Updated: Aug 14, 2020
There is no question the sport of Scent Work is exploding in popularity. More and more people are finding out about this wonderful dog sport, and getting started in their own training and practice sessions. All of that is a wonderful thing…with a few serious drawbacks.
One of these being the fact that more and more people are practicing Scent Work out in the world with their dogs. This means there is a higher likelihood if you find a good spot to practice Scent Work, someone else may have found that very same spot. In an of itself, this is not an issue. It IS an issue when we are not practicing good hide placement practices. A cardinal rule in Scent Work is naked scented q-tips must never be placed anywhere in the environment.
Placing a naked q-tip in an environment is transferring actual target oil onto any and all surfaces that q-tip comes into contact with.
That basically means anything and everything that q-tip comes into contact with is now a "hide" in the eyes of the dog.
We've trained our dog to find source.
Source is the target oil.
When you place a naked q-tip into the environment, you've transferred the target oil to the environment.
Let me give you an example. Let's say you've taped a naked scented q-tip to a wall. You run your dog, they find it, and you reward them. Great. You then remove the q-tip from the wall. However, you now have a wall hide…the wall area itself where the q-tip was now has target odor on it. If you were to run your dog again, this is where they would be expected to alert.
Yeah, not good.
Now, let's take this a step further.
You go to a local pet-friendly business to practice placing some hides. You get permission ahead of time from the business to do this. Good job! You find an area that looks like a perfect search area. It has chairs, tables, ledges, vertical spaces, horizontal surfaces, corners…all kinds of elements to play with. You place your AKC-odor-concentration naked q-tip inside a crevice between two rocks making up faux rock wall. You run your dog, and they readily find it. You reward them, put them up, remove your scented q-tip and head home.
So far so good, right?
Unbeknownst to you, great minds think alike. Another local trainer has eyed the same business as you. They have also asked permission ahead of time to practice at this business. They also think this area with the chairs, tables, ledges, vertical and horizontal surfaces will be a perfect place to practice.
They place their NACSW-concentration odor hide (using an odor vessel) under a chair right near their start line, as their dog is green in practicing in new locations. They set their dog up, and then release them to search. The dog is heading for the chair hide, when they suddenly shoot off to make a b-line for the faux rock wall…and once there, they give an enthusiastic alert. Their handler initially writes it off as the dog being distracted, they are newer to this after all, and urge the dog on.
The dog pauses, staring at their handler with an apparent, "Did you not see what I just said" look on their face. After a few more seconds, the dog decides a louder message must be delivered, and they begin to vigorously paw at the faux stone. The handler, not only annoyed, but thoroughly worried that the business staff will get upset, pulls their dog off the wall and urges them to continue working near the chair, practically pointing it out to the dog. The dog ping pongs back and forth between the chair and the wall, and clearly gets more and more frustrated as time goes on, but never alerts on one or other. After what seems like forever, a deflated and frustrated handler pulls the dog from the search, thinking the dog was simply "not being focused". The dog gets no reward for their effort, and no useful information they can use next time…except that their handler doesn't listen to them, odor apparently doesn't pay and the sniffing game in public kinda sucks.
I hope you can see how problematic all of this is. Dog #2 was absolutely, positively correct. However, their handler had no way of knowing that. They ignored their dog, which promoted an aggressive alert (which is bad), then pulled them off of odor (which is terrible), which then resulted in the dog being put into conflict (which is horrendous) and ended with the handler getting frazzled, frustrated and upset, ending the search with no reward for their dog (bad, bad, bad, bad, bad and more bad).
Moral of the story: always, now and forever, please place your scented q-tips inside an odor vessel (ie. metal tin, straw, lip balm container, graduated cylinder, etc.) whenever you are placing them in any search area. The entirety of the Scent Work loving community will thank you.