Photos by Pete Mayes
Mmm, where to begin?
As an obedience exercise your dog has to find a weighted cloth with a certain scent on it from a pattern of cloths. The weight is a small washer or similar sewn into the corner of the cloth.
- In A the scent is your own, on one of six cloths set out in a straight line.
- In B it is your own scent , minimum of six cloths maximum of ten, one of which must be a decoy- that is a cloth with someone else’s scent on it- set out in any pattern.
- In C your dog must find the judges scent, minimum of six cloths maximum of ten cloths, also with a decoy and in any pattern.
How do dogs do this? It seems to be a very complicated exercise and one we mere humans will probably never get to fully understand.
There are many ways of “teaching” your dog scent, I say “teaching” because I don’t think we “teach” scent at all, it’s a dog’s natural behaviour, and what we do is shape it into something we wish our dogs to do for us.
I think I have been very lucky with my dogs and the scent exercise, they seem to understand what is wanted even with my, sometimes, very amateur efforts at trying to explain a perfectly natural (to them) behaviour.
I start by having a scent cloth in my pocket and take it out- obviously- let them watch me put it on the floor then tell them to find, and praise and feed titbits when they pick it up- oh it helps if your dog retrieves by the way- and fetch it to me, which in the first stages isn’t far. I build on this by putting the cloth in view in one room while they are in another and send them to “find” it, then the cloth gets partially hidden behind table legs etc, then hidden so they have to sniff to find it. We also play find it with my cloth out among spread out articles like big plant pots, milk cartons, coffee tins etc, anything they won’t want to pick up, or I drop the cloth on a walk and ask them to find, rewarding them when they do.
Then they get my cloth between two articles they can’t pick up, so they sniff but can only pick up the correct thing- which is my cloth.
Then we move onto my cloth with “tiles” which are tiles or thin sheets of wood, the same size as scent cloths inside a couple of scent cloths sewn together, so they get to sniff other cloths but can’t – in theory not always in practise- pick them up. The other articles and tiles should always be handled by someone other than yourself and kept where they will not pick up your scent for obvious reasons, (an old clean biscuit tin is a good place) or you will confuse your dog- ask my little Rumour, who fetched me a cloth when practising, and I thought it was the wrong one, so sent her back, she just looked at me and went to the “wrong” one where I’d put it in my training bag, and would not pick another cloth up, although she went and sniffed them all again, turned and looked at me with exasperation, then it was pointed out it WAS the correct cloth and I was a total idiot- which we all know anyway- and better tell her quickly she’s a marvel and thank my lucky stars she’d got more brains than me and knew what she was doing! I consider myself very lucky that I didn’t create a HUGE problem for myself, she must have been very confident that she was right- which she was- oh the shame-!
Anyway; Eventually the tiles are replaced by cloths, making sure the dog understands every small step along the way. If anything goes wrong always go back a step to rebuild confidence.
Another method is to put food on your cloth- the one that smells of you- and let them eat it, so they associate food with your scent, this builds up to more than one cloth or a few articles, so they sniff them all to find food on yours.
Then progress to putting the food under the cloth; you follow the dog and get the food and reward the dog with it.
Then it’s no food out with the cloth, but you follow the dog and miraculously produce food from under the cloth.
From there you follow the dog while they check cloths/articles, and when they get to yours, you ask them to hold/ fetch and when they turn to you with the cloth you take it and again produce food from the cloth and reward them.
There are probably many more ways of “teaching” dogs scent, but, as in all training, it’s the method that works for your dog that you should use, and that is what ever motivates your dog and makes him/her want to do what you ask of them. I say ask because we all know you absolutely cannot TELL a Keeshond what to do because they always KNOW BEST!!!!
This is only Class A and Class B scent as we haven’t reached the dizzy heights of C yet, and I don’t want to confuse my dogs any more than I already do! But when we get there I’ll let you know how we’re doing (big big smile and hysterical laughter).
As always this is dedicated to Pat Leverick, who gave me the confidence to believe in my dogs and prove “other breeds” can compete with the collies.