Friday, April 10, 2015

Making a Scent Box

I started working with Rookie on tracking quite awhile ago and am just finding time to actually share it! To be fair we didn't get very far when I started (at least not progressing past what I've described below lol) and now we have started all over since it's been so long. But Rookie doesn't care and I'm sure he only vaguely remembers doing this over a year ago ;).

To start Rookie on tracking I introduced him to scent boxes, my method described below. As with everything dog training related - there are a million and one ways to do it, this is just the way I was comfortable proceeding with and that fit my knowledge of tracking <which is admittedly not much> and teaching.

Scent Boxes/Shapes

For the duration of this blog, I am going to call them scent boxes, although they are known by several names. This will at least keep it consistent :). Scent boxes are an area about 3 feet by 3 feet where you have completely tramped down the vegetation, making sure to stay within the edges of your 'box' or area. I started with squares because they are easier for me, but lots of people do circles as well. Once your dog gets the idea, you can make up all kinds of shapes to keep it interesting :). It's important to keep a definite edge to your 'box' because that edge is a learning moment to your dog - all scent and good stuff (aka food) is within the box and it teaches the difference between crushed vegetation and uncrushed vegetation. This teaches your dog to search crushed vegetation to find the reward.

This a decent video about how to set up your scent box:

Scent boxes are a great way to start with tracking for several reasons:

  • Your dog learns scent discrimination by pairing the food with the scent of the track on whatever surface you are working on
  • You (the handler) start to see what your dog's body language is when they are concentrating on the food/track versus what they look like when they aren't on the track
  • This technique allows you to introduce different conditions (surfaces, weather, etc.) in a 'not real' tracking context which helps take the pressure off
  • It allows your dog to contain themselves calmly within the scent borders and figure it out for themselves

The key here is to let your dog problem solve on their own and not help them. This concept is very hard for many people :), myself included! But after a few sessions your dog will hit the edge of the box and not leave it, instead turning back into the scent area and continuing to work. Yay, that's what we want!

Making Scent Boxes

I have been laying 3 at once (making sure to run them upwind from each other) and spacing them at least 10 feet apart. I don't want Rookie to smell food from another scent box while he is in a different one and get distracted. I try to make a big jump into the area I am going to stomp down and I make sure to come out the same way I went in. The idea is to make ALL the borders as clear as possible and make the scent of the crushed vegetation as unique from the rest of the grass as possible.

You also want to try to start out using short, green grass. Then as your dog catches on, you can introduce longer grass, dead-ish grass, and dirt. For the food, I like to use 3-4 different kinds of treats in each scent box. I don't want Rookie to think that tracking only means search for hotdogs lol. But I do generally use hot dogs, plus two different kinds of Happy Howie treat rolls and cheese. Use something that your dog LOVES - you want to make the best possible association between sniffing and tracking. And even though Rookie has a big mouth :), I cut up the pieces really small (like dime size) and try to throw about 4 inches apart throughout the scent box.

I also put a flag (just the regular hardware store flags) where I am going to start my dog at the scent box so they get used to seeing those fluttering nearby.

Putting Your Dog in the Scent Box

Since Rookie had no idea what he was doing (and if you are just starting out, neither will your dog), I just led him up to the scent box and pointed at the ground once and then let his nose discover the food. Very quickly your dog will start to pull you towards the flags :). 

I did this with Rookie just on a regular collar and leash. No fancy equipment required :). Since the idea is to let your dog discover on their own what is track and what is not, I restricted Rookie from leaving the scent box by more than a body length (using the leash). But make sure to have a loose leash while your dog is in the scent box! And when it's time to get your dog out of the scent box, I normally approach them, offer them food from my hand and food transport them off the pad to the next one.

Ready to start?!? :)

Here is a long-ish video of Rookie in his very first ever scent box (from last year when he still looked terrible). You can see he was confused about what he should be doing and wanted to sit and stare at me for further instructions :).

Ugh I forgot how bad he looked early last year :(. We've done a few repetitions of scent boxes this year and he caught right on like we hadn't taken a year off lol. We'll have to take some recent video :).

Let me know how much your dog likes to find food! :)

1 comment:

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