This lecture is about developing your startline routine as you train and prepare for trialing.
At trials and Odor Recognition Tests (ORTs at NACSW trial for certifying your dog knows odor before entering trials), there is a designated start which could be two pylons or the door entrance into a room, or whatever they decide to use as start line markers.
Per NACSW rules, you get 10s at the start line before the timer starts. This is a good time to settle in, clip your dog’s leash to their harness (if using a harness) and letting your dog acclimate and hopefully pick up odor. The sooner they pick up odor the sooner they will settle into their job
It can be helpful at this point to start associating certain gear with nosework. Many people opt to use a harness as opposed to just a collar. The benefits of a harness are significant, especially once the handler comes into the picture. When a handler is working a dog using a long line, a harness ensures that the head is free to sweep in all directions. Also, it’s much less possible to accidentally correct the dog while searching or near odor. Additionally, the dog learns to associate that bit of gear with the activity of nosework. If you need to use a collar due to physical issues, it’s best to have a nosework specific collar that you can use.
An appropriate harness is one that clips in the back and is non-correcting or tightening. Easy walk type harnesses are not appropriate nor are they legal in competition. You can get harnesses from many sources. K9 Julius makes a good one. It’s easy to put on and is comfortable on the dog and you can buy patches to add to the harness, bonus! Brilliant K9 makes a similar style harness which is very nice and a little softer. If you need a lighter weight harness, the Comfort Flex is a good alternative. Y-front harnesses are also appropriate.
For enthusiastic/high drive dogs, you may want to have a calming start line to focus their energy. You can pet and stroke their side or rub their chest. You can also give a few treats as food has a calming affect or play the mousy game. Use a soft voice and cue them softly to search. Wait to release when they are calm and looking into the search area. Some high drive dogs may get more frustrated with this type of calming/waiting routine, so know your dog. Play around with what works best for you in training.
Think about your start line ritual. I recommend starting from a stand. A stand helps the dog to focus ahead rather than on the handler. Many times handlers that start from a Sit end up with a dog that orients excessively on the handler and tends to dampen arousal.
For low to medium drive dogs, you also want to use that initial start time as a routine that they recognize as doing NW. Clip the lead onto their harness, let them look around, acclimiate and hopefully pick up odor. You can hold onto their harness, pulling back a little for some opposition reflex or holding back on their chest. Reving them up with some excited phrase, but not too much to overwhelm them. Rule of thought is to be at or one level above your dog’s energy level. I would not recommend any “obedience” type stuff at the start – keep them on their toes (standing) and ready to search.
It’s also important that your dog is not overly panting/hot as it compromises how well they can sniff out odor. It’s physically impossible for a dog to both pant and sniff at the same time. Their mouth needs to be closed to allow airflow into their nasal passages to process the scent. You’ll notice dogs will close their mouth when really on odor/tracking odor.
Play around and see what works for your dog.