Just Say NO to Naked Q-Tips!

There is no question the sport of Scent Work is exploding in popularity. More and more people are finding out about this wonderful dog sport, and getting started in their own training and practice sessions. All of that is a wonderful thing…with a few serious drawbacks.

One of these being the fact that more and more people are practicing Scent Work out in the world with their dogs. This means there is a higher likelihood if you find a good spot to practice Scent Work, someone else may have found that very same spot. In an of itself, this is not an issue. It IS an issue when we are not practicing good hide placement practices.

A cardinal rule in Scent Work is naked scented q-tips must never be placed anywhere in the environment.

Never.  

Ever. 

Full stop. 

Placing a naked q-tip in an environment is transferring actual target oil onto any and all surfaces that q-tip comes into contact with.

“So?”

That basically means anything and everything that q-tip comes into contact with is now a “hide” in the eyes of the dog.

“…Why?”

We’ve trained our dog to find source.

Source is the target oil.

When you place a naked q-tip into the environment, you’ve transferred the target oil to the environment.

“…”

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’ve taped a naked scented q-tip to a wall. You run your dog, they find it, and you reward them. Great. You then remove the q-tip from the wall.  However, you now have a wall hide…the wall area itself where the q-tip was now has target odor on it. If you were to run your dog again, this is where they would be expected to alert.

“…Ooohhhh…”

Yeah, not good.

Now, let’s take this a step further.

You go to a local pet-friendly business to practice placing some hides. You get permission ahead of time from the business to do this. Good job! You find an area that looks like a perfect search area. It has chairs, tables, ledges, vertical spaces, horizontal surfaces, corners…all kinds of elements to play with. You place your AKC-odor-concentration naked q-tip inside a crevice between two rocks making up faux rock wall. You run your dog, and they readily find it. You reward them, put them up, remove your scented q-tip and head home.

So far so good, right?

Unbeknownst to you, great minds think alike. Another local trainer has eyed the same business as you. They have also asked permission ahead of time to practice at this business. They also think this area with the chairs, tables, ledges, vertical and horizontal surfaces will be a perfect place to practice.

They place their NACSW-concentration odor hide (using an odor vessel) under a chair right near their start line, as their dog is green in practicing in new locations. They set their dog up, and then release them to search. The dog is heading for the chair hide, when they suddenly shoot off to make a b-line for the faux rock wall…and once there, they give an enthusiastic alert. Their handler initially writes it off as the dog being distracted, they are newer to this after all, and urge the dog on.

The dog pauses, staring at their handler with an apparent, “Did you not see what I just said” look on their face. After a few more seconds, the dog decides a louder message must be delivered, and they begin to vigorously paw at the faux stone. The handler, not only annoyed, but thoroughly worried that the business staff will get upset, pulls their dog off the wall and urges them to continue working near the chair, practically pointing it out to the dog. The dog ping pongs back and forth between the chair and the wall, and clearly gets more and more frustrated as time goes on, but never alerts on one or other. After what seems like forever, a deflated and frustrated handler pulls the dog from the search, thinking the dog was simply “not being focused”. The dog gets no reward for their effort, and no useful information they can use next time…except that their handler doesn’t listen to them, odor apparently doesn’t pay and the sniffing game in public kinda sucks.

I hope you can see how problematic all of this is. Dog #2 was absolutely, positively correct. However, their handler had no way of knowing that. They ignored their dog, which promoted an aggressive alert (which is bad), then pulled them off of odor (which is terrible), which then resulted in the dog being put into conflict (which is horrendous) and ended with the handler getting frazzled, frustrated and upset, ending the search with no reward for their dog (bad, bad, bad, bad, bad and more bad).

Moral of the story: always, now and forever, please place your scented q-tips inside an odor vessel (ie. metal tin, straw, lip balm container, graduated cylinder, etc.) whenever you are placing them in any search area. The entirety of the Scent Work loving community will thank you.


Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.

Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined DSU and SWU, and she looks forward to the continued growth of DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities both platforms can provide.

Why I Got Involved in Scent Work

A question I regularly get from students and colleagues is, “Why did you get involved in Scent Work?”.

Zeus

Zeus.

My first Doberman, who also happened to be dog-aggressive. Not dog-reactive, dog-aggressive. As in, if he could kill every single dog he ever met, that would be cool.

