The Nose Work Equation

Solving a Nose Work problem is like… solving an  algebra equation?

Ok, math was my weakest subject, but I can do simple algebra.  A + B = C,  for example.  We can fill in any 2 letters with a number, and come up with a 3rd number.  A + 2 = 5 and we know A = 3.  3 + B = 5, so B = 2, etc.  So before I confuse you or lose you, here is why I think of NW as solving an algebra problem.

The NW equation:

the conditions & environment =  A

the dog’s communication =  B

source = C.

Conditions/environment + Communication from the dog = Source!

How do you solve the NW equation?  Start by knowing the answer.  When you know where source is, you can start to fill in the variables.  Try to really think about what the odor will do (the conditions and environment) when you place your hides.  Do you think it will pool in a corner, rise up a post, travel across the floor?  Where do you expect your dog to first show odor interest and pick up scent?  What do you think he’ll do when he does pick up scent?  If you don’t really know what the odor will do, watch your dog.   You can begin to work backwards to fill in the equation, and know “when my dog arcs and scans a wall, he’s showing me that odor is pooling on the wall… because source is BEHIND him”.  Practicing this sequence of knowing where the hide is, making an assumption about what the odor will do based on the environment, and then bringing the dog in to prove it, will hopefully help you find the answer in a trial.  If you do many algebra – er, NW, problems where you know where C (source) is, you start to see patterns.  When source is above my dogs head, he picks up odor 4-10ft away, on a solid surface (conditions and environment).  When there is a breeze in his face (conditions and environment), he may over run the source, but then give a big head snap (communication) and go back to source.

When you know the “answer” (where source is), you can start to understand how the environment is affecting your dogs behavior.  If the “answer” is low on the ground, your dogs communication may look like he’s chasing dust bunnies across the floor, or he may look like a metal detector, sweeping back and forth, until he gets to the answer.  When you know the “answer” is outside, on a fence, in a public space, you may see your dog communicating that he is more interested in what is on the POST, than what is on the FENCE.  You understand the environment (A) has lots of novel dog smells, and you know the “answer” (C) is farther along the fence, so B (the dog’s communication) shows you his post sniffing is very different (he’s very still, slow, may lick the post) than his odor sniffing.

If we start doing many blind hides without understanding A (environment and conditions) or without knowing B (how your particular dog communicates), it is very challenging to come up with C (source).  As we move up in the levels of NW, the better understanding we have of A and B, the better chance we have of figuring out the equation.  While we DO have to do blind hides to quiz ourselves on occasion – can we solve the equation? – make the most of knowing the answer when you train by yourself.  Always ask, WHY would my dog do that?  WHY is he struggling?  IS he struggling, or is he just taking longer to get to source than I expected him to take?  What sorts of things throw him off – novel dog odors, slippery floors, people walking by if you’re practicing in public?  How can make source more valuable to him, how can I set up the environment so that my dog can work through those challenges, and where can I find more areas to continue to practice through this?

And what about those distractions we had in high school algebra class – spit balls, cute boys, the pressure of trying to finish a test before the bell?  Those exist for your dog, too, in the form of accidental leash corrections, body positioning / blocking your dog from being able to access source, and dog, food or toy smells.  The more you and your dog do your homework, those distractions will fade, and you’ll be able to breeze through the test, well before the bell.  Don’t cram on the school bus or days before the trial, do your homework through the semester – taking a vacation here and there – and be thoughtful when you study.

Here is an impromptu training area we did this morning… we were going to just walk, but then I saw this, and thought, there’s no one around (no distractions) it’s an interesting and unique environment, and I have my NW stuff w/ me.  Why not?


We did 3 runs with 3 hides each.  On one hide, high under the lifeguard chair, there was a slight breeze off the ocean.  He picked up odor from behind the chair – which is what I thought the odor would do – and went up on his hind legs – communicating… BUT, I thought he would work it around to the front of the chair where the tin was, so I didn’t reward.  This is like the teacher not being able to read your handwriting – and not giving you credit for your answer 😦  He walked off, the breeze died, and he struggled until I tossed a treat up there.  My bad.

But, he worked great, and I thought he deserved a recess break – woo-hoo!

Who knew algebra could be so fun?  Time to get studying – but don’t forget recess!

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