The goal is for your dog to be able to perform a short linear search. A linear search is a pattern of searching.
Linear searches are a great search pattern as they encourage your dog to search methodically and in a concentrated manner so they’re less likely to miss the scent later when things get more complex.
It slows dogs down and encourages them to be more precise, thorough and methodical in their search.
You can build on it over time to make it more complex and it’s great for dogs that lack focus because once they learn the search style in the house, you can do it on walks e.g. benches, walls, logs – anything with a long surface. You don’t need to take pots out with you (though you can); you can squish cheese onto the surface.
- 4-6 containers e.g. pots, boxes, bowls, bags, shoes.
- Food or a toy to hide
Place the containers in a straight line, close together and evenly spaced. By keeping the search containers close together, your dog will learn a concentrated and continuous search. Push the containers up against the perimeter of the room so there is only one direction that your dog can approach them from.
This is where a stay/wait cue comes in handy as you will need to ask your dog to stay while you set up. Alternatively you ask a helper to gently restrain them by the harness or leave them outside the room (or other side of a baby gate) while you set up.
- Place your hide into the first container. Tap that container to show your dog where you would like them to start searching and say your search cue e.g. ‘Find it!’. (If you have a helper restraining this is when they let go of your dog.)
- Celebrate with them when they find it! If they found food they will eat it, if they found a toy have a game with them.
- Now, move the target scent to the second container but start your search from the first container again by tapping it.
- Then the third container and then the fourth, always tapping container 1. As you move the food/toy further down the line your dog may start to miss out the first containers. If this happens, go back to placing the hide in the first and second containers for a couple of repetitions. The idea is that we build reinforcement history in the early part of the line so they are more likely to check they next time.
- You’re aiming for your dog to become proficient and can walk along the line searching as they go. Some dogs will put their nose into every single container, some will skim over the surface.
- You can now start to mix it up. Rather than moving the hide from container 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, make it random.
As scent is moved from one search container to another, your dog may be aware of residue scent – this increases the challenge and makes them sniff harder!
Here are some ways to up the ante:
- Duration: Make your line longer by adding more containers to search
- Distraction: Don’t always put the hide in the containers, sometimes put it between them
- Raised search: Introduce heights and different levels to the linear search to encourage your dog to lift their nose up, rather than always at staying at ground level
- Set up your search with your dog out of the room and bring them in when you’re ready for them to search
- Ask someone else to set up your search so neither you or your dog know where the hide is