I was working with a wonderful trainer in developing a behavior modification program for him. Limiting his exposure to areas that were heavily dog-laden until we could improve his threshold levels. Solidifying his ability to trust in me to keep him safe. Improving impulse control and attentiveness toward me. After months of hard work, there was significant progress. His stress levels were down, and his Look At That Game was quite impressive if I do say so myself.

However, the enrichment in his life was fairly limited. No walks. No hikes. Mostly working at home or at the training center when no one else was there.

Then I heard about Scent Work. Only one dog would work in the space at a time. It would focus on an innate instinct, giving the dog mental and physical stimulation. It would also get the dog’s head down, one of the most relaxing postures for a dog to be in, and keep them in a “thinking” brain.

Basically, it sounded like a perfect fit.

So, I signed up for a class with an instructor who was familiar with Zeus, and knew the severity of his aggression. He was staged inside a crate that was covered by a sheet, and surrounded by two x-pens. As we progressed through the class to begin working in other parts of the building, we were staged in what was called, “Zeus’ Closet”; a storage closet that could house his crate and I could close the door over if other dogs walked by.

The change in Zeus was practically immediate. He loved playing the game at home. His eyes would sparkle when we would get ready for class. He napped more and just seemed more at-ease. I was hooked.

Once we were solid on all three odors, we decided to try out an ORT. Since I had a sneaking suspicion this would be the only time we would ever compete, I entered in all three odors. I was struck by how inviting the NACSW trial hosts, officials and fellow competitors were of him, and the several other reactive dogs that were there. No glares. No judgement. No looking down upon us. Instead, everyone was welcoming, patient and most importantly, understanding.

I was even more impressed with my “little man”. He didn’t explode once. Not even a grumble. He was tired by the end of the day, but he succeeded in passing all three ORTs. I did, however, notice an uptick in his reactivity following the trial. That cemented for me that we had dodged a bullet at this trial, and competing was not in the cards for us.

At that point, I was cementing my own Scent Work training career, and saw firsthand the benefits this activity granted to my fearful, shy, reserved and reactive clients. Scent Work became a crucial element of the my training program. And I have never looked back.

Scent Work has been pivotal in the path my professional dog training career has taken over the years. And I owe it all to my handsome little man.

How did you get involved in Scent Work? What benefits did you see it award you and your dogs?


Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.

Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined SWU, and she looks forward to the continued growth of SWU and increased learning opportunities it can provide.

What Makes a Stellar Scent Work Team

What is the secret to crafting a Stellar Scent Work team?  Is it owning a certain breed of dog?  Following someone’s system to the letter?  Practicing for hours a day?  Trialing every weekend?  I don’t think it should be so difficult.  This is what I think the secret formula is:  A dog that loves to play the game + a handler that can make that happen.  Sounds pretty easy, right?

It should be!  Scent Work should be easy.  Scent Work should be FUN!  And while I’ll admit I’m a highly competitive person and really need to work on not putting MYSELF down so much when I’m trialing, my first priority is making sure my dog is having fun and loving the game…and she does.  Like, she really does!  And that’s why we are successful.

So, how do we create a dog that loves the game?

High value rewards and lots of them.  Whether you’re pairing odor with food or feeding at source once your dog finds the hide, you have to be generous with your rewards!  I am amazed when I start an Intro class and I talk about bringing high value rewards and being ready to dole out ten or more pieces each and every time the dog finds the hide and everyone comes in with kibble…and gives their dog one measly piece of kibble…and wonders why their dog doesn’t love this game and they’re not getting it.  And then when I bring out my treats and step in to do the rewarding, oh, wow, they DO like this game!  Rewarding at source has to be an EVENT for your dog.  Dogs already love to hunt, but hunting for a certain odor and then communicating to you that they’ve found that odor – they have to have a reason to do that!  The HUNT is more important than the FIND – we need to turn that around.

