Problem Solving Scent Discrimination

I think the thing I love most about dog training is the constant problem solving. It’s fun when you get to put behaviors together and then get to go in and fix any weak link in the chain. Sometimes I feel like I can’t blink and miss something the dog is telling me. This just happened with a student’s Utility scent discrimination exercise.

Problems with scent discrimination are common, there’s a lot going on in that exercise. You have to really look and see if your dog is having a scenting problem or a retrieve problem. My student, Trisha, and her dog Einstein, recently had a problem with articles, and we decided that the problem was the retrieve was so reinforcing for him, that he would skip the scenting part of the exercise and just grab an article. The problem with just ignoring his wrong choice, and not rewarding (with food), was that he was being reinforced by the retrieve. So, we came up with a way to reinforce scenting without the problem of his making a wrong selection and getting a retrieve.

If any of you train Nose Work with me, you’ll see where I got the idea from.


8 Responses to Problem Solving Scent Discrimination

  1. Lisa April 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Love the way you resolved the issue that Trisha and Einstein were wrestling
    with! I got to train with them for a little bit this weekend and got to see
    the results of the work you did with them. Einstein’s articles were really,
    really good!

  2. Lilian August 5, 2013 at 5:27 am #

    I have the same problem with my Jack Russell. She often just retrieves any item
    without using her nose (a shortcut to the reward).I taught the dumbbell
    retrieve just before this. In the video, i’m not sure why the metal objects
    helped the dog use his nose – wonder how I can adapt this to my dog. I use
    small towels rolled up tied at the ends(that’s what we use in Malaysia). Please
    can you explain.

    • Margaret Simek August 5, 2013 at 6:43 am #

      Lilian, What can happen is that the retrieve becomes so reinforcing that the
      scenting isn’t so important to the dog. We use the flat metal plates so that
      the dog cannot retrieve the object, and this allows us to reinforce the dog
      correctly scenting the metal plate. You can then get many reinforcements on
      the scenting part of the exercise, making it more important to the dog.

      • Lilian August 8, 2013 at 8:21 am #

        Margaret, thank you for the explanation. Using the same principle, i might try
        putting the towels into small boxes (that she can’t pick up) with perforations
        on top so she has to use her nose and indicate the right box. Though she may
        push/paw the box to indicate (I’ve not taught her to fix her nose to the object
        – not sure how to)In our games of hide and seek, she uses her nose to find the
        object/toy hidden under a cushion etc, paw to get it and immediately bring it.

  3. bill July 4, 2015 at 9:34 am #

    Hi Lilian,

    I’m stationed over here in Singapore and we use the same rolled-up towel for obedience.

    Did you ever get your challenge resolved? I too would like to resolve the same situation I have with my miniature schnauzer.

    Margaret, would you have suggestions further to Lilian’s idea to place the towels inside plastic boxes? If so, I’m running down to Diaso (that’s Asia’s version of The Dollar Store) to grab some containers.

    Margaret, have you videos/downloadables we can access for “open” and “utility” class competition?


    • Margaret July 5, 2015 at 6:55 am #

      Bill, if you had holes for scent, I think Lilian’s idea would work fine. I have used the metal plates to avoid the retrieve, so the idea with the container is similar. As far as videos, I have some free video lessons on my website, and have an obedience fluency class starting on July 15th, that may be of interest to you. Happy training!

  4. Becky Jenks February 2, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

    Brilliant ! What was the next step??

    • Margaret February 2, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

      The next step is to introduce a cold article with a hot plate. You want to make sure the dog is doing the scent discrimination without the retrieve.

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