Ep. 107: Take Time to Understand Odor

Mar 8, 2024


Dianna L. Santos

Regardless of why we are playing Scent Work or what our goals are, we should take time to better understand odor, odor theory and hide placement.

In this episode, we discuss the benefits of better understanding these concepts and how doing so can ensure our dogs to have more successful repetitions in their Scent Work training sessions.

Looking to learn more about odor theory and hide placement? Check out these resources:


Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work that can include training tips, a behind scenes look of what your instructor or trial official is going through and much more. In this episode, I want to talk about the importance of understanding odor. So before we start diving into the episode itself, lemme do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor of Scent Work University. This is an online dog training platform where you provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks all focused around Scent Work. So regardless of where you are in your sniffing journey, we likely have a training solution for you. So I should know a little bit more about me. Let's dive into the episode itself.

So in this episode I want to talk about the importance of having a better understanding about what odor may be doing within our actual search areas. Maybe saying, why is that important? This is my dog job. They go into the search area, they find the hides, but we're the ones that are actually designing our search areas. Whenever we're doing a practice session, we are setting our dogs up to have a better understanding of what the game is all about. And in my opinion, the vast majority of our training should be to build successful repetitions for the dog. So they have an opportunity to come in, see a particular odor puzzle, be able to solve the odor puzzle, and then basically underline their understanding of how that works. But that's only ever really possible if we as the ones that are designing the search area, have a better understanding what may be happening in the space.

Now, obviously the biggest issue is that we cannot see odor, so we are really just guessing, but we need to have a better educated guess about what may happen. Because if we design a search and our intention is that the dog is going to come in, they're going to be able to come into contact with odor, be able to source a hide, but in actuality, the odor is not available to the dog at all. So they're not going to be able to find that hide. We're setting our dogs up for failure, but not only that, we are setting ourselves up to get really super frustrated where we may then perceive this as not an odor problem, meaning that the dog just was unable to have access to odor, but maybe the dog was being distracted, right? Oh, they're just being so stubborn, they just don't want to do it, right?

We start injecting these other emotions into the search, which is rather problematic. So this is why I think regardless of why you're playing Scent Work, what ultimate goals are, it would be a very good idea for everyone who's involved with Scent Work to have some kind of education or background as far as odor theory is concerned and have a better understanding what may actually happen so we could be better informed about how we're designing our search areas. Now, people who are going through to become trial officials, this is a much more formal education and it's a continuing type of process. I just really want to put this out there that even though I've been involved in cent work for a while, I am by no means an expert about these things. I'm continuing to learn, and as far as I'm concerned, if anyone is an expert, it's the dogs because they're the ones that can actually experience odor.

But there are absolutely things that we can do to better underline our understanding of what may happen so we can be more mindful and thoughtful about how we're designing our search areas. The other way that this can kind of manifest itself with what I've seen over my career is someone may set a hide within a search area, and particularly for training, maybe it's even visible, right? It's not even tucked underneath the lip of a chair, something like on the side of the chair as an example, and they get really super frustrated because it seems like the dog is just passing by it and they are just not finding this hide at all, at least maybe not within the time that the person thought that they should. So then the person starts offering all of these physical cues to the dog. They start standing closer to the chair.

They may be doing some hand waving motion towards the chair. They're preventing the dog from working off of the chair. So all of this may indeed lead to the dog finding the hide, but now we have all these other issues going on. Where did the dog actually work out the odor puzzle on their own or were they queuing off of the handler? Did the dog do the learning that we were hoping that they were doing, or were they just merely being like, well, my options are limited. How about this? Did they actually find anything at all? And what I've noticed over my career is that when those kinds of things happen, persons that's hide, dog doesn't find hide as soon as the person thought that they should, person offers a lot of help for dog to find hide. Dog does indeed find hide. Person assumes dog knows how to solve.

hide. Dog does not know how to solve hide. And to make it even more complicated and may have been that hide was not solvable, that manifests itself and it exacerbates the problem because as they continue to practice, they continue setting those kinds of hides and they continue offering that kind of help. And then if they go to a trial, well now you do not know where the hide is and you can't offer the kind of help because you don't know where the hide is, and now the dog can't find it. Or we may have said, oh, the dog knows how to solve this type of hide placement when in actuality the dog has no idea how to do it. All of this is just trying to underline the importance that we should be taking on the responsibility of having a better understanding of how to design our searches.