This reminds me of an article I wrote years ago comparing the SEEKING circuit to my thoughts on shopping.  If you don’t know what the SEEKING circuit is, Google “Jaak Panskepp SEEKING circuit” to learn more about this fascinating subject.  To totally simplify Panskepp’s SEEKING circuit, he basically found that the hunt is more pleasurable than the final outcome.  This is my analogy: I hate clothes shopping and grocery shopping and gift shopping in general, but I do enjoy being in a new town and checking out the local shops and seeing what they have to offer.  I can look at every item in the store, pick it up, turn it in my hands, think about what I would do with that item if I brought it home…and then put it back down and move on.  I rarely purchase anything in those stores, but I enjoy the HUNT.  Something has to be super special and perfect and have meaning to me in order for me to actually make that purchase.  I feel like this analogy is perfect for dogs doing Scent Work.  They have this whole search area with lots of different smells and things to investigate.  Why would it be important for them to tell us they found birch unless we make it important?  Rewarding at source when your dog finds odor has to be an EVENT…and not just when they’re in the learning stages.

Good timing – let them know they’re right!  Good timing is EVERYTHING in quality dog training.  Knowing when to reward, when to hold off – this is such an important skill.  There’s nothing worse than watching a team search, the dog finds it…but either the handler isn’t reading it or the handler is waiting for some final response or the handler is taking waaaayyyyy too long to pull the Ziploc back out of the plastic container that’s in a zipped compartment out to reward the dog.  And I look at the dog and I feel like I can see an actual question mark over his head.  And they have a look of confusion in their eyes.  They’re almost saying, am I wrong?  Should I go do something else?  What do I do?  A good handler has to know when to get in early and when to hold off a bit.  This is a skill that takes practice.  For example, if your dog is brand new to working high hides – GET IN THERE AND REWARD AT THE FIRST INSTANCE OF LOOKING UP.  Once your dog is a bit more experienced, of course, watch your dog, wait, how does he communicate he’s found something high?  This is a process and it takes time.

Let the dog lead.  This should be common sense when it comes to Scent Work, but I see so many handlers directing their dogs check here, check here, check it again, did you check this?  If there’s something there AND your dog has a history for being rewarded generously at source AND they’ve seen that odor puzzle before, they’re going to stop and tell you they’ve found something.  They will!  But only if all three of those parameters are met.  If your dog finds herself in an odor puzzle she has never seen before, then it’s not so simple.

And this is where I’m personally struggling in my training.  I’ve always let my dog lead, I’ve always rewarded generously when my dog finds something, I ‘think’ I have pretty good timing, but I don’t often put thought in my training.  When it comes to training with my dog, it’s always rushed.  Hey, I have a free half hour today, let’s throw some hides out and see what happens.  My dog has fun, but is she learning anything?  To compensate, I’ve been trialing her on-leash lately to make sure we’ve covered an area before she moves on.  We’re doing well.  We kicked butt at the last two trials we entered…but I’m feeling very guilty about this.  Is she having fun?  Yeah, I think so, but she could be having more fun.  When I watch the videos they don’t look fluid to me.  It looks like I’m doing more of the work and it shouldn’t be that way – she has the nose!  I’m not letting her lead.  That’s why we need to work on the next step.  My goal is to have her working off leash again this fall and still doing as well as we have been on leash.  We have goals to be a Stellar Team, but we’re not there yet!

Thoughtful hide placement and training set-ups.  If you want to be a stellar team you can’t just throw hides out in a search area and see what happens.  You can and certainly should do that for fun sometimes, but if you really want to move up the levels and show your dog every scent picture you can think of, some thought needs to be put into your hide placement.  Are you working high hides, ground hides, inaccessible, converging odor, thresholds, corners, indoors, outdoors, in heat, cold, wind, rain, etc.?  Are you setting hides for the level your dog is at?  Are you videoing your search and watching back and learning from it?  Do you know what your dog looks like sourcing a high hide as opposed to just jumping up on a wall?  Do you know what your dog looks like sourcing an inaccessible hide on a vehicle as opposed to an accessible hide on the other side?  If your dog hasn’t seen many, many scent pictures and learmed how to solve those puzzles…you could luck out and title, but that doesn’t make you a Stellar Team.

Do you have an ingredient to add to this recipe?  Is there something special that makes your team a Stellar Scent Work Team?  I would love to hear others thoughts and ideas as I continue my journey to be a better handler for my dog, a better instructor to my students and a better official for competitors.  Happy Sniffing!!


Lori Coventry, CPDT-KA is the co-owner of Do Over Dog Training in Buffalo, NY.  Lori offers scent work classes, private lessons, seminars and workshops.  She also teaches Trial Prep classes through Scent Work University, is an NACSW trial host and competitor, AKC Scent Work judge and UKC Certifying Official.  For more information visit http://www.DoOverDogTraining.com

Getting Ready to Search

Falling In Love All Over Again

One of the first activities I recommend to students or colleagues for a dog with an injury, or recovering from an injury, is Scent Work. Low-octane. Low-impact. Mentally stimulating. All around goodness.

