Scent Training for Dogs
Training dogs to use their sense of smell for various jobs is no small feat. While dogs can be trained to use their noses for different purposes, the training to make them adept and familiar with different scents can be a long process. Most people think that only working dogs can be trained to identify scents, but this is not always the case. The truth is, your dog doesn’t have to be a military or police dog to undergo scent discrimination training. You can even train them to recognize scents at home. In this article, we’ve listed several tips to help you train your dog in scent recognition and discrimination.
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Dogs make for excellent companions. They are loving, loyal, affectionate, and are very intelligent creatures. They are great to have at home with the family because of their gentle nature and lively demeanor. They are also an ideal work companion for various tasks. Their physical prowess allows them to perform physical tasks with great efficiency and because of their intelligence, they can be trained to perform even relatively complicated tasks.
One striking characteristic of dogs that makes them great partners at work is their highly sensitive sense of smell. Their sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 times more accurate than humans, and they can detect and track minute scent molecules at great distances.
Throughout the years, humans have utilized the dog’s strong sense of smell for various jobs, from tracking down people to detecting different objects and materials such as bombs or illegal drugs. Recent news has shown that dogs can even be trained to detect cancer cells in patients long before any other diagnostic tests can detect them.
The Basics of Scent Training
Scent training in dogs is considered an advanced course, and it is expected for dogs that will undergo the training to have some degree of previous experience when it comes to training lessons. This means your dog should know at least the basic commands for training, including commands like “sit”, “stay”, and “come”. These commands will help provide the foundation on where the subsequent scent training will build upon.
Before starting your scent discrimination training with your dog, it’s also important that they get familiarized with the object you want them to detect or recognize. It’s important to note that the training’s goal is not to teach them to utilize their sense of smell, dogs are already very great at that. The aim of scent training is for dogs to discriminate between different scents, choosing one particular scent over others, and knowing what to do with the discrimination.
How to Train Your Dog to Recognize Specific Scents
When we read or hear the word discrimination, it typically signals something negative. But in the most basic sense, discrimination simply means a choice made based on established specific criteria. In the context of scent training in dogs, discrimination training means teaching them to choose and focus on a particular scent over others.
To help dogs understand this concept of discrimination, it’s important to teach them the idea of “choice” and make them feel rewarded whenever they get the “right choice”. Before working on scents, it’s beneficial to start with discriminating between objects first. Establishing a preference based on different criteria such as size, color, and shape can help dogs learn the concept of discrimination.
For example, working with balls of different colors, you can teach the dog to discriminate towards yellow and against other colors by rewarding them every time they touch the yellow ball to the exclusion of the other colors. This will help the dog grasp the concept of discrimination, which is an important foundation in scent training.
After your dog has had a good grasp of the concept of discrimination using different objects, introducing scent to train them to make a choice based on their sense of smell can be started. Keep in mind that dogs regularly do this on their own using their noses as means to navigate and choose food, places, routes, and even other dogs.
You can start with simple scents, like your used clothes or garments, or use something with a more potent smell like vanilla extracts. Starting with a potent scent is not designed to teach your dog to utilize its sense of smell, but rather to help you perceive and observe more accurately what your dog does when exposed to these potent scent molecules and respond accordingly to it.
To effectively introduce scents to your dog during scent discrimination training, the goal is to expose the dog to the stimulus without leaving any part of the object or material. If you’re using a vanilla extract, you can wipe the extract on an article of clothing or a vessel using a cotton swab and make the dog smell it. This way, the dog can focus on the scent itself and not the actual material or object.
Preparing and Using Scent Vessels
In preparing the scent vessels, make sure to do it away from where you plan to train your dog and away from the dog itself. Your dog mustn’t be exposed to the scent before the training session to make the scent discrimination training more effective.
Use disposable gloves when handling scents, especially if you’re working with potent aromas, to prevent the smell from sticking to your hands. Make sure to seal and throw away used gloves after preparing the scent vessels you’ll be using for the training.
The Next Steps
During the training, hold the scent vessel in one hand and a reward on the other. Introduce both hands about a foot apart from each other and allow your dog to smell both hands. Normally, the dog will gravitate towards the hand with the treats and will keep sniffing and licking it. As soon as your dog stops smelling the hand with the treat and starts investigating the hand with the vessel, say “Yes” and reward the dog with treats. Make sure to give the food near the source of the smell.
After a few repetitions, switch the scent vessel to the other hand so that the dog will not rely too much on memory to know which hand he will be rewarded with and will depend on the scent itself. If your dog can correctly identify the scent within a few seconds, at least three times in a row, it means he or she has already developed the skill to discriminate towards that particular scent.
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