Monday, November 3, 2014

Positive Training Blog Hop-Training scent articles

The topic for the Positive Training Hop may be rear-end awareness but after spending months perfecting Taco's platform pivots producing lovely left turns, I'm over it!  I've moved on!  So you get to see what the dogs have been delving into down in the basement recently.

Scent articles discrimination is one of the most mystifying obedience exercises.  We have no idea what goes on inside the dog's head or what exactly they are smelling to decide which one is "right".  How on earth are we supposed to train it?  Certainly a positive-only method makes sense because we can only guess what the dog smells.  He may be completely right (as you'll see in the video of Dot working  when Dot is positive that #2 is correct, keeps going for it and only gets hits on the "right" one by accident.  Perhaps I had touched that article and didn't realize it.  Perhaps it had residue from chicken or cheese on it and that's why she was so sure she wanted that one?) but we can never know since I can't smell what the dog smells.

I have been working both dogs through Connie Cleveland's cookie tin method (originally published in Front and Finish magazine).  This methods works first with metal cookie tins (with holes punched in them to let scent out) and then with a tie-down board.  The progression is (very simplified):

Step 1-The cookie tins are first empty except for the scented tin which has a treat inside.  First the tins are open, then they are closed.  When you close them, you are looking for a persistent indication from the dog, not simply a quick sniff.  You can see Taco's indication is digging at the tin

and Dot's is stepping a foot (or two) onto it.

Step 2-Then you add unscented metal and leather articles to the unscented tins and a scented leather and metal to your scented tin. 

Step 3- THEN you add food to ALL the tins along with the articles (tricky!) to verify that the dog is detecting the scent, not the food.

Step 4- Next you move to a tie-down board with ALL articles tied down including the scented one.  Again you are looking for persistent indication but not messing with a retrieve yet.  Both of my dogs are comfortable retrieving dumbbell shaped objects so both switched to an indication of mouthing.

You continue to add articles and make the arrangement for complex until you have a full pile.  And voila, your dog is doing scent discrimination!  Just teach a retrieve separately, add it on to the end and you've got it.

I like this method because there is no correction at all.  The dog works on the problem until they hit on the right one which they get rewarded for.  Once you move to the tie-down board, instead of using it traditionally where the tie-down is the correction for picking up the wrong one, ALL the articles are tied down so they can't go around "shopping" for the right one until they find the one that's loose. 

The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop occurs on the first Monday of every month. November’s theme is Rear End Awareness but any positive reinforcement training posts are always welcome.


  1. Thanks for joining the hop! Mr. N's scent indication is subtle so I'm still working on reading him. It's nice when they're obvious. Have you tried nosework with your dogs?

    1. I bought the nosework supplies but haven't started it yet. I am planning to enroll in the Fenzi Academy nosework series. I watched the Leerburg DVD but didn't really cotton to their method, seemed overly fussy and required two people. I thought it could be our winter project when we get cabin fever!