So you think your dog is detecting the odour of mobile phones …

Discovering which chemicals might be involved in the manufacture of mobile phones can be a surprisingly difficult task. According to Compound Interest (2014), “there’s actually remarkably little easily accessible information out there that details the specific compounds used” and even less information regarding any associated odours.

That said, there seems little doubt that mobile phones “smell” – our dogs can find them – but what odour, or odours, are they actually latching on to? What produces the odour that is significant to our dogs? Possibilities include chemicals associated with the phone’s memory chip, touchscreen and rechargeable lithium ion battery and probably a lot else besides.


Memory Chip

Triphenylphosphine oxide – a flame retardant used to protect the memory chips in electronic devices including memory sticks, hard drives, SD cards and mobile phones.

Touchscreen

Lithium Niobate used in surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices. These convert electric signals to acoustic waves.

Lithium Ion Battery

Dimethyl Carbonate – produces an alcohol-like odour.

Diethyl Carbonate – has a nail-polish-like odour.

Lithium Niobate – used in electrodes of the lithium ion battery.


But how do we know whether our dogs are using any of these chemicals to find mobile phones?

A few months ago, one of my client’s reported that her dog, without any specific training, was able to locate hidden memory sticks. The client had discovered this ‘natural talent’ a few weeks previously when she’d asked her dog to find another, already trained, odour source. Instead, her dog found a memory stick that, earlier in the day, had been hidden for another dog!

Abel locating a mobile phone – But what odour, or odours, are significant to him?

So, was this evidence that her dog was searching for memory stick odour – perhaps one, or more, of the chemicals listed previously – or was there something else going on?

Given that her dog had received no previous Scent Detecting training with memory sticks – there had been no familiarisation process – and that memory stick odour is unlikely to be an Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS) for any dog (as far as I’m aware, no dog is naturally attracted to memory stick odour), it seems highly unlikely that her dog was locating memory sticks because of their very specific, chemical, profile and associated odour.

If you’d like to know a little bit more about the familiarisation process and unconditioned stimuli, take a trip over to one of my previous Blog posts, Smoothing out the Lumpy Bits; Why it might be wise to teach the indication before the search and all that back chaining stuff.

So, what was going on?


The simplest explanation is usually the correct one

During the 12th Century, a Franciscan friar – William of Ockham – argued that “the simplest answer – that is, the answer that requires the fewest assumptions – is generally the correct one” (Salter, ?date). “Ockham’s Razor”, as it has become known, or the “Law of Parsimony”, is the view that “of any given set of explanations for an event occurring, the simplest one is most likely the correct one … [it] is a vital tool in rigorous thought. By reducing the number of unsupported assumptions in an explanation, you reduce the likelihood of being wrong” (Salter, ?date).

So, rather than my client’s dog demonstrating some sort of ‘natural’, or ‘super-natural’, Scent Detecting ability, might there be a simpler, more straightforward, explanation? An explanation that fits better with the current knowledge of odour, olfaction and learning?


Contamination

Rather than being an example of ‘natural talent’ at work, the simplest explanation for this dog’s apparent ability to locate memory sticks (with no previous training) is provided by … contamination. In all likelihood, the memory stick had been contaminated with an odour that the dog had previously been trained to detect alongside human scent and, if they were used, the odour of gloves. Yes, those gloves you’ve been told to wear to avoid contaminating your scent source are a potential contaminant themselves (Learning Center, 2016) … an odour that your dog learns to detect! 

As Gadbois (2016) has pointed out, our dogs olfactory abilities are so good that no amount of cleaning or careful handling of the scent source or use of gloves will reduce contamination sufficiently for our dogs not to detect it. So, throw away your gloves and tweezers and work with contamination rather than against it! 


Mobile phone odour vs A N Other odour

In addition to some of the possible chemical sources of mobile phone odour (as listed previously), the overall “smell” of a phone is likely to comprise of a number of additional odours – plastics from the casing and human scent from handling the device. With the possible exception of a mobile phone straight from the factory, human scent is very much part of the mobile phone odour picture. It may be a contaminant but it’s also part of the mobile phone cocktail of odours.  

So, here are your first two, of many, potential difficulties. Is your mobile phone Scent Detecting dog using human scent or plastic odour to detect the phone rather than any of the previously listed chemicals? If so, just as my client didn’t have a memory stick Scent Detecting dog, you don’t have a mobile phone Scent Detecting dog.  


Be Systematic – Rule things out!

