Retraining Scent Articles- One Dog's Guide

I've mentioned before that for whatever reason Zumi had a very hard time doing her scent articles when I was pregnant.  I'm sure I smelled differently with all the hormones, and likely still do.  The other dogs had no problem adjusting but Zumi's mind was blown.  I put off all article work until recently.  When I tried Zumi again on a small pile she was just purely guessing.  Maybe a tiny bit of actual sniffing but mostly just grabbing one when she got too frantic to think any longer.

Scent article retraining!  When Zumi was a puppy I was able to teach Zumi using my food conditioned method and have the retrieve be her indication pretty much from step #1.  (I think I had to interrupt before the retrieve for the first 2 lessons to show her it wasn't just a retrieve exercise.)  This time I knew I had to break it down further and completely remove the retrieve as an option to prevent frantic grabbing.  She has a much higher reward history for retrieving and some of that toller obsession as well!

Zumi already has a sticky target (aka duration nose touch) so was in a great spot to have that be her new indication.  I also decided to go back to using food on the correct article to fully get her back into sniffing mode and cut down on some of her high arousal levels.  A shaping method to article training also works really well, but I usually prefer doing a bit of luring with the food to start.  I just like how it gets the dog sniffing for scent very quickly, especially when we are asking for a scent that they are so used to ignoring in every day life.

This was her 2nd session.  I put a smear of food on every repetition.  I usually prefer to use my honest kitchen mix as a smear as I can get more watery juices than a thicker blob, but the peanut butter was what I had available.  In this session, I still needed to praise as soon as she found the correct article.  Then I had to hold it in my hand in order to get Zumi to do her nose touch or she would want to keep searching for more food.


In the next session, I started having Zumi do her indication without my hand help.  She sometimes still left the article to reexplore but started settling in as we went.


And I think 2 sessions later I filmed again.  Here we no longer are using food on the article except for the first rep.  I also start doing a few food tosses so that she's coming to the pile with some speed.  This is much harder for her and while she doesn't make any mistakes in this session there is some franticness.


For the next few sessions still working on about the same step.  The first repetition Zumi usually needed a tiny food smear to help calm her and keep her confidence high.  Then I no longer reapply the food and am working on having Zumi search after the food tosses. I waited awhile to go back to a retrieve indication with her rings or dumbbells as just the little added excitement had some errors creep in.  When Zumi guesses wrong I have her come out of the pile and do a short down while I feed her for being calm.  Sometimes I need to have her do some other calm tricks such as a chin rest so she doesn't go back to the pile frantically.

Finally, Zumi has started showing signs of being ready to at least introduce retrieve items as a distraction.  I am still having the correct article be a lid, but will start having a ring or two present in the pile.
Today was Zumi's first session with the retrieve distraction.  And of course she falls for it!


In some ways, this re-training came at a good time.  Starting June 1st I am re-running my online scent article class!  While I've gotten to help many teams start articles from scratch or work on fixing issues that have cropped up on the way, it had been 2 years since I've had to do the actual skill training personally!

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Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.- Roger Caras

Email: lkwaudby (at) gmail.com

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