There's a couple of different ways that we can do that. We have some resources through Swick University I think will be very, very helpful. The first is the Hide Placement and Odor Movement seminar by Laurel Scarioni. This is fantastic. I recommend it to anyone and everyone who will listen to me. We've had instructors take this. We've had trial officials take this and everyone really enjoys it. There's a ton of information in there. Laurel did a follow-up webinar called Sniff Busters, which is very good as well. Additionally, Judith Guthrie put together a series of webinars for us I think we would find very helpful. This includes the Odor Concentrations Webinar, the Convergence Webinar, as well as The Mystery of Strings and Triangles Webinar. Highly recommend those as well. She offers a variety of different diagrams and illustrations to really show what potentially the molecules may be doing within the space.

People have found these very, very helpful, but in addition to that, some of the things that we can do to help us better visualize what potentially is happening is we can use a variety of different tools. So one would be the Cirrus, which is a little device that we would be able to hold in our search area itself. That basically will generate these little puffs of smoke and then we would be able to see is a smoke rising? Is it falling and where is it traveling to? The additional type of device is called the Smoke Pencil. I personally prefer the Cirrus to the Smoke Pencil. I think the Cirrus is just easier to use. It's smaller, it's more compact, really, really recommend it. It's really nice. You just puff, puff, puff. You can just see where the smoke is going. Now is the smoke going to be acting identical to our actual target odors, Birch, Anise or Clove?

The different odor plumes that's emanating from the hide itself? Probably not, but it's going to at least give us a good representation of what may happen at least as far as what airflow is doing. So that can really help us as well. There's also the free wind tunnel app that you would be able to download for your iOS or your Android device. And what this app allows you to do is that you're able to basically draw on the actual app itself, an overhead view of an actual space. So you can draw an outside square or rectangle for a room and they'd be able to have different shapes for different types of furniture. As an example. You can then choose the direction of the actual wind, and then you can add in things like doors have them closed or open depending on how you're drawing on the actual app itself, and then you'd be able to place in where you're going to put hides.

This can really help us understand this whole concept about eddie's, where placing a hide on the corner of a piece of furniture may produce this kind of eddy effect where there's a swirling of odor or air, and then having alcoves. What does that do as far as producing these kinds of swirls and editing, editing effect. It's all really fascinating stuff, but basically using things like the cirs or the smoke pencil or the wind tunnel app can be really good ways of, again, visualizing what the airflow may be doing within a given space, potentially what's going to be happening with our odor as well. Where is it traveling to? How is it collecting somewhere? Where would the dog actually have access to the odor? As an example, another thing we may be able to do is to use dry ice. Again, this would be a visualization type of exercise that we would do, use lots of care, be very careful with how you're using dry ice.

But basically what I've before is we've had dry ice, we put it inside of a safe container and we place it in different areas where I would be putting a hide. Let's say I wanted to see what an inaccessible hide would look like. I'm placing dry ice inside of the container inside of a closed closet as an example. We're able to see how the fog from the dry ice is escaping through that closet door, and then we're able to open the closet door, remove it, and then I'm actually able to see the remnants of that fog as well, which would be representing things like lingering odor, which is another important thing for us to kind of wrap our heads around, where when we take a hide and we maybe move it, because we're training, we're doing lots of different repetitions with our dogs. We take a hide, we move it somewhere else.

There's probably still some odor molecules where that hide used to be. That would be lingering odor. Hopefully we don't have actual oil transfer in the environment. That would be contamination. That would be bad. That's residual odor. But that's what I mean is that all these different concepts are actually really important for us to better understand when we are practicing with our dogs. So let's just take the lingering odor concept as an example. So let's say that I'm practicing with my dog. I'm doing exterior searches, and I wanted to do multiple repetitions, one right after another, but I'm only going to have a singular hide out at any given time. My dog comes up, they find their hide perfect. I reward them, tell them how great they are. This hide was, let's say in an alcove area that I have in my backyard. I then move that hide somewhere else.

