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Scent Detection Training Devices and DIY Setups

Stuck in a rut with your scent detection training?  Many people hide food inside Kongs and stuffable food balls, in snuffle mats (like a deep shaggy rug), and amidst the grass in their yard to exercise their dog. 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. Whatever your discipline, read on for some fresh ideas.

In the first 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.

An empty wooden wine rack is a great way to place hides and easily move them by rotating the rack

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.

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.

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.

Maybe you haven’t exhausted some of the “traditional” scent detection setups. My go-to favorite is a scent detection lab, where hides are taped next to holes in boxes: https://youtu.be/m8JqEBp5N4g. 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.

 

A novice dog learning to search at different levels in a scent detection lab

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.

A ventilated metal tin with sliding top containing magnets and cocktailed lab paper for hiding scent

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). When we begin training an indication behavior, we use a hot indication box with 2 holes, 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. You can use whatever box you already have, and cut a hole in it. You do not need fancy gear to train scent detection. Many students have advanced their training significantly with just 1 hot box.

Besides tins, I love using heat shrink 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. 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.

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.

Be creative.

  • If you’re handy, here’s an original scent maze you might enjoy: https://wp.me/p74GTg-5Y.
  • If you’re not, maybe you can rearrange some ex-pens, snow fences or ring barriers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cNvp6-ZM3A)?
  • Check your dollar store for some cheap helium balloons and use them for movable hides.
  • Can your dog find the hot box when it’s being pulled around on a rope?
  • Ready for socks on a clothes line? Or an oscillating fan?

The possibilities are endless, and only limited by your imagination.

Did you build an original scent device that we’ll all envy? What training setups work best for you and your dog? Let us know in the comments below.

About carlalsimon (108 Articles)
From bed bugs to birds, from narcotics to nosework, Dr. Carla Simon BSc MD MBA's motivational training has helped hundreds of K9 scent detection teams to reach their potential. She's been breeding Brittany Spaniels for Hunter’s Heart since 1999, for scent detection, hunting, and athletic partners for families with an active lifestyle. Follow her Blog at: https://nosework.huntersheart.com

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