Scent Discrimination and the Passive Alert
Scent Discrimination is fun for your dog, you are teaching him how to use his nose to please you and which scent you want him to locate. This training is exciting for him and should be a fun game for you both.
Passive alerting means that your dog either sits or lays down and waits once it finds the scent. Grabbing the item, barking or scratching is not an active alert and can pose dangers or problems for some dogs.The passive alert is important to me, and for most working dogs. I don’t want
a dog that could potentially eat, tear, or shred whatever rag or item I am using and a passive alert is so much more pleasant and appropriate. Explosives and Narcotics training leaves no room for errors and that is the type of control I strive for. If you are training a K9 or wanting to compete with your dog using his nose, I suggest you find a trainer in your area because tracking and scent discrimination are very complicated, these games are merely a fun outlet to entertain you and your dog!
- Get 3 to 5 boxes of exactly the same size, usually 12” cube. You can purchase these boxes online for around one hundred and twenty a piece and you can purchase some boxes that shoot a toy out when the dog correctly alerts to the scent.
I usually make my own boxes and cut a large hole 4.5” in the top middle of each. I prefer large wooden or plastic boxes. I often clean and use the buckets kitty litter comes in.
- Use the same box for the same scent. You can write on the inside of the box the scent you are using so that you never use the other boxes to hold scent. Scent can be absorbed by wood and plastic therefore leaving a lingering scent the next time you pull out the boxes that your dog can alert to; which means he could alert to a scent that he still smells but you don’t think is there and that can be confusing.
- One box should house the scent and all of the other boxes should be clean but free of any scent. Anytime you use a new scent use a separate box and don’t interchange boxes.
- Choose a novel scent; meaning one that is not naturally found in his environment; i.e. no perfume or lotions that you normally wear. You can purchase duck, moose and other critter smells at hunting specialty stores. I use a tiny amount of sea salt or some other spices like cinnamon or sage. But beware some spices are toxic for dogs.
- Too much salt can be toxic if ingested
- Nutmeg, Cocoa and Mace (VERY Toxic) can cause seizures and death especially nutmeg!
- Garlic, Onions, Chives can cause anemia a blood disorder
- Pepper , Flax Seed , Paprika can cause skin and eye irritation
- You can get a large PVC Pipe and drill holes in it and cap the ends to house your rag and scent as a precaution for a dog that wants to steal the scent.
- Keep your scent rags or cloths in the freezer in between training so that your dog does not become desensitized to the scent.
- Put the scented rag in the PVC pipe in the designated box and line the boxes up on the carpet with several feet in between each box. Turn off any fans that may alter the position of the scent. Put the scented box in the number 2 position at first.
- Put treats or your dog’s favorite toy in your pocket
- Put your dog on a leash and encourage him to sniff the hole in the #1 box by saying “Find It” (remember in Nose Work 1 we taught your dog to use his nose and sniff), allow him to briefly sniff box one and reward, then move to box #2 (the box the scent is in) and tell him to “Find It”.
- As soon as he begins to alert on the smell or sniff deeply, command him to lay down and reward him with a treat and lots of praise. Next move through the other boxes allowing him to briefly sniff then begin going through the line again making him lay down and either throwing his toy or giving him a treat at the scent box.
- Once your dog is hitting on the scent in box 2 reliably without any help from you begin putting it in different position in the line by moving the other boxes around it. Do not alter its place in the line, but you can move box 3 to box position 1 or box one to the last position…you get the idea. You do not want to move the scent box right now because the scent may remain on the carpet or area around it.
Continue this training regiment several times daily for many days or until your dog is hitting on the scent by immediately laying down without command and with no hesitation or problems at all. The next step is to have a friend or family member align the boxes for you so that you do not know which box houses the scent; you will have to trust your dog’s nose at this stage of the game. Learning to trust your dog and his judgment at this stage is essential!
Have fun and enjoy yourselves, this is a fun game that we will continue to build on and add to. This is great fun for your dog!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.