The 4 D's of Nosework and Odor Obedience

 A lot of time in dog training, we hear about the 4 D's: Duration, Distance, Distraction and Diversity.

For example, in teaching Stays. Can your dog stay for a certain amount of time, at a certain distance from you, under certain distractions and in new places? It's easy to understand the 4 D's in this context. Nosework isn't any different!

In fact, the 4 D's are essential to the foundational quality of odor obedience. Let's explore!

Picture a search dog looking for narcotics. His sole focus in on finding the "dope." He works with intensity, ignoring things like dropped food. His only desire is the search. He's never been to that location, but he doesn't care; his focus is incredible. He leaves the handler because he's caught scent of some heroin in the garbage can. Now, his focus changes to the alert, signaling to the officer that he's made a find.

For this search to happen, the drug dog needs the 4 D's!

Duration: Building Odor Obedience at Source

It's essential to build a dog's duration at source skill. Meaning, we want the dog to have the odor obedience that will cause him to pause and subsequently indicate on the hide. When we don't have the duration aspect of odor obedience, we get what we call "drive by's."

A "drive by" is when a dog catches odor, but passes the hide because of something else interesting in the environment. Duration is related to insistence.

Does the dog catch odor, follow odor and then insist at the hide to be paid?

Distance: Building Independence in Nosework 

In Nosework, the dog needs to learn to work independently. This can be a challenge for some dogs!

We want the dog to be able to confidently search at distance from the handler. It takes confidence to work farther away from the handler. From an odor obedience perspective, we want the dog to drive out to odor, even if that means leaving the proximity of the handler.

Distraction: Odor Obedience to Dismiss Distractions

Real life search areas are a part of the sport of Nosework. You might search schools, ballparks, camps, fairgrounds…. The list is endless!

In order to do so, the dog has to have the odor obedience to dismiss distractions. In some cases, distractions in competition are intentional, in other cases, the environment is enough of a distraction.

Diversity: Searching New Places

In competition, the dog will not have a chance to acclimate or even see the search area prior to coming to the line. Our dogs need to not only be comfortable in searching in new places, but must also be used to searching new places. With work, dogs can start to enjoy the novelty of a new search area and you will see enhanced performance every time you bring your dog to a new location.

The Key to Success with the 4 D's: Confidence!

 Keep in mind that for any of these D's, the key to being successful is CONFIDENCE! Confidence is where we need to start. Confidence in the environment, self-confidence in the dog's skills and confidence in the handler. Confidence is the lynchpin to achieving the 4 D's.

A confident dog knows his job. A confident dog doesn't care where he is searching. A confident dog trusts his handler.

So how do we establish Confidence?

  1. Prioritize emotions - By prioritizing the dog's emotions over the activity, we can help to ensure that our dog is capable of receiving training. If a dog is stressed or feeling overwhelmed, he can't readily learn.
  2. Never work a stressed dog - We want the dog to establish a positive Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) to searching. If we try to make a stressed dog search, the dog will develop a negative association with searching.
  3. Allow a dog to acclimate before training - Acclimation is an important piece of consent. A dog needs to be comfortable with his environment before being asked to work. When working a green dog who is environmentally conscious, let the dog sniff and explore the search area before setting your hides.
  4. Always work the dog at the appropriate skill level - For dogs to develop self confidence in their skills, we need to always work them within their means. Successful searches build self confidence.
  5. Be clear with your cues by utilizing routine - Clarity creates confidence. By utilizing a routine, you can can prepare your dog for the activity of searching. Using a specific harness and practicing a start line routine will help your dog to focus on the task at hand and his confidence in you will increase.

CONFIDENCE and the 4 D's are a part of any good foundational program for nosework. These foundations are core to the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy school of nosework.

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