This Will Take Time

Updated: Sep 2

People, by design, are fairly impatient. We get all excited about something and we want to do it NOW! The prospect of having to wait for the final payoff is painful and frustrating.

Unfortunately, this WANT IT NOW approach can spell havoc when we are talking about working with and training our dogs, especially in regards to Scent Work.

Your Dog Needs Time to Learn

Yes, sniffing is an inherent skill that dogs possess. But that doesn't mean that they do not need to hone and perfect this skill.

Figuring out odor puzzles is challenging. There is so much information that your dog has to sort through to get to the correct answer, so many other odors and scents they have to process, set aside and not get distracted by.

  Then you have the environment the odor puzzle is set-up within. Perhaps they have to physically weave their way around a space to get to source, contort themselves to get to a hide.

Or, maybe they need to assess whether the odor puzzle is worth solving...does it seem as though they are risking life and limp to get to this hide?!

At the end of the day, our dogs need time to learn! Again, they are the ones with the nose. We need to give them the space and time to perfect the skills necessary to use their noses in the most effective and efficient way possible.

"Okay, so how long will it take?!"

It all depends.

It depends on the dog: their age, their health, their training background, their personality and their behavioral profile.

It also depends on how often you train and how you go about training.

It depends on how you structure your training, what exercises you set-up and why.

It depends on how certain you are the dog understands a given exercise before you go rushing onto the next one.

Really, it all depends.

However, the most surefire way to have a dog who has holes in their training, who will start throwing false alerts or shutdown to the game altogether, is by drilling and/or rushing. Regardless of how you approach your training or which school of thought you belong to, this should be an activity that your dog LOVES to do. Remember: sniffing is an inherently "dog" thing to do. Your dog should light up at the chance to...well, be a dog! If, however, they sulk off when you get your equipment together, that is a huge red flag. You would need to reassess how you are training to inject the joy back into the activity.

"You're not answering my this going to take days, weeks, months..."

What are you trying to gauge? How long it will take for your dog to understand the basics of the game? How long it will take your dog to perfect a given odor puzzle? How long it will take for them to amass all the skills necessary to begin competing?

There are some dogs who whiz through certain parts of their training and then struggle with other parts.

"Will you just answer my question?! How long do I have to train to compete?!"

There is no definitive answer I can give you. However, the guideline I give my clients is it will take 6-8 months at a bare minimum from the start of training to begin competing. This way your dog has a solid foundation under their belt, will be proficient in the skills they will need for an ORT or entry-level trial and can start to make steady progress up the levels with continued training.

"I don't want to wait that long. My dog can do it now!" Alright, here is the sad reality: you're right. Your dog likely can do an entry-level search now with some success. 

That being said, let's ask some questions and assess where your dog is right now:

  • Does your dog work from hide-to-hide confidently or do they get stuck at the first hide they found?

  • Does your dog show resilience while they are sorting out an odor problem or do they give up by asking for help or shutting down?

  • Does your dog confidently work the entire search area or are they constantly looking back at you for feedback and guidance?

  • Can your dog work in all the search elements (Containers, Interiors, Exteriors and Vehicles) equally or are they substantially weaker in some search elements?

  • Can your dog work out all of these odor puzzles: threshold hides, corner hides, channel hides, converging odor hides, hides directly affected by HVAC, elevated hides and ground hides or would these be alien concepts?

  • Does your dog know the difference between pooling odor and source or do they hit or get tripped up by pooling odor?

  • Can your dog find a large range of hides (1 - 10 hides within a given search area) or have they only consistently found a certain number in their training?

  • Can your dog find hides of varying odor concentration or have they only worked with a certain odor preparation technique (NACSW v. AKC and vice versa)?

  • Can your dog work a search with other people in the search area or have they only practiced in "