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Scent Work: Where to Start

I wrote a piece last week for Healthypet magazine. Set for publication in fall 2009, I can’t tell you what it’s really about, but I can say that I learned a couple interesting things about teaching dogs about scents. If you want to start doing scent work with your dog, BEER is the best place to start. Yep. Beer.

Dogs most easily find smells in the butyric acid category (earthy smells, sweat smells), which BEER mimics quite well. Wine and other liquor can work as well. Based on scent alone, in fact, you could teach a dog to alert to only one kind of beer (over others). The second scent to try, I’m told, is a lightly perfumed lotion or something similar. After that, you can move on to people, but avoid cleaners (too strong) and avoid food (dogs may try to eat it rather than use their noses).

But, we’re still on beer.

The expert I interviewed suggested putting a little scent on a cotton ball and then the cotton ball inside a container with holes in the lid. Easy enough, right? Get a clicker. Click for the dog noticing the scented object.

Well, we’re working on getting Lilly to notice the scent, but I’m not sure she gets the game yet because she usually picks up the container. Once she was doing that consistently, I added a second identical container and rewarded her for goign to the correct one.

Is she using her nose? I honestly don’t know.

I tried those plastic party cups, with the cotton ball taped inside, so that the cup made a nice cone of smell for her to find.

I tried putting a cotton ball inside a cardboard tube with the ends taped, but punctured.

Next, I tried a bigger yogurt container. Thinking it might be big enough she’ll be less likely to pick it up, but she’s still just pushing the container around or trying to pick it up, so I don’t think she gets it yet.

I’ve abandoned the two containers for now, and I’m back to working with just one until I think she understands.

I shot some video yesterday, but learning how to edit takes a lot of time. Tic-toc. Tic-toc. So, give me a couple days to figure out how to do a compilation of clips so that you don’t have to watch the whole thing. I’ve figured out how to make one clip from a video recording, but now I have to figure out how to do more and then stick them all together. *sigh*

While it’s fun, the techno learning curve also gives me a bit of a headache — between the thinking, the computer screen, and (lately) the glare off the snow outside the windows.

Stay tuned. Offer scent shaping advice. Anything. :o)

Just got a note from Gigi (our trainer) recommending this book:
Fun Nosework for Dogs

Might have to get that OR find a way to attach the scent containers to the floor.

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.

KB - April 7, 2009

Here’s an idea. Since she wants to pick up the objects, make that part of the game. I visualized that you’d put the cottonball inside a kong (perhaps with tape over the end so she doesn’t somehow actually eat the cottonball). Then, have her go get the kong with the scent. I imagine that you have more than one kong, so the next step could be 2 kongs placed on the floor, one with the scent and one without it. You reward her for bringing you the correct kong.

This makes her urge to pick up the object part of the game and also teach her to use her nose. I’ve had a heck of a time with K when I try to teach object-oriented games that do *not* involve retrieving the object. She so strongly wants to retrieve it.

I might try the kong idea with K.

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