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Fringe-y/Pooling Odor Problems & How I Fixed Them

Updated: May 9

To set the scene, I was in the middle of an AKC advanced interior search with my pup Rainier when I realized, oh boy, we have a problem. It's a problem that I started noticing within our training at home from time to time, but it didn't quite slap me in the face as much as it did mid trial.

We entered the search, and Rainier got the first hide no problem, then we followed through with "my plan" of searching the area clockwise, when she slowed down on a lunchbox. She gave her freeze indication, but it seemed a little off, but I called it ("Alert!...?) and as I suspected, "no, sorry". It was on the object next to the lunchbox. Due to the position of the item (a stool) and the lunchbox, as well as issues we've had with training at home - it's clear our "problem" was pooling odor, and fringe alerts due to it.

Here we go.

Pooling odor is really tricky, because odor that pools can be at a higher "concentration" than the source odor itself. Because of this, it can lead to false alerts. Pooling odor indications, therefore, are fringe indications - in my opinion.

So how'd I get myself in this predicament? It's simple really, it was a training problem, as well as lack of experience in my pup encountering pooling odor; and, going back to it being a training problem - my pup not receiving the proper "guidance" within these puzzles to solve them.

At home, I try to train blinds as much as possible, and ask my significant other to put out hides for us (shout out to Mike!). Sometimes these hides involve criteria that can lead to pooling odor, for example a hide in a space higher up between cabinets, where air can flow down, towards a larger space at the bottom. I remember when my pup first saw this "picture" within a blind search, she froze (her indication) at the very bottom of the cabinet (all of that lovely pooling odor), I called "Alert" to my significant other, who said "no" and then said it was higher when I asked where it was. I helped her find source, rewarded her at it, stopped that training session, then thought about it for a little bit.

Issue 1: Alert = Yes in her mind, and clearly, within training blind searches, this picture got messy. This was the first thing I needed to change within both our blind training searches as well as non-blind.

Issue 2: She hadn't had a lot of experience with "pooling odor" as we begun to increase height in our searches, since I try to train 1-2 levels above where we are trialing at. Since we were (at that time) trialing in advanced, we were beginning to set up excellent and master hides at home. Because I did not yet focus on setting up situations where pooling odor could be a problem, she didn't understand how to figure out the puzzle when she was "in" pooling odor. But, because I was setting hides (or encountering hides) that can lead to pooling odor, we began to see holes in our training.

So we got to work!

First thing's first, I changed the way we communicated within training at home. When searching blinds, when my dog would give her alert, I began to give my significant other a thumbs up behind my back, wait for a thumbs up back, THEN would say "alert" and would reward. This completely changed the game for communication with my pup, since I was no longer causing any problems within our reward markers/strategy at home. She wasn't potentially being told she was correct when she was in pooling odor/fringe alerting, and I as the handler was able to learn what she looked like when she was in pooling odor VERSUS on source odor.

Next, when we were working by ourselves in non-blind searches, I started to say "yes" instead of alert, to help drive her to source more. As a trainer who takes reward markers very seriously, with a pup who takes them very seriously, this helped us both a lot. We've increased our 3D searches, and I throw in "pooling odor" situations every so often within different environments to see how she reads them, and she's been getting better and better ever since, and i've been getting better at working with her as a team through them.

Rainier at source | Versatile K9's AKC Scent Work Trial | April 20th, 2024 | Creative Canine Photography

We have had a lot of clear "success" since this trial, both within training and trialing, which i'm incredibly proud of. At a recent AKC trial with Versatile K9 at Wild West City, that same puppy of mine went 7/7, 3 of those searches being at the excellent level (2 exterior excellent searches, 1st and 3rd place, as well as an interior excellent search) and 4 at the advanced level.

The first search in the video below was our excellent exterior class which we got 1st place in, and I can clearly see our progress shine. At all 3 hides, I was able to watch her get to source odor, and it's very clear (and rewarding to me) watching where she figures out the puzzles. We didn't have fringe or pooling issues the entire trial, despite opportunities for both.

  • At the bench (first hide found) she froze when she got to the end and followed the scent cone DOWN from the top of the bench to the ground, where the hide was.

  • At the fire pit (second hide found) she bracketed as soon as she was in odor, and worked it until she got down to source.

  • At the steps (third hide found) she bracketed as soon as she was in odor, and worked it until she found source.

These are all situations where, previous to our training at home, she most likely would not have driven to source at all of these hides as clearly as she did at this trial.

The fringe-y trial which took me down a training spiral (you can always learn from your NQs so long as you think of them as a "training opportunity" afterwards) has led to our training becoming cleaner, and we focus on potential issues more.

Here's to more training, fun searches, and happy sniffing!

Michelle Belio CDBC CPDT-KA FFCP

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