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Building Confidence with Scent Articles

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For some dogs, scent articles are really challenging.  We teach them what we want (select the one that smells like me), they select correctly (yay!) and then…

They stare at you. Standing at the pile.  Failing to bring it back.

Waiting for a sign.  Something.  Anything.  A twitch from you, to let them know that they have selected the right one and should bring it in.

If you’re in the ring, you stand helplessly waiting.  If you’re in training, you’re conflicted.  One side of you wants to call the dog in and tell them “yes, you are right!”  But the other side of you knows that this is simply exacerbating the problem; your dog is not confident about completing the entire exercise.

What can you do?

Once your dog knows scent articles and is selecting the correct article the vast majority of the time, then it’s time to let your dog take responsibility for the entire process – from the selection to the return.

In the following video, Brito is being asked to select the correct article and return…but I am no longer in his line of sight, so there is no way for him to use my body language, facial expressions, or extra cues to give him feedback. I am simply not there, so he needs to make a  choice and execute it – from start to finish.

This is the first time that I’ve done this exercise with Brito, so we start as normal, and then I leave the room after he is warmed up.  In the final send I expect a formal front.  In the future I’ll be out of sight from the first send.  And eventually, when I want to make this into a game, then I’ll start hiding after I send him.  At that point, after finding the correct article, he’ll have to find me as well.  My older dogs loved that game!

I’ve cut this video down to only a few repetitions; in the full session I sent him around ten times.  Note that there are only four articles -that is because I want to build his confidence and ensure success!  If he picks up his courage and brings me an article, I will accept it – right or wrong!  If you punish your dog (whatever that means to you) for bringing you the wrong one, then you will defeat the purpose of this exercise; this exercise is to get your dog to make a choice and carry it through.

The message to the dog should be: select an article.  Pick it up.  Bring it back.  I’m not available to help you.

If your dog is bringing you the wrong articles, then do not proceed.  Reward your dog for bringing you the wrong one, and then go back to training the scenting behavior to find the weakness in your training.  You do not have a “confidence with the return” problem – you have a “finding the right one” problem.

This is polishing training; not scent discrimination.  It’s designed to give your dog sureness and confidence in their abilities.  If you use it with a dog that is not confident about the actual scenting portion then you will make matters worse.

Good luck!

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

7 responses »

  1. I’m confused about why you would use scent articles for this exercise and not something that looks utterly unlike a SD exercise. So, IOW, why would you not use other retrievable but perhaps unscented items to send your dog to, or why would you not use all ‘you-scented’ items? It would seem at first glance that doing that would bypass the whole “yes you brought me the wrong one but you brought me SOMETHING” issue, which would then need to be addressed later with “But this one is more right than the one you picked”. Hope I am being clear about that.

    • I’m not sure how that would help a dog work through the stress of having to select one from among other choices. This is not a retrieve game (though I do use it for that with dumbbells); it’s a “yes you have to choose and then commit” game. But hey – whatever works for you is fine with me! Honestly I don’t care if my dogs bring me wrong ones here and there. I fix that separately. Some people worry a lot more about that than I do.

  2. Wow fun game! Played it last night with Sinco, who is a bit of a worrier and she started to run out to the pile and try to find the article as fast as she could. She had a blank look at first with the barrier and then when the lightbulb went on she was so proud of herself! Great idea!

  3. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for teaching a dog to pick up(and hold) a dumbbell. I have two dogs that don’t really play fetch so they don’t normally put things in there mouth. I have ordered your three books so if there are any tips in there on it I will get that soon.
    I was told that the two ways to teach it are pinch there ear till they open there mouth and then hold there mouth shut till they stop fighing having it in there mouth.
    Or to put it in the mouth holding it shut and then give a treat. The second one was told to me as the positve aproch. Both seem like really miserable training and I haven’t really been able to bring myself to do it.
    I figure there has to be a better way but I don’t know how to do it.

  4. New to your blogs and love the concept of select and commit. How is the dumbbell scented please and is this find the dumbbell with your scent on?


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