Fast forward to the past month as I was trying to determine the cause behind my own dog’s suddenly-here-suddenly-gone lameness, and Scent Work was taken off the table. I was floored. With the concern being the cause could be his neck, the doctors were worried about concentrated sniffing for prolonged periods of time. In other words, my back-up activity was out the window.

To say the past few weeks have been unpleasant is an understatement. They were stressful for a multitude of reasons. But trying to give a high-energy, high-drive and highly intelligent Doberboy enough stimulation so he was not bouncing off the walls…without promoting off-the-walls behaviors was a challenge. We did shaping sessions. We did stuffed Kongs. Lots of them. We did bully sticks. We did practicing our settling…I won’t go into how well that went over. All the while, I was dying to just put out a hide and let him find it. But we kept to the recommended treatment plan.

That was until yesterday when he was given the all-clear. Now, we are still going to take it easy, just to be safe, for the next few weeks. So not crazy Dobervaulting around the house or yard. No agility practice. No insanity. But, we did a search with a single hide of AKC-odor concentration Anise. And. He. Loved. It.

The joy on his face was unmatched. I cannot explain it. We did three repetitions, working on a threshold hide, a partially inaccessible hide and a recovery search, and he was thrilled with every single one. Better yet, he hadn’t missed a beat. Almost a month of no practice sessions, and he was on fire.

Once the recovery search was done, we had our party and he got to suck on a frozen Kong. I settled in to do some work, and caught myself smiling.

“That was fun,” I thought to myself. “He worked that threshold hide so well.”

He was fulfilled. And I had a renewed love for Scent Work.

We did another session today. One hide. Three repetitions. Two inaccessible placements and a recovery search, the first run introducing him to the concept of working past finding the sole hide within the search area…in other words, staying in the space so the mother can call “Finish” at a trial.

He rocked it.

Later on, I noticed he wasn’t attached at my hip. I looked up from the computer to see him standing by the door for the room which holds all the odor, looking back at me.

“Can we do it again?”

Yes baby boy. Yes, we can do it again.

Have you ever taken a break from Scent Work only to come back to it with a greater appreciation than before?


Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.

Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined SWU, and she looks forward to the continued growth of SWU and increased learning opportunities it can provide.

The Need for Balance

This post is more for myself than anything else. I need to be mindful that I need to find and maintain balance. This is never more important than when I walk up to the line with my dog. He is brilliant in Scent Work. Truly, he is really good. However, he is oftentimes handicapped by a handler who is focused on other things while we are running. This is an example of imbalance.

For instance, I will be preoccupied with other tasks I am trying to do at the very same trial I am competing in. Or, the mind will conjure up insecurities that plague me as I am about to begin. All of my years of learning and training will disappear in an instant, and suddenly I am second-guessing myself, worst still, second-guessing my dog. It is a nightmare.

Sound familiar? The good news is, you have the power to wake from this nightmare. It entails finding balance.

For me, balance starts a week before the trial itself. Practicing. Training. Cementing good routines and habits for ME, not my dog. He is awesome, I am the one who needs to work at this.

The night before the trial. Sleep. This is difficult for me, but it is a must. Being well-rested is important and will prevent the meeting of exhaustion and stress which will inevitably lead to failure.

The morning of the trial. Eat. Again, something I oftentimes will skip. Fuel the healthy parts of the brain so as to keep it from slipping into unhelpful territory.

At the trial itself. Arrive in time to breathe, check-in, breathe, set-up, breathe, settle in and breathe again. Evaluate where you are in your head space. For me, I will ask if I am focused on HOW I am going to have fun with my dog? Or, am I stressing about the job I need to do, or what people may think or how I should never be allowed to do Scent Work again if I do not do well? Again, breathe. Recognize the nonsensical thinking. See it for what it is. And then let it go. Don’t beat yourself up for thinking it, that is not going to help. Breathe. Pet the dog. Smile at his wiggling bum and remember, truly remember, why you are doing this. For him. To have fun with him. To maximize the time you have with him.

