Some tips and tricks for training and hosting a scent detection trial.
The CKC’s inaugural scent detection trial was a great success! Hosted by the North Gower Dog Club on Sunday, March 17, 2019, 71 runs were held with 11 Scent Detection Instinct (SDIN) and three Scent Detection Novice (SDN) titles awarded – Siberian Husky ‘Achilles,’ owned by Maryrose McIntyre; German Shepherd ‘Ryder,’ owned by Francoise Adam; and Pembroke Welsh Corgi ‘Miller,’ owned by Sandra Hebert.
According to Brenda Kearns, owner of the Dog Ranch, where the trial was held, “Our judge Chris Hansen did an amazing job with her hides and sharing her knowledge. Chris also trained a few stewards to help with hiding the scents, which is something most clubs don’t do.” Kearns also commented that “the dogs that were the most successful were those that knew what was expected of them. These were dogs with tracking titles or entries from owners who had already been working their dogs in scent detection in the U.S.”
With any new endeavour, there was the inevitable learning curve. Preparation is the key, and just like any other event, training and proofing your dog will ensure success! A great way for exhibitors to learn before they take the plunge is to attend a trial without their dogs just to watch or, better yet, volunteer.
The incredible ability for a dog to follow its nose makes scent detection a great sport for any breed. For each search, the dog must locate a hidden target scent – referred to as a “hide” – and alert its handler to the scent’s whereabouts. This requires the handler to trust their dog’s instinct and read the dog’s signal that the scent has been found. During the search, the handler can touch, praise and encourage the dog to keep searching, using “find it” or any other command that works. A treat or toy reward for a found scent will help keep your dog motivated to search for more!
Using containers is the easiest way to introduce your dog to scent detection. The Instinct level requires the dog to find a scent in one of five identical containers. Plastic shoe boxes from the Dollar Store work great. In the beginning you can use food for searches. Wintergreen is the scent used for the Instinct and Novice levels. The sooner you introduce and work with actual scents used in trial, the more in tune your dog will be to finding that scent.
For training and trials, a drop of scented oil is placed on a Q-tip, which is then inserted into a plastic straw. (You may want to stock up on these while you can.) The straw can then be placed in a container or attached to an object. Scented Q-tips stored in a glass container can last about a month before needing a refresh.
Preparing for a trial
In a trial, the dog is required to do three searches: Container, Interior and Exterior. As the dog progresses through each level, the search area gets larger, the number of hides and possible scents increases, and distractions are added.
Practicing for all three types of searches can be done at home. For interior searches, the hide can be tucked between two couch cushions, taped to the side of a cabinet or table leg, placed on a bookshelf, under the carpet or inside a drawer. Places for exterior searches might include taping the hide to a garbage can, a tool lying on the ground, the BBQ, or place it in a flower or snow bank. For competition, there are three height divisions, so keep the dog’s height in mind when placing hides.
While this is a sport where you can work on your own, being part of a group or going to classes is beneficial. A training buddy can place the hides and possibly spot the dog’s “alert signals” that the handler has missed. Proofing is also an important part of trial preparation. Setting up searches in a variety of new locations with distractions, like a parking lot or playground, and using different containers at home, will reinforce the dog’s focus on the job.
Tips for hosting a trial
A scent detection trial can be held anywhere. The club would need a building for the container and interior searches, but this area does not need to be large. The search areas need to be out of view from the exhibitors, so a dedicated space would be needed for crating, which could be outdoors.
A lot of ‘props’ are required to set up search areas. Discarded old furniture, small kitchen appliances, lawn mowers, etc., are all good items for placing hides.
CKC-recognized clubs must hold a sanction match to be eligible to host a trial. A match is a valuable training ground for all aspects of holding a trial – assessing venues, training volunteers, working with judges and helping judges get approved.
Scent Detection is an exciting game for you and your dog. If you want to learn more about the sport, find a sanction match or find out how you can get your own club involved, check out the CKC website.