Height and Depth of Hides; My Thoughts on Inaccessible Odour
The Height of hides is a tricky variable to address in a class or group setting due to the huge size variations in dog breeds. Anything under 2ft is generally no problem for any dog. Hides on the ground can be a great challenge for most dogs because many have such a strong tendency to scratch or bite. Nose-height hides are the least challenging for all dogs, but what constitutes ‘nose-height’ will (obviously) differ.
The greatest challenge comes from higher hides, particularly those that are completely out of reach. Hides that aren’t reachable for the dog – constituting both very high and very deep hides – are commonly referred to as ‘inaccessible’. While there is a ‘source’ for the dog to find, it’s far less definitive and predictable – and thus more challenging for everyone involved.
Having your dog find inaccessible hides should only make up a very, very small part of the entire training process. They’re very challenging puzzles for both the handler and the dog, because we are unable to determine where the source of the odour is to any level of certainty, and are therefore unable to predict where the dog should respond (and where we should thus mark).
A great analogy for this phenomenon can be found with target shooting:
At 50m, the gun was very accurate and hit the bullseye each time. At 100m, the groupings weren’t as accurate, and at 150m, they were way off the mark.
By utilizing a predictable odour source right from the outset of the training process, we’re continually reinforcing proximity (therefore; accuracy) to source. We’re hitting the bullseye with every shot at 50 metres.
When we increase distance – by having the hide marginally out of reach of the dog – they are going to be a little bit less accurate (like the 100m target). This is due both to our inability to accurately predict where the source of the odour is, and also because there will always be a larger area that the dog can respond on.
When the hide is well out of reach, there is a much larger area to source and respond on.
Unlike with target shooting, practice at greater distances will not make perfect. Rather the opposite, in fact. If we do too many out of reach hides (accepting the 150m groupings), most dogs will apply that criteria back to the reachable hides (50m target). The result is a dog that fringe alerts.
Minimize your training for out of reach hides. Do them to the extent that the dog understands what he needs to do to get paid in that context, then limit their use in regular training sessions.