Now, what if all of that fails? What if life decides to throw in everything under the sun to sabotage you? What if everything you touch seems to turn to dust and goes wrong? What if, what if, what if…

If things are that much out of balance, if things are that much in disarray, pull the dog. If you cannot get back into that healthy head space, if you are going to be a hindrance to your dog, if you could set back your training, and more importantly your relationship with your dog, pull the dog. Give them a chew, forgive yourself and see how you can adjust things next time. It is not fair to expect 110% from the dog when you are incapable of giving even 1%. It happens. Own it and do the right thing: pull the dog.

Truly evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. Identify the triggers that throw you off-balance. Remove them as best as you can. Do what you must to be the teammate your dog deserves. If that means taking a break from competition altogether, even for a few months, then so be it. If that means limiting what you will be doing or are responsible for in the weeks, days or day-of the trial, then do what you have to do.

I will be honest, I struggle with balance everyday, and it will likely be a lifetime struggle. But my boy is worth it and deserves nothing less.

How do you maintain balance? What steps do you take to ensure you are being the best teammate for your dog?


Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.

Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined SWU, and she looks forward to the continued growth of SWU and increased learning opportunities it can provide.

The Importance of Context

“Now we’re getting ready for trial, we cannot play the Find It Game anymore…I don’t want them going after treats!”

“We’re trying to get our (enter title name)! No more hunting for critters for you!”

“I need my dog to be on-point…no more (enter other activity). It is Scent Work or nothing!”

These statements make me sad. Like really, REALLY sad. Your dog’s quality of life is the foremost thing that should be on your mind. Why would you want to limit their joy?

“If they do (enter activity) they will be confused and will not do well at the Scent Work trial!”

Ahhh, now I see, there is a misunderstanding on how this all works. It is called context.

Let me give you a personal example with my boy. We do Scent Work…a lot. It is one of his favorite activities. Notice, however, I said “one of”. He does many things and plays many games. Each one ignites a separate part of his personality, pulls upon different strengths, plays to different desires and yes, each works to increases his joy. The look on his little Doberface when he is hunting in Scent Work is entirely different than when he is playing Barn Hunt. There is joy in both activities, but the joy is different.

Getting back to why you should care at all what my dog does, I play the “snorkel in the yard for your meal” game at least once, maybe twice a week, on a regular basis with him. What is this strange game you may ask? Well, it is a highly scientific approach of having him wait on the stoop as I quite literally toss either his kibbles or freeze-dried raw bits around the fenced-in backyard, and then release him to gobble up the same.

“((sucking breath out of the room))…YOU CAN’T DO THAT! What will happen when there are food distractors at a trial?!”

Nothing.

“WHAT?!”

Context is important here. When we are playing the snorkeling game, this is how is looks:

  • he is “naked” – no collar, no harness, no leash, no long line, nada.
  • he is not set-up in his staging area (ie. crate, other room, etc.).
  • I’m oftentimes in pajamas, wearing socks with slippers – not conducive to moving quickly or competently.
  • I’m not wearing my treat pouch nor do I have his high-value Scent Work treats on me.
  • there are no cones, flags, containers, chairs in weird positions…the yard is just, the yard.
  • …oh, did I mention there is no odor?

Compare this to what a Scent Work practice OR trial situation would look like:

  • he is wearing some sort of collar, to be switched over to his Scent Work-specific collar when we are actually working.
  • he will be on-leash or on a long line when he is actually hunting more often than not. Even when run off-leash, I am still holding the leash and/or long line to be used when he is done.
  • he is staged inside his crate at a trial, another room or area when practicing at home.
  • I’m oftentimes dressed where I could go out in public and not scare anyone, including socks and shoes so I can keep up with him and not fall flat on my face.
  • I’m wearing my treat pouch and have his high-value Scent Work treats on me.
  • the area is staged with cones, flags, containers, etc…basically, it looks like a search area.
  • and….there is odor.

To my dog, these two things look COMPLETELY different. There is little to no chance in the middle of a Scent Work trial he will suddenly think, “Oh wait, maybe we are playing the snorkeling game…LET’S FIND ALL THE TREATS!”.

Does this mean that doing a million different sports and activities with your dog couldn’t possibly cause confusion? Of course not. But that is where context plays such a big role. Use different cues, verbal and environmental. Utilize warm-ups. Go to the warm-up boxes before you enter your search at a trial. Use warm-up boxes during your practice sessions too. Use practice and training sessions leading up to a trial to focus the attention on THAT activity, over others.

