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My Lame Attempt at Scent Work

While casting about for something new to teach Lilly, I threw together a quick and easy scent discrimination training session. One word, my friends. HA! What seemed logical to me made ZERO sense to Lilly. But, first, here’s why I thought Lilly might be good at smells.

During a recent snowstorm, Tom ventured up to the main road to get our mail. Lilly did NOT know he was outside when I let her out, and the fog, etc., made it hard to see him if you didn’t know to look.

We play hide-and-seek all the time with Lilly in the house. In fact, most mornings, she has to FIND DADDY before she can eat her breakfast. I’m told this game is very helpful in teaching dogs to track scents. We’ve never really played outside, though.

Anyway, I let Lilly out, and I watched her — nose to the ground — follow Tom’s footsteps around our cars and toward the road. She didn’t pick her head up for a long time. She just followed his footprints in the snow with total concentration. She must have heard him at some point because she finally broke into a sprint right toward him.

In addition, the animal communicator told us that Lilly enjoyed using her nose, so I figured it’d be a fun wintertime game.

So, I put coffee, sugar, flour, and peanuts in separate baggies and laid them on the floor. My goal? To click/treat her when she sniffed the coffee. Lilly’s response? To lay down next to all the baggies and smile at me.

I waited and waited and waited.

Nothing.

Gigi, Claire, and I talked about it a bit at last week’s class, and I found this training sheet on an obedience scent work on the Clicker Training site, which begins with object discrimination. I guess when the mood strikes again I’ll start there.

I’d love to hear how you trained scent work or about any resources you can recommend.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Rox - January 8, 2009

Thanks, Brenda, for the link. I’ll check it out.

Rox - January 8, 2009

Ha! Val’s dirty sock method. I’ll have to try it. Thanks for the idea.

Val - January 8, 2009

Toby and I fiddled with scent discrimination a little bit this winter while he’s been recovering from one injury after another, I got the idea while browsing some old posts on the Clicker Solutions list.

We started with socks. One dirty one with my scent on it, and one clean one fresh from the wash. I stuffed a treat in the dirty one and put them both on the floor (using tongs to put the clean one down). I c/t’d him for finding and bringing me the dirty one (with the food in it).

The next session we started with that again. He was getting it right 9/10 times (he’s been rewarded for bringing me ANY sock, so had to do a test run to see if the one without the treat still counted), so I removed the food lure from inside the dirty sock and set it back down – no doubt with still the scent of food on it. Then when I was sure he was getting it, I switched out the dirty sock for another dirty one and waited. It took him a moment but he brought me the scented one.

It was really simple to do, which kinda surprised me. After removing the food-scent from the equation he did mess up a few more times, but I could easily take it back to the easier step to help him out. Once he was dead on there I started adding more clean socks to the mixture. I plan on switching him over to pencils (cause they’re cheap and easy) and have a plan in mind.

We also did something similar to the shell game… scenting a new toy he got for Christmas with a very, very light vanilla spray, practiced having him retrieve it, then hid it under a plastic cup with holes poked in it. He knocks over the cup to get it. Then I added an empty cup to the mix and so on. If it ever gets too hard I can easily take it back a step. But both were pretty easy ways to teach him to use his nose for training and the scent work helped keep him tired when he wasn’t allowed exercise.

We also have an outdoor version (LOL), where I scented his hunting bumper toy with some really diluted cover-scent for hunting and have started dragging and hiding it around the backyard. Using the same style as above. After all of this scent work I’m thinking that once he’s fully recovered I might look into teaching him to track.

Hopefully, they work for you too. My suggestion would be to start with just coffee and have her notice it. Then add a second scent and so on, building slowly. I’ll have to check out the link above. Good luck

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