Stuck at home in social isolation and looking for something to do? Don't get stuck in a rut. Here's some fun ideas for how to set up for training scent detection at home.
Many trainers hide food inside Kongs and stuffable food balls, in snuffle mats (like a deep shaggy rug), and amidst the grass in their yard to introduce puppies to finding food. Or fill a kiddie pool with safe balls or empty plastic bottles and hide the food at the bottom. Beyond that, there are innumerable opportunities to explore in the diverse world of scent detection. Newbies looking to learn how to use a scent detection kit for practicing at home can learn more at: Scent Detection Kit Instructions and Supplies for Nosework. Whatever your discipline, read on for some fresh ideas.
Use what you have around you. Much to our delight, one of our students brought a small wine rack to class, replaced all the wine with a hide, and we simply rotated the rack to move the hide to new configurations.
For classes, my go-to favorite is a scent detection lab, where hides are taped next to holes in boxes: https://youtu.be/m8JqEBp5N4g (inspired by Andrew Ramsey). The cardboard boxes can be disassembled to lie flat and are light and convenient for transport to multiple locations. With a hockey bag, we’ve moved the lab everywhere from a 10×10 horse stall in a barn to a small kitchen with a litter of puppies.
This photo shows another exemplar. Note that the 3 inch diameter holes in the boxes is critically important! The holes fit most dog breeds and allow dogs to work to source, the highest concentration of target odor.
Overall, the most popular hide seems to be ventilated metal tins, placed in the search environment. They are cheap, portable, good for airflow and the metal reacts very little with oils (in comparison with plastics).
Besides tins, I love using heat shrink polyolefin tubing for hides. It’s available at Princess Auto, or online at amazon in larger quantities (e.g. https://www.amazon.com/SummitLink-Assorted-Shrink-Tubing-Sleeve/dp/B01CNGUW4M/ref=sr_1_6?rps=1&ie=UTF8&qid=1524204578&sr=8-6&keywords=heat+shrink+tubing&refinements=p_85%3A2470955011). Don’t forget to always cut small holes in them for adequate ventilation. To ensure the scented paper can’t accidentally fall out of the tube, try stapling the scented paper inside the tube (which makes your stapler hot) or using heat to melt the ends of the tube.
Yet another idea for hides is Dog Sport Gear Narc Bags (http://www.dogsportgear.ca/RedLine-K9-Scent-Detection-Narc-Bags_p_3815.html), which might inspire some readers to sew some hides. Fabric hides are a great material to expose dogs to, in addition to wood, rubber, metal, paper, etc. Try going to a dollar store like Dollarama and getting several identical items (like cheap pencil cases) for your next lineup (aka container search). While mason jars are fantastic for storing hides between practices, it’s best to avoid using glass containers as hides, for safety’s sake.
Whichever hides you choose, try moving them to novel environments. For example, a great introduction to exterior searches is to take the lab shown above, and move it outside on asphalt. Most novice dogs have built up enough value in the lab that they can succeed despite the change of environment. Not quite there? Try moving the lab to a garage, then open the door. To progress, try a “non-object” hide near the familiar setup: in a crack in the sidewalk, or in the bark on a tree. Amazon offers a whole category of products for burglary prevention that we’ve expropriated for hiding scent, including: fake grass, wall outlets, rocks, dog poop, and many more.
Experiment with arranging objects in patterns: rows, clusters of 3s separated by 15 feet, S shape, L shape, circles, and (the most difficult) randomly scattered. For advanced dogs working on high hides, put the containers on top of tables. The possibilities are endless, and only limited by your imagination.
If you have the space, here is detailed instructions on building a Herstik Scent Wall: http://detectiondogs.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/TrainingDetectionDogs.pdf. This wall is used to teach focussed attention, where an assistant cleanly delivers the ball reward down the tube to the dog, producing focussed attention at source.
When we begin training an indication behavior, we use a hot indication box with 2 holes (inspired by Dave Kroyer and shown in the video below), where the tin is secured on the back wall. The video below shows how to make one. It doesn’t have to be wood, although that’s more durable and less likely to be moved by enthusiastic dogs. Please be aware that dogs with heads about the size of the holes may push their head into the box and not be able to get out, resulting in an aversive and memorable experience. So the latest iteration of the boxes we use are glued lightly together so they can be taken apart by hand. For safety, metal boxes are far riskier than wood, and the safest boxes are cardboard. You can use whatever cardboard box you already have, apply duct tape around it to maintain structural integrity, then cut 2 holes in it. Try getting empty boxes from your nearest Costco or US Postal Service. You do not need fancy gear to train scent detection. Many students have advanced their training significantly with just one hot box.
If you train on the Herstik wall first, you can transition to the wooden boxes with holes by placing the boxes next to your wall.
In this video, FSI K9 Academy works through some training issues with a green bed bug detection dog. It’s a tidy setup, featuring an excellent trainer. Note the PVC pipes in both high and low configurations. Just move the tube containing the hide to a new hole and you have a new search.
Here’s a video of one of our students patterning thresholds using a kindred setup:
One important safety note is to ensure the size of any hole or pipe is markedly different from the size of the dog’s head, to prevent getting stuck. And always remove glass and breakables.
Daisy wheels are popular, as featured in our previous blog on Penn Vet Working Dog Center’s project on detection of smuggled ancient pottery: https://wp.me/p74GTg-t7 In the next video, Donna Hill demonstrates how she makes a smaller daisy wheel for training medical alert dogs for the Service Dog Training Institute.
This is a cheap, cost-effective, and convenient way to present odor, especially if your mobility is limited. Simply spin the wheel and the hide is in a new location.
There are also many commercial scent detection devices, such as a box that launches ball as a reward (like a flyball box) to train focussed attention in dogs with high toy drive. http://www.elitek9.com/Scent-Detection-Equipment/products/97/ offers several price points. We've used ball launchers and they are fun, but you can also just throw the ball at source if your dog enjoys balls and is used to having you throw them close to their head (because sometimes everyone misses).
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