“I don’t know…” 

Okay, then look at it this way.

Everything your dog does is interconnected, nothing happens in a vacuum. So, if your dog finds joy in doing Activity A and you remove that activity entirely from their routine, then you are removing that amount of joy from their life. This also means you are stripping them of opportunities to obtain fulfillment, mental and physical exercise, building their confidence, learning how to learn and deal with potential frustration without falling apart…just to name a few possibilities. All of these things are SUPER important to the overall well-being of your dog.

Before you start taking activities away that your dog truly loves, see how you can adjust the context, if you even need to, to ensure they are successful. Your dog will thank you for it.


Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.

Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined SWU, and she looks forward to the continued growth of SWU and increased learning opportunities it can provide.

ACK! Hay in a Trial Search Area!!!

“Oh my god…there is hay in the search area! My dog does BARN HUNT…we are going to have to scratch, he can never search in there and be successful!”

This is pretty close to a real conversation I heard a competitor have at a recent Scent Work trial. The fact there were three or so bales of hay in one part of a search area was sending them into an utter tailspin. And I was honestly puzzled…

“But…but…but…dogs who do Barn Hunt SEE hay or straw and immediately think they will be hunting for rats…they will never be able to find some stupid essential oil odor!”

Do you really have so little faith in your pup?

“WHAT?!”

Let’s break down this concern:

The dog has a training and reinforcement history doing Scent Work, where they are rewarded for hunting for a novel odor, such as Birch, Anise and Clove in a variety of search elements, such as interiors, exteriors, vehicles or containers.

The same dog also has a training and reinforcement history doing Barn Hunt, where they are rewarded by hunting for real live rats hidden safely inside PVC tubes throughout a hay or straw maze.

…I’m not seeing the problem here.

“HOW CAN YOU NOT?! There is HAY in the search area! The dog will be confused! They will be searching for rats, not odor!”

Why?

Simply because there are a few bales present? The last time I checked, there are a TON of bales of hay or straw used in Barn Hunt trials, and they are set-up in a course. Not just a few bales piled up in one corner with other stuff in the space.

Also, the bigger elephant in the room is this fact…there should not be any essential odors hidden inside your Barn Hunt course…likewise, there should not, hopefully, be the tremendous amount of rat “leakage” odor commonly present in a Barn Hunt course in your Scent Work search area.

So, why does this not concern me? The dog is seeing two completely different pictures. And dogs are incredibly contextual, which is why we go through all the trouble of using different collars, equipment, routines and cue words depending on what game we are playing at any given time.

“…I’m not convinced…”

Okay, then there is a really easy way to address that. Train for it. Make certain your dog only does Barn Hunt practice in Barn Hunt-competition appropriate rings, where there will NEVER be any essential oils used. Use different equipment for Barn Hunt. Use a different cue word. Follow a Barn Hunt-specific routine.

Then for your Scent Work training, start bringing in non-rat leakage laden hay or straw bales into your search areas. Don’t go crazy. One or two will suffice. Ensure you are following your Scent Work routine: equipment used, warm-up routine (hitting on warm-up boxes for instance), cue used, etc.

You will be surprised at how your dog will be able to distinguish between the two activities.

“I guess…but they think hunting for rats is so much better than hunting for Birch…”

This is a fair statement. A living and breathing creature can more easily illicit a prey drive response than a novel odor that we have to build value in. However, it is the very fact that we build value in Birch, Anise and Clove that we can control the dog’s excitement in it. Review how you reward your dog when they find their hide. How can you get them to love it as much as when they find the correct rat tube? Be creative and lean on your training to help you.

Our dogs are incredibly intelligent little beings, they can figure all of this out, and be amazing in both activities, but we have to give them the chance to.

So breathe. Put a plan in place. And enjoy both games that truly allow your dog to be just that: a dog.

What are some other ways you can help your dog understand the difference between the Barn Hunt and Scent Work game? Are there other ways you may be psyching yourself out when it comes to what you think your dog cannot do in regard to Scent Work? Are you looking for tips on how to proof them to only focus on odor when doing Scent Work? Check out our Only Odor Proofing Course and walk away with a better idea on how you can adjust your practice sessions to set both yourself and your dog up for success.  

Happy Training!


Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.

Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined SWU, and she looks forward to the continued growth of SWU and increased learning opportunities it can provide.