SW 2 – 5-1 – Intro To Vehicles

The focus of this week is to introduce vehicle searches. Vehicles are FUN and are not difficult. The objective when first introducing vehicles is to let the dog know that source can be on a vehicle. A vehicle is considered ANYTHING with wheels … cars, vans, golf carts, mowers, trailers, etc.

In a NW1 trial your vehicle search will contain up to 3 vehicles and there will only be one birch hide on one car. The other vehicle(s) will not have any odor on them. The vehicles can be placed in any pattern – all 3 in a row, some perpendicular to each other, randomly placed, etc.  In NW1 trials, vehicle hides are ONLY placed on the frame (seam, license plate), wheel (hubcaps/spokes), or wheel well of the car. The hide will be no higher than 4 feet but would not expect to see anything that high in NW1. You would never have a hide inside a vehicle, on the hood or roof of a vehicle, and only in NW2/NW3 will you have inaccessible hides where the odor may be under the carriage of the car or deep in a wheel well or pocket of a car.

In UKC, for the Novice vehicle element “the front bumper must be utilized for the hide”.

It’s important to be safe when searching vehicles. Make sure the vehicle is not hot from running, leaking any fluids or has any dangerous sharp edges that a dog could injure themselves on. Also, don’t let your dog crawl under the vehicle – it’s unsafe and you can be faulted for it. If your dog wants to crawl under the vehicle, it’s possible the source is on the other side and they are catching the scent from the other side. Walk your dog back around the vehicle to see if they can find a direct way to source. The rule of thumb is not to let your dog get more than up to their shoulders under a vehicle.

Think of vehicles being just another item that can contain a hide. If your dog is strong on odor and comfortable finding source in a lot of different areas then you are in good shape for working vehicles. A common fault with vehicles is the handler calling the hide when the dog is not exactly on it. We avoid this by making sure that we are rewarding the dog for being EXACTLY at source in training. The more we feed away from source, the more the dog will indicate or move further away from source!

As always, we are working on both their hunting skills and “odor obedience”. Continue to give a high rate of reinforcement at source. We start out making the hides VERY easy to find and progress to less visible tins, in different hide placements, generalizing the skill in new places and placed on other kinds of vehicles.

Week 1, Lesson 1: Intro to Vehicles


–    1 Vehicle
–    Tin with qtips
–    Some way to attach the tin to the side of the car (magnets inside tin, quake hold, duct tape).
Step 1:
  1. Place large tin in the center on the back of the vehicle bumper around the dog’s nose height.
  2. Bring your dog in close – 3 or 4 feet from the bumper/hide.
  3. Hold onto their harness to let them settle and possibly see and catch the odor.
  4. Cue them to search.
  5. Reward immediately and generously when they find the tin.

Step 2:

  1. Move the tin around the bumper to the back side of the car, at nose height. Repeat search starting from the original place at the back of the vehicle so they are having to starting moving around the car.

Step 3:

  1. Move the tin to the middle of the side of the car at nose height. Repeat search starting from back.

Step 4:

  1. Move the tin to the front side of the car at nose height. Repeat search starting from back.

Step 5:

  1. To keep your dog searching the car, go back and place your tin back to where you had it in step 2 or step 3. Repeat search starting from the back.

Step 6:

  1. Move the tin to the front of the car at nose height. Repeat search starting from the back.

Continue to work your dog around the car and occassionaly going back to an earlier placement so that sometimes they find it right away and sometimes have to search a little bit around the car. Do not help them, let them work the scent cone to find odor. You should see your dog quickly realizing that odor and payment comes from searching the vehicle!

Here are 2 student videos showing their introduction to vehicles.  In some cases if they missed one of the positions, we would go back and redo it and then continue around. (It was hard keeping the tin attached to the car due to the cold and moisture.)

Important comments:

  • Keep the searches easy and rewarding to the dog.  Ideally using a larger tin to start. If you start to add difficulty too soon, your dog could look at vehicles as something that is hard and discouraging.
  • You may find that you need to move the hide in smaller increments around the car before your dog is able to search around the vehicle before finding odor.
  • Stay back and let your dog work the vehicle. Crowding your dog on a vehicle search is a common handler error.
  • Don’t decide where the dog should go while working the odor – they are the scent expert so let them lead you to source.
  • Vehicles should not be stressful. They are just another place where source can be.


Work through the steps above.

Published by Jan Shannon

Certified Dog Trainer

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