Lori’s question: Is there ever an advantage to using single odor hides? For example, one hide is wintergreen, another hide is birch with anise, etc.. (We started training using a cocktail of Birch + Anise + Clove + Wintergreen cocktail.)
Answer: Cocktail allows us to train several odors at the same time so we rarely train single odors. But there are a few exceptions:
Converging Odors with Hides Close Together
When training a green dog to differentiate between 2 hides placed close together e.g. 1 foot apart, so that odor converges, it’s easiest to introduce the concept using 2 dramatically contrasting scents. Picture the scenario like trying to tell the difference between 2 colors. If the colors are very different, it’s easy to tell them apart. But when the colors are very similar, when you encounter their intersection, it all looks similar and it is harder to find 2 pinpoint sources.
For example, if one hide is birch and the second hide is anise, it’s easier for the dog to differentiate and locate the sources (see photo above).
In comparison, if you train 2 identical hides with cocktail, it is more challenging to discriminate between them (below).
We introduce converging odors when dogs are ready for multiple hides by positioning the 2 contrasting hides far apart e.g. 15 feet apart. Gradually we bring the hides closer together, and make the hides more similar. Most of our detection students find hides separated by 6 feet fairly easily, but hides placed one foot apart are more challenging. Experienced dogs are able to discriminate 2 similar hides a foot apart, but teams should work up to that level of difficulty gradually, according to the dog’s readiness.
Preparing for a Test
In the 2-4 weeks before a test on a single odor, we train on single odor hides so the dog will know what to expect.
Introducing New Target Odors.
When you want to introduce a new target odor that wasn’t included in your original cocktail, don’t just throw it into the existing cocktail or your dog may view it as an incidental part of the scent picture and ignore it. Instead, imprint on the new odor by itself. While it is similar to going back to “kindergarten”, most experienced dogs tend to learn new odors faster the second time around.
For example, in nosework competition, I believe that Myrrh is the most challenging target odor (it’s used in Masters UKC Nosework Competition). It is more easily missed because it is overshadowed by other odors. It tends to solidify rather than remaining liquid, so it is not available to dogs in a vapor travelling through the air as much as the other essential oils, such as Birch or Wintergreen. Therefore, it’s helpful to take special care and build up a strong reinforcement history using Myrrh in hides by itself before testing the dog on Myrrh.
Have we overlooked any benefits of single odor hides? Please share in the comments below.