During trial events the CO will place three practice boxes out in the public areas. I’ve been to trials where they placed two sets of three because of they were running two elements at the same time.
What are practice boxes? These are standard white container boxes. Usually one with odor(s) and two with out. The odor containing box is marked with the word odor or a smiley face or some other clear indication that the box does, in fact, have odor. And, as if that weren’t clear enough, the odor box tends to get a bit mutilated by exuberant dogs.
The boxes actually serve an additional purpose beyond practice. These boxes create a good opportunity to recover from a poor search. If you and your dog aren’t successful during a trial element these boxes allow you to recover; they allow you to present your dog with a successful search opportunity. And, that’s incredibly important–the game should always be fun for the dog!
There’s sometimes a question about whether you should practice with these boxes before entering an element of the trial or not. As with so many elements, the answer is: it depends.
Your dogs have been training and they know odor. So, often, the practice boxes are more about calming the human’s nerves in the new trial situation. It’s great to know that your dog knows odor. It’s reassuring.
But, what happens to some of us, our dogs, after being presented with the simple problem of the practice boxes several times, they stop alerting. There are many possible reasons for this, but I think part of it is that the game you’re presenting them with is too easy and thus a bit boring. Imagine, as an adult, being given by a toddler you’re babysitting for a four-piece, child’s puzzle to put together. The first time, sure you’ll do it to please the kid who gave it to you. But, what happens when presented with that same puzzle over and over? It gets boring and we attempt to redirect the toddler who keeps giving it to us. I think our pooches are the same way. They get bored and are ready to move on to the next bigger challenge.
So, using them or not using them is up to you. And, how you use the practice boxes is also up to you. Just know they’re there for you as another tool geared toward your success.