Save More Time Training on Cocktailed Hides

Apr 24, 2020

Did you know you can save more time by training canine scent detection using cocktail?

A “hide” is the package of target odor inside a ventilated container that is hidden in the search are for the dog to find e.g. a cotton swab inside a metal tin. Learn how to make single odor hides with proper odor hygiene at:

A “cocktailed” hide contains multiple odors. At my classes, I routinely use a cocktail of all 6 target odors required for CKC Scent Detection Competition: Birch + Anise + Clove + Wintergreen + Pine + Cypress. The video shows exactly how to make hides with a cocktail of all 6 CKC scents. 

Of course, you can make a cocktail of whatever target odors you want your green dog to learn. For example, illegal narcotics on the street are rarely 100% pure, so training on a mixture by using cocktail more closely resembles real life deployments. Similarly, bed bug hides may contain live bugs, pheromones and eggs, which are separate target odors. 

The Difference is Time to Train

The most compelling reason to use cocktailed hides is that it saves more training time. You teach your dog the entire library of target odors at the same time. 

In comparison, if you train one odor first, your dog only learns one target odor. Then you need to start over for odor #2, then start again with odor #3, and so on. This leads to a long time to train the dog to recognize all the scents your want. 

It comes down to choosing whether you spend more time initially to make cocktailed hides and finish training odor recognition in 7 Days  (like me), or don't spend time preparing cocktail so training takes several times longer. 

Does it Make a Difference to the Sniffer Dog? 

I've trained hundreds of detection dogs so far, and none have had problems with cocktailed hides. 

Think of cocktail like stew. You and I easily recognize the individual components: peas, carrots, tomato broth, beef. Dogs easily recognize the individual components in cocktailed hides. 

In practice, it's always cocktail for the dog. Even if you're working in a laboratory setting, it's hard to keep any object 100% free of contamination. The tin you handle with gloves smells like the factory where the tin was created, the contaminants during the process of making cotton swabs, chemicals on your gloves, chemicals that are stored nearby and move through the air, bacterial contamination, and so on. 

Life is messy. In deployments, I expect my dog to detect a cocktail of odors, and train accordingly. 

How to Make Cocktailed Hides

Cocktail is actually a misnomer. You do NOT want to mix the scents together into a surprise soup. This may interact in a chemical reaction and produce unpredictable, unreliable results, which you should not be finding in nosework competitions. 

Here are the 2 most common methods for properly making cocktailed hides for canine scent detection competitions. 

Method 1 - Insert 6 Cotton Swabs in One Hide (See Video)

One way to make a cocktailed hide is to place

  • one cotton swab scented with Birch +
  • a swab with Anise +
  • a swab with Clove +
  • a swab with Wintergreen + 
  • a swab with Pine + 
  • a swab with Cypress, all  into a metal tin with holes. 


Method 2 - Making Hundreds of Hides On Strips of Paper

If you're making hundreds or thousands of hides (like a club or instructor needs over a few months of daily training), there's a more efficient way to deal with volume. It uses small pieces of unscented lab paper cut into the size of matchsticks, so you can dispense a tiny amount of each scent onto it using a pipette.

When stored appropriately, these should last for months of daily training. The main concern is not odor disappearing, but that your hides can pick up other contaminating odors from the environment. 

To make cocktailed paper strips with all 6 CKC odors, here's what you need:

  • Hide container(s) labelled with target odor it will contain e.g. metal tin with holes labelled "CKC-6", or whatever cocktail you want
  • 6 essential oils specified for CKC scent detection competition
  • Small pieces of unscented lab paper (Each piece should be about the size of a match stick, but you don’t need to measure. There must be sufficient room on each piece of paper so that the 6 drops are physically separated.
  • 6 disposable plastic pipettes e.g. 1-5 ml capacity (available from amazon, chemical or geological testing companies)
  • 6 sets of disposable nitrile gloves (available from Princess Auto, Home Depot)
  • Tweezers
  • Paper towels and garbage bag
  • Optional: parchment baking paper, wax paper, or a tarp to cover and protect your work surface.


  1. Wash your hands. Put on a pair of gloves, then put on 5 more pairs on top of it.
  2. Work in a room where dogs don’t go, on a non-porous surface. Optional: cover it with parchment paper. Set up all your supplies. Place all the pieces of paper out flat.
  3. Open the jar containing the first odor e.g. Birch. Wipe off any excess liquid that may have leaked around the rim. (Note that you will be able to smell the odor, indicating it is sufficiently strong.)
  4. Insert a clean disposable pipette into the oil. Squeeze the bulb to expel the air, and then the suction will draw up 1-5 millilitres of oil. (It is critically important never to double dip. Don't put anything into your odor which may contaminate it.)
  5. Place 1 drop of Birch oil on the left of each piece of paper. (If you use up all of the oil in your pipette, you can only reinsert it into your birch oil if you are positive it is clean and uncontaminated. If you are not absolutely sure, it’s better to throw it out and use a new pipette to draw up more oil to prevent contamination of your entire supply of Birch oil.)
  6. When all pieces of paper are done, throw the pipette in your garbage bag. Wipe off the rim of your birch jar with paper towel and close it tightly. Clean up any messes.
  7. Now that you’ve finished with that odor, remove the top pair of gloves to reveal the clean pair underneath.
  8. Repeat steps 3-7 using Anise, placing 1 drop on a new spot on each piece of paper. (Remember NOT to use the pipette that held Birch to draw up Anise, or your source jars will be contaminated.)
  9. Repeat steps 3-7 using Clove, placing 1 drop on a new spot on each piece of paper.
  10. Repeat for Wintergreen
  11. Repeat for Pine
  12. Repeat for Cypress
  13. Now you should have 6 separate drops of oil on each piece of paper, use tweezers to put them into your labelled storage or hide container (like a metal tin with holes).
  14. Put the garbage and gloves in the labelled bag. Seal it and dispose of it in an area that dogs cannot access.
  15. Open the window if necessary to ventilate the room.
  16. Wash your hands with soap and water. (The mechanical action is responsible for cleaning your hands, and minimizing contamination.)

Hides are Time Consuming

In general, making hides with proper odor hygiene takes more time than you want or expect. Cocktail is no exception. But there's no getting around the fact that if you want to train your sniffer dog to find a target odor, somebody needs to acquire target odor and prepare hides so you know where odor is and where it isn't. 

Questions or comments? Please share your experiences below. 


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