Published in the BCSA Borderlines Magazine
Whether you have a new puppy, are just starting in novice or have already obtained your CDX, training scent articles is something you will want to start. Training scent articles generally takes time and patience to end up with a reliable exercise. There are many methods to train articles. The method you choose is up to you however, it is worth looking at the variety of methods.
Methods of teaching articles vary, but they can be grouped into three main types There is the tie down, treat based or shaping method. Here is a brief description of each of the three but other alternative methods might be in the training community.
Tie down method. In this method, the articles are placed on a board or mat. Each article is attach the board or may by a string, wire, etc. The article that you scent will be placed on the board but will not be attached to the board. Over time and repetitions gradually un-attach an unscented article one at time until all articles are loose on the mat.
The Treat based method is comprised of placing a treat on the scented article for your dog to find. Over repetitions your dog learns which scent to look for and bring back. Over many training sessions you make the treat on the article smaller and less obvious.
Shaping the dog to take the article and finding scent is the third method. Clickers are most commonly used with this method. Shaping requires that your dog is already trained to pick up and bring you an object on command. Click and Treat when your dog touches or picks up the scented article. After multiple training sessions you add additional articles that have no scent or another person’s scent on it.
Some important tips about training scent articles regardless the method you choose;
1. Be aware of when you praise your dog. Let the dog commit to bringing the scented article back to you before giving praise. It is tempting to tell your dog he is great when he sniffs or begins to pick up the correct article, but this makes your dog dependent on your telling him that he is correct.
2. Never correct your dog verbally when he picks up the wrong article. Remember if your dog picks up an article he needs to bring it all the way back to you. If your dog brings back an incorrect article, thank him for his effort, take the article out of his mouth, and take him back to the pile. Holding his collar with your left hand and light holding his muzzle with your right hand slowly lower his head and point his nose to the correct article. Praise him and tell him to take it.
3. Rotate which article you use and wash your articles periodically so that the old scent is removed. Water and mild soap work well.
4. Air out your articles between training sessions so that they have a chance to get rid of the scent. Rotating which article you use is important as well. I use the #1 article on Monday, #2 on Tuesday and so one to keep easy track of which ones I am using.
Once your dog has mastered the concept of working the pile and choosing the correct scented article reliably, it is time to add proofing. When adding proofing and challenges for your dog, start easy and only increase difficulty after your dog has had a number of successes. Use environment, sounds and people for your proofing.
Take your time while teaching and proofing your dog. Most problems begin when proofing starts. This is not a bad thing. It is simply letting you know your dog is still not confident on his job. Over time and with patient, your dog will become a very reliable.