement. Well, now you're going to have burn paths. That's bad, but the vehicle itself is going to be really hot. And we're asking our dogs to sniff on the vehicle. We don't want the vehicle biting their nose. So these are the kinds of considerations that we need to have when we're doing training.

So it may take a little bit more forethought, it may take a little bit more planning. But I do think that it is absolutely something that everyone should be doing with their dogs. So again, we do have some really wonderful resources in Scent Work University. I strongly encourage anyone and everyone who's interested in vehicle searches, who hasn't done it before, or if they have done it, they're like, Oh, I or will do maybe change your mind.

Definitely make certain that you check out Michael McManus perfect patterns vehicle course that we have. It really is very, very good. Again, the back chaining approach that he has. Oh, so brilliant. Why am I so dumb? Why didn't I do that myself? And then I went and started incorporating it into my own courses as well. So I strongly encourage everyone to check that out.

I'll make sure there's a link for it inside the description for our actual podcast episode. But I'm hoping that if you aren't already doing vehicle searches, that this episode maybe helped you reconsider. And if you are doing vehicle searches, that it helped you again, look at them in a way of how, again, it can help your dog learn, it can help you learn, and that can be really, really fun and exciting if we just look at it the right way.

But as always, we want to hear from you. We'll be posting this podcast episode up on our website as well as our social media. So you're always more than welcome to post any comments or questions that you have there. We are going to be sharing some more roundtables and other discussions with our instructors and outside speakers. It's going to be really super exciting.

If you have someone that you want us to contact, please feel free to let me know. I want to make certain that we're talking to as many different people who are helping the Scent Work community as possible. All right, guys, thanks so much. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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