What is a pattern for nosework? Do you constantly required you dog to follow a structured pattern? Should you require your dog to follow a pattern? These are all good questions, and many of us ask ourselves these questions – often after reading comments on our scoresheets or after a trial briefing. This is the one and only time I’m going to answer the question simply with one word, but first I need a few 100 to set the stage.
What is a pattern? A quick search in the googles (the source of all human knowledge) and we have any number of definitions, we could use some or all of these to help us define what a “pattern” in nosework should be.
Google definition of “Pattern in math”. Things that are arranged following a rule or rules. Example: these tiles are arranged in a pattern. Another Example: there is a pattern in these numbers: 2, 7, 12, 17, 22, they follow a rule "start at 2 and add 5 each time"
Google definition of “Pattern in Art” is an underlying structure that organizes surfaces or structures in a consistent, regular manner. Pattern can be described as a repeating unit of shape or form, but it can also be thought of as the "skeleton" that organizes the parts of a composition.
Google definition of “Pattern in Geography” A spatial pattern is a perceptual structure, placement, or arrangement of objects on Earth. It also includes the space in between those objects. Patterns may be recognized because of their arrangement; maybe in a line or by a clustering of points.
But aren’t these patterns defined by the handler or maybe by our perceptions of the search environment? We either train it, direct it or choice it when we search. We believe it is efficient, so often times we choose to use a pattern. Whether it is or isn’t the most efficient for that particular search is left to be determined by the outcome.
To quote one of my favorite nosework philosophers let us, “ask the dog”. I’ve added 3 videos below of the same dog, which of these searches would have benefited from a more regular pattern, structure, consistent handling manner to make the search more efficient.
Lexi – NW1 – Oklahoma https://youtu.be/MaSLcp3ua1E
Well this is NW1 so 1 hide – it’s hard for me to see a pattern that would have altered the outcome in a more efficient way. But each dog doesn’t work the same in each search so we need to allow for the possibility that we might need to implement a pattern, right? I’ve had this at NW3 too but alas it was prior to being able to get trial video.
Lexi – NW3 North Carolina https://youtu.be/lYzgtBeB_bc
When I watch this video I see a very particular environmental challenge, large open room with lots of windows and a smooth tile floor. This makes me imagine that the odor has the potential to move, bounce and skid all over the place. It was also the last search of the day and all kinds of mind games were happening for me based on how other searches had gone. Would a pattern have helped us not miss one of the hides? Maybe, but if the dog likes to chase the odor then maybe letting this occur to a point would have helped her more. Or maybe just a bit more confidence to call what clearly was odor behavior - always much clearer when watching the video after the fact.
Lexi – NW3 Colorado https://youtu.be/pDIG3v_bCrE
It looks like I had a pattern in mind, did I deviate from that pattern. Again another particular environmental challenge – as I recall many teams missed the hide in the black/white box. If you didn’t pattern then you missed, I don’t know.
If the choice to add a pattern provides more success then it must be the most efficient right? Or does it provide just a reinforcement to our bias that we covered the area in the most efficient way. Both of these are possible, in one search a pattern may be the most efficient way to cover the search and if your dog thrives on this structure or as in the professional world – your job depends on a clear structure defined by the duties of the job then I would say a pattern is quite beneficial. However if you have limited time, limited experience with particular environmental factors working on the odor and your dog either hasn’t been exposed to a defined pattern or your dog has a tendency to chase, play and work to solve the puzzle at hand, then the pattern may not be the best choice.
Another of my favorite nosework philosophers once said in a trial briefing (paraphrasing) “I can’t tell you if you should work or pattern or not, but I can tell you, you should find a way to map your search that helps your team be successful”. A handler pattern choice is a tool and we should be able to use that tool, we should also be able to adapt and still find our way without a definitive map. Can you let go of the pattern once you employed it, and you change during the search and pattern an area to find success. If success is being fastest – then for some searches a dog choosing to work it their way, can not only be the most efficient but also the fastest that day. If you were to choose to pattern in a search such as this it would undoubtedly make you not efficient. What about off leash? Or not container searches? Can we say the same, is it harder to implement or abandon a pattern search?
So back to our question at hand, to pattern or not to pattern – answer is “Yes”, however and there is always a however. The real question is “when should you choice to implement a pattern and which pattern should you use and when do you break from the pattern?”
PS – For those of you that say I just follow my dog, what happens when the environment forces you to work a pattern, a no return search, small areas or limited time where you only have time for one pass of the search area? Can your dog cope with the direction from the handler? Can you? To an extent, I’d be right there with you with one of my dogs – and it is excruciating for me to just stand there in the search with the time floating away when my dog is working a problem of his choosing, but sometimes I can see the desire, fun and determination in my dog to get that hide and to step in and direct him away is like taking ice cream away from a child.