After familiarising my dogs to the odour of mobile phones – I have a huge collection of old, well-used, phones that I use for this purpose – I then begin to make sure that they’re searching for the cocktail that is the mobile phone odour as opposed to human scent, or plastics, more specifically.

Human Scent

As well as hiding mobile phones, I hide other, similar sized, items that I, and other people, have handled thoroughly. What I want to see is my dog either checking these items out, or ignoring them, before moving on to locate and indicate on the mobile phone – the target odour.

Rather than relying on a change of behaviour (COB) to tell me when my dog has located the scent source, I train a rock-solid passive indication, with duration. This gives me the confidence to let my dog check things out, dismiss things and move on to the correct location before letting me know that they know they’ve found the correct scent source – the mobile phone. My dog has shown me that he’s differentiated between human odour (more generally) – mine and other peoples – and human odour (more specifically) – mine and other peoples – associated with the mobile phone. 

If you’d like to know more about the power of the passive indication, follow this link to one of my previous Blog posts – The Indication. It’s not an optional extra!

Plastics

If you take a look at your mobile phone you’ll notice just how much plastic is used in its construction. Again, in order to confirm that my dog is using the whole cocktail of mobile phone odour to find its location rather than focusing on one odour in particular – plastic – I hide a variety of other, similar sized, plastic items – Spectacles. Plugs. Spectacle cases. Pencil cases. Backs off mobile phones – alongside the mobile phone. I want my dog to demonstrate to me that he can differentiate between plastic items (more generally) and plastic items (more specifically) that are part of the mobile phone odour cocktail.

117912623_223060265768875_5879640540067516656_n
L differentiating between a variety of plastics during the early stages of her mobile phone training

Interestingly, last week, BB demonstrated very clearly that he was searching for mobile phone odour as opposed to any other associated odours. The mobile phone had been thrown into a wooded area and, as it landed, part of its plastic casing fell off and came to rest a few feet away from the remaining phone and its contents. BB located the area, checked out the separated piece of plastic casing before dismissing it and moving on to indicate, correctly, on the main part of the phone. Embrace these moments of happenstance


Elemental vs Configural Odour Cues

As Thomas-Danguin et al (2014) point out, “smelling monomolecular odors hardly ever occurs in everyday life, and the daily functioning of the sense of smell relies primarily on the processing of  complex mixtures of volatiles that are present in the environment”. The mobile phone is just one example of a scent source that is comprised of a complex mix of odours.

Some Scent Detecting trainers attempt to address this issue by taking an elemental approach. That is, they identify each odour molecule within a mixture of odours and train their Scent Detecting dog on each of these separate odours. According to an article by Chammah (2016), this is the approach taken by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation when training their mobile phone detecting dogs. They work on each element of the phone – its battery, its SIM card – before training on the whole phone. 

But here’s a question for you. Take a look at this picture …

64291246_497147157782583_3056615279808217088_n (1)
What do you smell?

Do you smell roast chicken (A) or broccoli (B) or beans (C) or cauliflower cheese (D) or the whole roast dinner (U)? 

Interestingly, but not surprisingly perhaps, “an odor mixture can carry, beside the elements, another stimulus that is unique to the combination of those elements … usually noted U (unique cue)” (Thomas-Danguin et al, 2014). This mixed odour – U – “can stimulate cortical neurons that are not stimulated by their individual component odorants. This complex combinatorial coding system is consistent with the fact that often a mixture of odorants gives rise to novel perceptual qualities that are not present in each component” (Thomas-Danguin et al, 2014).

And this is why I train my dogs on the whole mobile phone rather than dissecting it into individual olfactory parts. I want my dogs to find mobile phones rather than mobile phone batteries or SIM cards or circuit boards or touch screens. If I want my dogs to find these individual parts, I’ll train them to find these individual parts – a completely separate exercise. As Hall et al (2018) state, “mixtures tend to be perceived configurally, such that the mixture produces a unique percept distinct from the constituent elements, and this may vary depending on the chemical similarities of the components in the mixture”.

Interestingly (and importantly), in a study by Lazarowski et al (2014), “most dogs trained with pure PC [potassium chlorate] did not correctly signal the presence of one or more PC-based explosive mixtures, despite having demonstrated the ability to reliably detect a trained amount of pure PC”. According to Lazarowski et al (2014), possible explanations for a dog’s inability to detect a previously trained substance when presented to him in a mixture include the way in which two or more chemicals might interact with one another making them unrecognisable to the dog. This is referred to as mixture suppression.

