February 22, 2009

Scent training

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I got his training so far for scent work on video today. I did it in 4 steps, but it's just a small sampling of the steps I've done with him. I worked on each step longer than what is shown on each video.
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If you want to teach your dog to indicate a particular scent, you'll first need to pick a scent. It could be something as simple as a spice from your spice drawer, but if you want a useful behavior, you might choose fake drug scent (if you can get it) or gun powder I as I used (never know when it might come in handy to have the dog locate a hidden gun!) Other possible scents are termites or bed bugs or even diluted gasoline (for arson detection.) You can also get some scratch and sniff cards from the gas company with the mercaptain scent on them (the harmless chemical used to add "odor" to natural gas.)
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Next you need to decide what "indicator behavior" you want the dog to do. What do you want him to do when he finds the scent so YOU know he found the scent. For drugs and bugs, the dogs often do an active alert on the hiding spot (scratching, barking, biting, etc.) If you are teaching your dog to find explosives or a gas leak or evidence of arson, you probably want a passive alert (sit or down while looking at the target area) so they don't blow themselves up or destroy evidence. During tracking, I'll teach Dazzle to indicate a found article with a down, but for the gun powder I chose a nose bump as the indication behavior I want.
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Step 1 video: The first step shown in the video is simple targeting of the scent on a piece of paper towel in my hand. At first you click for contact with the scent, but then you would add in the indication behavior if you aren't using a nose touch. I think I could get Dazzle to do an active alert very easily, but I don't want him tearing up my stuff if I hide the scent in the house! So it would be
a) sniff the scent
b) get the dog to do the indication behavior
c) then click
You want the scent to BE the cue to the dog to do the indication behavior of your choice.
Then I add some discrimination (not shown on the video) where I hold the scented paper towel and an unscented paper towel and only click if he targets the scented one.
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Step 2 video: Next I put the the pieces of paper towel into separate containers. I'm using pill bottles because that's what I used to create the scent wheel (shown in step 3.) At first I repeat the targeting of the single container (not shown on the video.) Then progress to offering a scented container and an unscented container (which is what I'm showing on the video.) I would click him for indicating in some way when I started, but I've progressed in the video to waiting for multiple touches of the correct container.
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Step 3 video: In the next video, you see the containers attached to the scent wheel I made. Each container (pill bottle) has a hole drilled into the bottom (which is now the top) so scent can come through. Only a single container is scented with the gun powder paper towel. But additional scents could be added to the other containers that you want the dog to ignore (food, bits of tennis ball, etc.) I have seen scent wheels made from coffee cans as well, so a whole tennis ball or maybe the dog's favorite toy would fit in that. Often, a toy the dog can play with as a reward is used as the target object and put in a container with the target scent so it takes on that smell. I think I'll do that with a tennis ball and the gun powder for future hiding spots. I plan to use an older tennis ball that doesn't have as strong a scent as a new ball would. Though I would guess I need to start using real guns at some point since they will have other odors besides just gun powder, like cleaning solvents and burnt powder residue.
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Not shown on the video is the introduction of the search cue. I'm using "find the gun" as the cue. I introduced it when he was still working on the scent wheel after I knew I could predict that he was about to get the right bottle, then I started giving the cue earlier and earlier. Then I used it when I did some easy searches (when it was easy for him to SEE the "hidden" container.)
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Step 4 video: This video shows one of his searches. We are just now starting with the scent object being hidden. While I hadn't intended it this time, I think he found it by sight, but it is still good practice.
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I think he's on his way. I'm doing this mainly as an intro to tracking (and training for his scent discrimination badge :-). I just want to give him the concept that I might ask him to find something by using only his nose. I don't know if we're to that point yet with the hidden objects though. I'll likely also teach him to indicate a natural gas odor (mercaptain) and do a passive alert for that.
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On a weather note, we got more snow today and it's still falling, but only about an inch has accumulated. I have to go out tomorrow at some point to get the dogs more food so I'm hoping the road crews keep on top of it so the roads aren't bad.
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