Scent discrimination

Scent Discrimination

Description of Exercise
The dog, on command, must select by scent and retrieve an article that has been handled by its Handler or the Judge and is placed (with tongs) amongst up to a maximum of 9 (nine) other articles, which should be handled, for a short time, by the steward before placing them in any pattern, but they must be about 500mm apart. Handler and dog must be faced away when the judge’s/decoy steward’s/handler’s articles are being placed about five metres away from the dog and handler.

Class A
The scent article is selected by the handler and is scented by the handler. Dumbbells may not be used.

Class B
The handler is given one or two (at his choice) similar cloth articles for scenting. The second article (if requested) will be used to give scent to the dog. A single decoy cloth article will be placed in position.

Class C
The judge shall provide for each dog two cloth articles, one to be placed by the steward for selecting by the dog and the other one given to the handler for the purpose of giving scent to the dog. At least two decoy cloth articles must be used.

General comments: The dog already knows how to use his nose and to retrieve a dumbbell. The dog must now be taught to find an article with the handler’s scent from amongst other non-scented or decoy articles. The dog must be made to understand which scent must be concentrated on and those he must ignore. Dogs have incredibly sensitive noses so it is not really necessary to rub the article furiously in order to give the dog an advantage. However, what rubbing and handling does is to make the article warmer than the rest of the articles on the ground.

Scent will dissipate from the article within 24-36 hours if aired properly and even quicker if left in the sun and wind. Wet articles must be properly dried or washed in order to avoid mould forming. Dogs hate carrying mouldy articles. Never snatch, jerk, pull or clumsily remove an article from the dog otherwise he is likely to bring the article only part of the way. To avoid confusing the dog, it is recommended to use one word, which indicates food or toys (e.g. “SEEK”), and a completely different word for articles with human scent on it (e.g. “FIND IT”). What is important is that you use the SAME command each time.


Which Hand? With food or a toy in one hand, present both closed hands to the dog. Ask him, “Which one?” The dog must touch or paw the correct hand before receiving a treat. No treat for a wrong answer! Toys work better in this game because food smells cling to the hands and can be confusing. I find it best to allow the dog to smell both hands and wait for him to persistently nudge one hand before he gets the treat.

Lights Out: Show the dog a treat or toy and then place it out of sight in a dark room. Tell him to SEEK – follow him and praise enthusiastically. If a toy is use, reward him with some play before repeating. When multiple treats are used, this game helps to build persistence and trust. This game can also be played in daylight by hiding the cookies in a shoe or on a low shelf etc.

Find It. Use a toy or stick and after some playing with the object, hold the dog as you throw the object into the grass, tall enough to hide it. The dog can see the general area where the object fell. Count to three before releasing the dog to “Find it” or “Seek.” Gradually increase the time before releasing the dog. A puppy food pellet on the lawn works very well.

Dark Search: Using the same rules as above, this game relies on the cover of darkness to encourage the dog to use his nose. Do not make it too difficult for the dog in the beginning. The point of the game is success, not frustration.

The Right One: This is a more advanced game aimed at teaching the dog that only one, specific object is desired. Use a tennis ball to briefly play with the dog. Then, using the 3-2-1 Find It technique, throw the ball into an area where you have hidden some similar objects. If the dog brings the wrong article, say nothing as you take it away and send him again. The right article gets lots of enthusiastic praise and some play before the game is repeated.

Find it! As you go walking with your dog you discreetly drop an object you have been carrying or had in your pocket. Continue walking for 10-15 steps, then stop, patting your pockets you ask the dog, “Where is it? Find it!” Begin walking back to where you dropped it. Encourage the dog to sniff the ground by pointing and telling him to FIND IT. In the beginning the dog may need help, so kick it or play with it. Once the dog gets the idea, make a big fuss and repeat. This game can be made difficult by increasing the distance between the drop and the search.

Step 1: Familiarise the dog with the scented article. Start by giving your dog some experience in handling an article and associating it with your scent. Rub the article, cloth with both hands and hold it close to the dog’s nose so that he can smell it while it is in your hands. Next, have the dog hold it briefly and praise him enthusiastically for doing it. Repeat a few times and then give a FREE.
After a break, casually drop the article on the grass and encourage the dog to “fetch.”

Step 2: Retrieving Thrown Article. The dog must now be trained to retrieve the scented article as well as the dumbbell. If the dog is a natural retriever, the cloth is thrown as you would a toy. If the dog is not a natural retriever, you need to repeat the basic retrieve sequence of Take, Hold, Fetch, and Give etc. This can be done on- or off-lead. Once the dog is reliably retrieving the thrown article, the handler can begin to insist on correct Stays, Fronts and Finishes. The dog is now ready for the next step.

Step 3: Retrieving Placed Articles. The article should now be placed on the ground near the dog to be retrieved. Give lots of praise and a treat for correct retrieve. The distance of the article from the dog is gradually increased by a metre at a time to about 5 metres. Once the dog is reliably retrieving a placed scented article, the handler must again insist on correct positions such as Stays, Fronts and Finishes.

Step 4: Articles on the Mat. A second unscented article is now added by securing it near the corner of a mat or under a bathroom tile, which is then placed some distance from the dog that is sitting in the Heel position and facing the mat. The handler throws the scented article carefully so that it lands on or over (beyond) the mat and sends the dog to retrieve. The dog may follow the flight of the article and at first retrieves without a search.

The dog may retrieve the correct article without investigating the other article or he may try to retrieve the wrong article and find that he cannot move it from the training mat. This is the point of the exercise and is good training for the dog. If the dog now picks up the correct article, and brings it back, he must receive enthusiastic praise and a treat. Do not talk to the dog while he is “working.” If he stops and looks confused, calmly walk up to the mat, point out the correct article and tell him to find it or fetch. Repeat, using the same article, until the dog regularly approaches the articles with his head down and retrieves the correct article consistently. The dog has now learnt that the only article he can retrieve is the one with the owner’s sent and that he must use his nose to find it.
Now add more articles to the mat and repeat the exercise as long as it remains enjoyable and fun for the dog.

In the beginning, to help the dogs understand the game and to identify the correct article, it is a good idea to click/jess when he gets to the right cloth. Once he gets the hang of what is required of him, delay the Click/Yes to see if he can decide on his own. Do not continue to praise or “click” while the dog is mouthing or identifying the correct article! Otherwise, the dog will continue to search, even if he has found the correct article, because he will be waiting for the handler’s praise or “click” to confirm the correct article.

Do not punish the dog for retrieving the wrong article! Ignore the error. Rather walk back to the mat, point out the correct article and praise enthusiastically when the correct article is retrieved. Do stand still because any body movement by the handler during the search may give the dog the wrong “clues” i.e. he may be waiting for a movement before retrieving. Once the dog has mastered the exercise and retrieves the correct article, do not continue to use the same article over and over. Rotate the articles.