Mild Proofing – Stay at Source

Adapted from NW101: Introduction to Nosework.  Taught by Stacy Barnett

Stacy’s Website:

Odour obedience:  odor means everything and the dog has a high desire to find and stay at source under all conditions (i.e. distractions).

To build the desire to stay at source, we add in some mild proofing.

What is proofing:  Setting up scenarios to create confidence on the dog’s part that odor pays and distraction don’t.

How to add proofing challenges:  Add only in increments that the dog can handle and keep the reinforcement high for success. We let our dog figure out how to continue to get the reward, even amidst distractions, but we don’t set them up to fail.  To set your dog up for success, you want to have a high reinforcement history at odor before introducing distractions

We are building two specific behaviours in our dogs:

  1. Duration for staying at source
  2. Ignoring distractions when searching for source.

We work either duration or distractions and as our dog’s confidence grows, slowly build up to have both.

For proofing to be successful, we need a dog that wants to get to odor. A dog that knows odor pays or is in the process of developing a strong understanding of what pays. An appropriate level of proofing will build more understanding that only odor pays.

To summarize, we want the dog to learn that THEY control when reinforcement comes.  They learn that reinforcement comes only when they are at source. They call us in with that nice stay at source behavior. And we show them that we have NO idea where source is!!!!

Here are some mild proofing games for staying at source:

  1. Red Light / Green Light game.
  2. Adding in short duration at source.
  3. Luring with food away from source.
  4. Placing treats on the floor away from source.
  5. Tapping cold box to pull them off of source.
  6. Psyche! Standing by or walking toward cold box.
  7. Acting! Take a few steps past your dog at source.

Luring: After your dog finds source, either in your tin hand during It’s Your Choice, or on a container on the ground, reward at source and then try and lure them off with your food hand. They will usually fall for it but they won’t get any treats. When they go back to source, feed immediately and generously!

Food distraction: Set up your containers, and after your dog has found source and has been rewarded, hold out an open hand of treats off to the side or put a pile of treats on the ground away (where you can cover it up if they go for it) and then reward for staying or going back.

Tapping cold box: After your dog finds source, reward at source and then tap a cold box next to the hot box, trying to get them interested in checking it out.  They will usually fall for it but they won’t get any treats. When they go back to source, feed immediately and generously!

Psyche! Stand by a cold container or walk toward a cold area. As handlers we tend to stare at, lean over or walk toward known hot box. From the very beginning we want our dog’s to think that we know nothing about odor and how to find it! To counteract our accidental cues to the correct box, we’ll pysche them out by walking toward/standing near/leaning over a cold box to try and convince them we *think* we know where the source is.

Acting. When your dog finds source, keep walking a few steps and then mark their great find. Start with just a step away and build up to a few more. This will be more like how you may handle when it’s “blind” when you don’t know where the odor is. It’s important in our training to not give any clues we know where odor is to prepare for future trialing and running blind hide placements.


When practicing these proofing games, do NOT do a bunch in a row or don’t try all in the same session. Mix in sessions where you do not proof and then only proof sparingly. After trying one of the proofing games, set up another search and end with lots of reward without any proofing.

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