Taking Scent

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Taking Scent

IMG_0856[1]A dog’s amazing sense of smell is beyond human comprehension. It is an inborn, natural ability. We cannot teach a dog anything about it other than to distinguish certain smells from others and to do it with confidence, correctness and concentration.

The basic Scent Discrimination tests require from the dog the ability to find the handler’s scent on a cloth that is placed between 5 other neutral cloths, also known as “blanks.” Your task is to teach the dog to find the scented cloth you want him to find, and to do so on command. This means that the teaching of scent discrimination now concentrates, almost exclusively, on cloth scenting. (Previously the dog had to find the handler’s article from between up to ten other articles.)

In Class A the dog only has to find the handler’s own scented cloth (which the handler has to produce). In Class B, upon entering the ring the handler will be given one or two (at his choice) similar cloths for scenting. The second cloth (if requested) will be used to give scent to the dog. Again, the dog has to only find the handler’s cloth from scent given either from his bare hand or the second scented cloth (if used). Decoy cloths will be used for the first time.

In Class C the judge shall produce for each dog two cloths, one to be placed by the steward for the dog to find and the other given to the handler for the purpose of giving the judge’s scent to the dog. In this exercise the dog has to discriminate between the judge’s scent on a cloth and from both decoys and the “blanks.”

Thus, in the lower classes (A and B) the dog is required to find the scent he is very familiar with (from his owner). However, because at a later stage he is going to have to find someone else’s scent given to him on a cloth, it is advisable to create a good habit of him sniffing cloth that is held loosely over the nose so that your scent does not mix with that of the judge.

I prefer to start teaching my dogs to sniff a cloth in a distraction free place indoors. The process is very similar to when I taught my dogs to take a retrieve article. Rub a treat like cheese or sun-dried liver in the palm of your hand. Get your dog to sit in front of you. With the cloth spread over the palm of your hand, gently place it over the dog’s nose to sniff it for a few seconds only. Reward and praise after removing the cloth. I find that by placing four treats where my dog can see them he/she becomes very willing to sniff a cloth in anticipation of receiving a reward. Very quickly the dog learns to sniff each cloth placed over his nose.

It does not take long for a dog to learn to sniff a cloth on command every time one is placed on its nose. That is why this exercise must not be neglected because in the ring where there are many distractions your dog must be sure to remember the scent given. You cannot have your dog refusing to take scent at the start of the exercise.

In Class C the steward, when he approaches you while holding the judge’s scented cloth on a pair of tongs, will usually ask you how you want to receive the cloth. I prefer to carefully take the cloth between the fingertips of both hands, each taking a tiny corner of the cloth. By stretching the cloth wide before placing it gently over my dog’s nose I can avoid my scent creating confusion. The dog can also be taught to take the edge of the cloth between his front teeth, just hanging loosely so that it can be folded over his nose.

Scent discrimination as a competitionexercise actually consists of a combination of the Scent, Retrieve and Recall exercises. Your dog may find the right cloth but by not bringing it back smartly and correctly to the “Present” position and also to “Finish” poorly may lose you points. However, in the beginning if the dog brings the correct cloth, do not insist on a proper “Present.” Take the cloth and reward enthusiastically because that is the aim of the exercise, finding the correct cloth. Perfection can come later.

“Seek” or “Find”

If you have been using the “Fetch” command in the formal retrieve exercise, then you may find that in Scent discrimination, when you tell your dog to “Fetch,” he comes back without a cloth because he could not find a dumbbell. That is why I use the “Seek” command in scent discrimination and I start introducing the word early on while still training my dog to take scent. Some may prefer to use “Find” or a different word.

In order to give my dog the confidence to go out and find an article when I tell him to “Seek,” I start by hiding items in the garden. The dog is given a “Sit” command and watches while I go to different places pretending to place a toy. Using his eyes he rushes to the spot he thinks he saw me putting it down, only to find nothing. This is the point where he begins to “Seek” to find the article. This is a fun game for a dog to happily search for his toy which could be in a shrub, hedge or in the lower branches of a tree. Gradually rope and knotted cloth articles can replace the solid ones. All articles to be found must first be properly introduced to the dog. With the aid of gloves you can get the dog to find an article that does not have your scent on it.

Decoy training

At the club I will hand a cloth to two different members, male and female, for each to scent a cloth during a training session. Later I seal the cloths in a plastic bag, mark it so that I can later use them as decoys while training at home.

Decoy- and “blank” cloths are usually wrapped around a tile or pinned down. The idea is to prevent the dog from picking up the wrong cloth without handler interference. Once the dog realises that he cannot pick up the decoy cloths he begins to ignore them and searches for the one containing the handler’s scent.

The scent of family members must NOT be used in decoy training.

Do read the article: “Scent Discrimination.”


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