The following procedure for teaching scent discrimination was developed from principles introduced at a tracking and search workshop conducted by Glen R. Johnson. The approach is totally non-physical (inducive) in nature. No corrections are given if the dog makes a mistake. No aids are used so that the dog is left no alternative but to be correct, such as tying down unscented articles. Food is used as a physical reward and is always preceded by praise. The dog does not advance to the next step until he had been correct 3 times in a row. When the dog is correct 3 times, but not in a row, take a 5 minute break before repeating that step. Once the dog has been correct three times in a row, he no longer gets food for each/correct response since we are considering this step as having been learned. When this step is returned to, and you will, the dog will get a food reward every other or every third time.
In order to begin, the dog must be able to retrieve on command. The dog is allowed to retrieve the metal article in play sessions for two days. Nothing formal is used and the dog gets food for every other retrieve. It must be emphasized that praise always comes before the dog receives the food. We begin with the metal article since it has less masking scent of its own as compared to leather, and distinguishing by odor is what we are trying to teach at this point. The easier we can make it for the dog, the better.
To begin the actual learning sequence, the dog does 3 placement retrieves with the same metal article. That is, with the dog watching, we place the article about 15 feet in front of the dog. Since there is only one article out there that has our scent on it, the dog will be correct and is praised and receives a food reward for the retrieve. If the dog should drop the article, don’t worry about it now, but review the hold with the dog at another session. The dog is still rewarded.
After 3 retrieves the dog watches while the “scented” article is placed about 6 inches in front of a “clean” article. The dog is then given the appropriate command. As the dog checks both articles and shows an interest in the scented article, he is encouraged to pick it up. As he brings the correct article in, he is praised and given a food reward. In this step, the dog has two choices, one correct and one incorrect. However, if he is incorrect the first time, the next time he can not help but be correct since there is only one article, the second article remaining. Therefore, if the dog brings back the wrong article, it is simply taken from him and he is sent again. Don’t correct or admonish the dog for his mistake. We do not want to call attention to his incorrect choice. As he brings the correct article in, praise and reward. Our dogs are not stupid and learn quickly what response results in praise and a food reward. When the dog does return with the wrong article, a new “clean” article, one that the dog has not mouthed, is used.
After the dog has made a correct choice, the scented article is placed to either the right or left of the clean article for the next retrieve. Move to the next step, 2 unscented, 1 scented, when the dog has been correct 3 times in a row.
Since the dog can be wrong 2 times in a row here, it is important to back up to one scented and one unscented article if the dog is wrong two times in a row. When the dog is correct 3 times in a row with the scented article in 3 different positions, move to four, then 5.
The same procedure is used for leather. When the dog is solid on both leather and metal, begin with one leather, one metal with the leather article being scented. After three correct responses, a clean leather and scented metal article are used. Next add a clean leather and clean metal articles. The third scented article may be either metal or leather. After three correct responses on both leather and metal, add two more clean articles.
On occasions where the dog is obviously not using his nose after a week or so, food is rubbed on the hand prior to scenting the article. Once the dog begins using his nose, this procedure is discontinued.
We have found this to be an effective, reliable way to teach this exercise and eliminates many of the problems associated with this exercise and lays a foundation for further scent work tasks.
©1982 W.H. Morrison, III