Updated: Sep 2
You've got a new puppy and you are ready to hit the ground running with your Scent Work training! You have an important question to ask yourself: start on odor right away, or not?
In this blog post, I provide my opinions on this topic. Look them over and see what you think.
Puppies Are Sponges!
It's true that you have a spare few weeks early in your puppy's life when you are in a position to make the largest impact upon their impressionable little minds. It is during this time that your puppy will make associations of what is safe, what is scary and lay down a foundation of what their skills of dealing with the world at-large will be as they continue to grow and mature.
"I'm sold! That means you want to show them odor right out of the gate, right?!"
Not so fast.
There are also fear-periods associated with your puppy growing up. Remember: they are learning what is safe and what is scary. What would happen if your puppy was startled at the very same time they were sniffing Birch during this fear-period? There is a real good possibility they will associate Birch with the scary thing, meaning Birch is placed in the scary column. Translation: not good.
"But there are lots of people who do this, and their puppies are fine! Police dogs and military dogs and..."
Professionals may very take this approach of introducing odor right away, that is indeed true. The key word there being professionals.
Think of WHY they are taking this approach: they need this puppy to get out on the job as quickly as possible. This means carefully cultivating the breeding stock to only use those dogs who have the genetic, physiological and real-life attributes necessary to be successful at the job, and even then, plenty of dogs fail and are kicked out of the program.
In other words, this puppy has been specifically bred over many generations with the sole goal of doing this and doing it well, and there is STILL only a 50/50 shot it will work out in the end. However, that is only a piece of it. There is also the training side of this equation.
When you have a professional doing this - read this as someone training for police work, the military and so on - the training is intense. As in all-day-long intense. Truly. Hours upon hours, upon hours, upon hours of daily training. And the dogs are up for it, even as puppies.
Can you honestly imagine getting up at the crack of dawn to work and train your dog, out in all of the elements, for hours on end until 4PM? Probably not.
"WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MY PUPPY?!"
We need to recognize that we are not comparing apples to apples.
The reasoning behind WHY a certain approach is used within a certain group or population of dogs is critical.
If I am running a police dog unit tasked to get bad guys, contraband or weapons off the street, I need those dogs fully trained and on the street yesterday!
Us? You and I? People out there in the world either playing Scent Work for fun or having dreams of winning the Nationals? We do NOT have that level of urgency, no matter how badly you want that title or ribbon. It will still be there. The world will NOT come to an end if you do not finish your training by the end of the week, no matter how much you may FEEL as though it might, it really won't.
Therefore, asking our companion and dog sport puppies to go through the same steps as a professional-program puppy is not only unfair, it is entirely unnecessary and misses the mark.
What Are You Training?
"BUT THE ODOR, WE'VE GOT TO SHOW THE PUPPY ODOR!"