Scent Games – adding details

Identifying specific handlers scent to mark – in competition this is an AKC Utility dog level, but actually any dog can learn to do it.

Previously I have raved on about dog’s abilities to smell scent that is old, under water,and in incredibly small amounts. I am mesmerized by this ability, although I still don’t want a hound (my first dog was a beagle mix and she taught me a lot about my preferences). No hounds for me, I’ll not be convinced otherwise – ha, ha.

Hmm, your foot smell pasture, bunny, grass, squirrel...
Hmm, your foot smells good…horse pasture, bunny, grass, squirrel…

This week my canine crew and I are working on scent discrimination. (Before you do this kind of work you probably want your dog to be willing to pick up and bring to you whatever you indicate, because in this definition they are learning to indicate only things with your own fresh scent on the middle of them.) I’m sure you can train it both ways, but I think it might be easier to generalize first.

I’m using Utility competition dumbbells, leather coated and then aluminum ones, but anything would actually do. Dogs tend to like the feel of leather much more than metal, so we start with leather or wood, a clicker, a bunch of treats and an area with no/little other distractions (this is a brand new piece for the dog to figure out so extra stresses are to be avoided).

Scent one object’s center with your palms (just hold it for 5 seconds or so, no need to do rubbing or anything special). Then hold it so the dog can touch/scent the middle of it. Then click/reward. Do this several times. You’re looking for them to smell it more than try to take it, but either way is fine at this point. Then add another twin item (if it’s numbered or otherwise labeled it’s easier). Hold them on the edges (dogs can tell the difference in scent and scent placement). Click/reward each time your dog indicates the center of the scented one. After a series of immediate right ones, change sides to see if the scent is what is the thing your dog is keying in on…click/reward for right choices (ignore wrong choices). Take a break.

Re-scent the center of the item. Play the game a bit more, if the choices are consistently correct put the items on the floor and see if he can pick the right one there. (If the process falls apart, do an easy one again, take a break and start from the beginning again…reward the right choices, jackpot reward the excellent times). My guys are so used to getting things for me that I’m getting a lot of retrieves with no specificity for scent…which is fine, I just made it simpler again so they would have success.

Once they can choose the right one out of two items, add a third. Note; don’t name this game yet, wait until you are sure they know what they are doing, then name it so it becomes a specific ‘find handlers fresh scent on middle of item game.’ Call it whatever you want to, but remember what you called it.

Basically they already know it’s there, they just don’t know for sure what I’m asking for – so my job is to try to be as clear and easy as possible so they can figure it out. Since I know it’s there, but am clueless about what they’re really thinking I’m wanting, it’s a little tricky. But trust the process.

Once they can do three, change the items…metal, rubber…whatever and start again. It should go faster. At 18 or more right out of 20 times, time to name it. Then your dog will know I’m to do this game with this name/cue.

Max really, really likes this game, much better than last weeks carry the pink Easter egg purse with treats in it game. Although he was liking the companion game of directed milk-machine inflations retrieving game (it’s America’s Dairyland and I can get those for free).


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