I grab my dog and I run them and they come back and they start investigating that alcove again. A lot of times what will happen is that people will start shooing the dog on, Nope, the hides not there. Keep going. What we have to recognize is there, they're probably still odor molecules in that area, particularly if you haven't really waited a long time before you ran the dog again. But there's also a possibility that this could be an area where air is collecting. So depending on where I put my second hide, there may actually be odor information in this alcove air may be traveling and swirling in there. So my dog may have to actually work in that alcove to find where their hide is now. So I hope that this is kind of making sense, that it's really important for us to think about these things, that it's not just simply slapping hides around as the dog finds them when we're good, where we place the hides and how we're placing the hides really does matter.

But that means that we have to have an understanding about what the odor may actually be doing. So understanding all the various environmental factors that could be affecting our odor. Things such as air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, the list goes on, what the space is made up of. So if I'm in an interior space, is my flooring laminate floor, hardwood floor, tile floor? Is it a carpet? What are the walls made up of? The list goes on. Having a better understanding and appreciation for these things will ensure that our practice and training sessions are just that. They are an opportunity for the dog to learn that we are providing them with the opportunity for successful repetitions, that they can see a given puzzle, they can figure out how to solve it, and they're doing it in a way that's not us projecting to the dog.

Here's the answer. And then us assuming the dog actually knows how to solve it, well, maybe they don't. It also can prevent us from getting into this situation where we get really frustrated and we start interpreting the dog as not solving the puzzle because they are being distracted, because they're being stubborn, because of fill in the blank, when in actuality they may have been completely unable to solve the puzzle. There was no odor availability. One other example I like to give people to help this make a little bit more sense is if you were to place a hide, let's say on a fence, and you expected your dog to come up, they're going to find their hide and they're going to move along. But instead, the dog is not really checking out the fence whatsoever. They're looking, but they can't seem to find anything and you're just completely flummoxed, right?

Just find your hide. But then if you stop to think about it and you can feel the direction that the air is flowing, it's flowing from your yard towards the fence and into the yard next door, that means it's taking that odor and it's shooting it on the other side of the fence that your dog doesn't have access to. So there's no reason for our dog to be able to find this hide. There's no odor availability. Again, having a concept about these things, keeping in mind what is happening with our airflow, how that may be affecting our hides, where is the odor traveling? How is my dog actually going to be able to work this out is really important, and it can help us prevent finding ourselves in these situations where we get really frustrated. Why aren't you finding this? Because they can't, and it's because of the way that we designed it.

So I hope that makes sense in the actual replay for this episode. I'll have some links for some of the resources that I talked about in this episode. Again, I think they're really super helpful as far as having a better understanding about how we are placing our hides, the way that odor may move within a given search area, and that regardless of why you're playing Scent Work, if you're doing these practice sessions, having this understanding can really help prevent some of the issues that we happen to see where, number one, we may be stepping in to help when we really shouldn't because the dog wasn't going to be able to find it because no odor availability, or that we're getting really frustrated because the dog isn't finding it because they wouldn't be able to. If instead we can have a better idea of I want to set this type of hide.

I have this objective for my training. I'm trying to achieve this goal as an example, then we can have a better idea of how to obtain that because we understand the various factors that may result in the odor doing X, Y, or Z. I hope that makes sense. So again, I'll make sure that there are links for those resources in the replay page, but as always, we want to hear from you guys. What type of topics did you guys want us to cover in the podcast? We've gotten some really great feedback from our listeners as of late. We are working on those topics right now, and we hope to have those episodes posted soon. We are going to be posting those episodes that I keep talking about that are in the tank already with our other instructors. Those should be posted very shortly. We are also going to be continuing our spotlight series, so if there's anyone within the industry, whether an individual or a business that is giving back to the network community, please let me know. I want to talk to them. The more that we can spread what is good within the community, spread some light, I'm very happy to do so. But as always, guys, thank you so much for listening. We really appreciate all the support. Please give your puppies a cookie for me. Happy training, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

1 comment

  • Pat March 8, 2024 at 6:01 pm

    Great overview of odor!

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