Article Index

This training begins using the actual scent from day one. The object is to always reward at the source. This overview is divided into six weeks of training.

Huge thank you to Janet and her Newf, Mabel, for permission to use many of the videos.


Week 1 - Getting Started

The method of search used here is based on the training approaches of shaping and backchaining. First the dog “finds” the source by accident, and soon the dog is actively searching for the source in order to earn a reward, in spite of distractions.  Keeping the source "clean and pure" is extremely important.

Bring your dog into the work area. Pick up a treat in the non-tin hand.
Place both hands down at the dog’s nose level. Your hands should be about 12 or 18 inches apart in front of you. One hand has a tin and the other hand has the treat.
Your dog is likely to spend some time investigating your treat hand. Wait. If your dog has zen training, he will next default to looking at your face. Wait, but go ahead and orient your eyes to your other hand. Wait. When your dog investigates your non-food hand with the tin, immediately mark the dog’s behavior (“yes”! or a click) and a treat. If your dog begins to offer random behaviors and get’s “stuck” in a sit or down, you can use the TREAT hand to lure the dog up, but not the scent hand! You are only doing this to get your dog unstuck and back to trying out behaviors.

Bring the food to the hand with the tin and feed the dog at the source of the odor. We want to keep the dog at the tin. This is called “rewarding at source.”



 Week 2 - Scent in Box on Floor

Supplies needed:
1. Scented q-tips in tin box or class jar with holes in lid
2. Tupperware containers with holes in top.
Place a pile of small treats near your work area but out of reach of your dog.
1. Place the scent  inside of the Tupperware and secure the lid
2. Place Tupperware on the floor so dog will see it immediately upon entering the room
Get your dog:
Bring your dog into the work area. Have treats ready in your hand.
Most dogs will immediately go to the box on the floor, simply because it’s there and dogs are curious. Immediately reward your dog for investigating the scen – feed liberally immediately on top of the Tupperware container. You can pick up the Tupperware container and place it back on the floor (in the same spot) to “reset” the dog and repeat the exercise. Soon you’ll barely be able to get it to the floor before the dog will be on top of it. Good!

When your dog immediately approaches the boxe and expects a treat for this behavior, it’s time to add in some distraction training. Add additional boxes one at a time without any scent.  Do this slowly and ensure your dog "gets it" before adding more or moving on.

Mabel working:


Week 3 - Generalization

Generalization means teaching your dog that the behavior they learned in one context can also be performed in other contexts.
For nosework, generalization normally starts at home – working in new parts of your home. Eventually, generalization will mean searching for scent anytime and anywhere.

Goal: Five different locations for week 3 (can be different rooms or hallways in your house).

Your dog should be able to find the hot scent from among three similar boxes. It should be getting harder and harder to pull him off the hot scent – even as the quality of food and toys that you place in the cold boxes adds greater challenges.
If your dog cannot remain committed to a hot box for a few seconds, then do not move on until you have that skill mastered.

If your dog succeeded in the above challenge, it’s time to add more boxes. Over the next few days, work your way up to as many as seven cold boxes. At first, mark immediately for finding the correct one; he had to work much harder this time! If he appears confident, go ahead and add the slight delay. Finally, throw distractions in the "cold" boxes - food, toys, etc.
Remember, always reward at source!!!!!
Remember, you want your dog to succeed - do not go too quickly!!!

Week 4 - Obstacles & Scent out of Box

Place your boxes so that there are obstacles in the way of the correct box. Your dog should be aware that there are many boxes in the middle of the room, but…where is the scent? Until your dog goes a bit further afield and looks behind obstacles, he will not find the source scent. Start easy…maybe the correct box is 10 feet from the others (which are clustered together).

The goal is to teach your dog to start looking beyond the visible boxes – and out into the room as a whole. Reward generously!

If your dog is comfortably searching a whole room, looking for a box, then it’s time to place a very very easy hide in the room, without a box!
Place the hide (not in a box) under a chair - on a shelf - behind an object - attach it to the wall etc.

Start easy - The dog should be sent into the room in a manner that makes it likely they will encounter the scent almost immediately. Do not delay your reward, as soon as your dog finds the hide, mark the behavior and feed generously. Pull your dog back and send them to the same hide several times. If you wish to do several hides in one day, then remove any obstacles that had scent attached to them – we don’t want your dog to have to worry about lingering odor at this point.
Have fun!!

Note - Mabel finds the first "hide" - stuck on the chair.

Week 5 - Preparing for ORT (Oder Recognition Test)

In the ORT, the boxes section has no holes in the boxes. So, that is our first challenge.

Begin with only one unvented box. When you bring your dog into the room and give your search cue, it is extremely likely that he will go directly to the single box – it’s the only game in town! Reward with your hand touching the outside of the box, as close as possible to where you have placed the tin. After a few treats on the outside of the box, open the box up and allow your dog to access the metal tin – now provide additional cookies directly at the tin, so we can constantly remind the dog to go as close to source as possible.

Most dogs will figure this exercise out immediately, so proceed as you did with the vented boxes – add one or two “cold” boxes at a time until you have reached 12 boxes in total – the number required for an ORT. Add the “shell” game element; moving the various boxes around and let your dog chase down the correct box.

Remember, reward at source!

Video - Obstacles, New Location and Hide out of box!

Be careful of your body language - are you giving your dog signs?

Get ready -

Place a series of 12 white boxes near the center of a larger space – if you don’t have a suitable area, you can put them a little closer together (no more than 2 feet) or use fewer boxes. As the number of boxes becomes greater and the hides increase in difficulty, your primary job will be to study your dog for indications that they have found the scent cone and more specific indications to indicate their final decision – whatever that might be for your dog.

Mock ORT - Ask a second person to place the hot box in the lineup so that you are unaware of which box is correct. Mark the box with very small letters on top so that you can double check the correct box after your dog has indicated but before you reward. Ask your assistant to stay with you when you send your dog to search. When you believe your dog has found the correct box, call “alert” (a requirement of a real ORT), double check your assistant by looking for the small mark on the box, and reward your dog – it’s critically important that you be correct!

Doing a blind search should make up a small percentage of your searches; however, if you NEVER do them, you may be missing those small “helps” that you are giving to your dog which make them successful. In addition, an occasional blind search allows you to study your dog with absolute clarity – can you really read your dog’s search behavior?