In contrast, the ability of a dog to successfully identify individual components in a complex mix is referred to as figure-background segregation (Hall et al, 2018). If, for example, I only wanted my dogs to detect a specific component of a mobile phone or other electronic device – the memory chip – then I would start by familiarising my dogs to that odour alone. During later training I would secrete the memory chips with other substrates – the whole phone, perhaps, or other materials – and continue with figure-background segregation training. This will ensure that my dogs can detect memory chips in a variety of environments and under a number of different conditions. I’m training them to detect memory chips within a roast chicken dinner! This is generalisation in action.


Odour Categorisation

Another generalisation issue in scent detecting involves the concept of categorisation. According to Wright et al (2017), “categorisation is the ability to treat comparable but non-identical stimuli as equivalent by responding to them according to the category to which they belong. Thus, the ability to identify a novel stimulus as a member of a known category allows the organism to respond to it in an appropriate way”

For example, in Cablk et als (2008) study, dogs were able to detect tortoises of all sizes, age and sex, not only those that they’d encountered during training. And this is where my very large collection of old mobile phones comes into its own – different makes, models, styles, sizes, previous owners and colours. My dogs are able to generalise and categorise. Their initial training is conducted using a variety of mobile phones and then, during subsequent searches, they’re able to successfully detect mobile phones they’ve never encountered before. 

118615012_307102380518755_7340140840833491906_n
A very small part of my well-used mobile phone collection

In contrast, our dogs are also able to discriminate between “individuals” within a target class. If you really wanted to, it is feasible to train your dog to only detect a certain type of phone. According to Pinc et al (2011), specially trained German Shepherds were able to distinguish the individual scents of identical twins who lived in the same environment and ate the same food! 

Decide what it is you want your dog to detect – an individual within a target class or a target class more generally – a certain type of mobile phone or all mobile phones. Train your dog according to this decision. For instance, if you want your dog to detect a specific type of mobile phone then reward successful detection of that specific type of phone amongst other mobile phones.

You might just be surprised by what your dog can achieve!


Different Search Environments

Training your dog in different environments would seem to be a given. In terms of generalisation, it’s something that we’re always advised to do – from a straightforward Sit or Down to, arguably,  some more complex Scent Detecting challenges. But with Scent Detecting it’s far more than simply a question of whether or not your dog can perform in different types of environment.

117956468_4479175328789160_324224961928398989_n (1)
Is the mobile phone acting as a big red flag in this type of environment?

Placing a mobile phone in an outdoor area is likely to act as an attractant to your dog – a big red flag in the environment drawing your dog towards it. I’ve seen many a novice mobile phone detecting dog being trained in outdoor environments. They appear highly successful. They seem (like my client’s dog) to possess some sort of ‘natural talent’. As Ockham would point out, the more likely explanation for their apparent success is that they’re attracted to the unusual in an environment. A mobile phone in woodland is unusual – but so is a rubber duck or pair of spectacles. Your dog may not be detecting what you think he’s detecting!

Environmental factors need to be considered when training your mobile phone detecting dog and that means … start your training indoors.


and in conclusion …

Short and sweet … train systematically! It’s highly unlikely that your dog has any natural mobile phone detecting talents but he does have a super-natural ability to learn. Don’t waste it.


Final Note

As with all of my blogs, I include a reference list. This allows you to investigate the topic a little further, check out the sources of my information and decide for yourself whether my interpretations of the literature represent an accurate reflection of the author’s work. Happy reading.


© Lesley McAllister – Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2020

www.scentdetectfind.co.uk

References / Further Reading

  1. Cablk ME, Sagebrel JC, Heaton JS and Valentin C (2008) Olfaction-based Detection Distance: A Quantitative Analysis of How Far Away Dogs Recognize Tortoise Odor and Follow It to Source. Sensors. 8. 2208-2222
  2. Chammah M (2016) The Amazing iPhone-Sniffing Prison Dogs. Who knew cell phones had a smell? https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/06/07/the-amazing-iphone-sniffing-prison-dogs Accessed: 25.08.2020
  3. Compound Interest (2014) The Chemical Elements of a Smartphone. https://www.compoundchem.com/2014/02/19/the-chemical-elements-of-a-smartphone/. Accessed: 20.8.2020
  4. Gadbois S (2016) Modern Dog Training and Science: Are We Doing it Right? Common Misconceptions and Pitfalls. The Science of Sniffer Dogs. Oxford: Two day Conference
  5. Hall NJ and Wynne CDL (2018) Odor mixture training enhances dogs’ olfactory detection of Home-Made Explosive precursors. Heliyon 4. 4. 12. December
  6. Lazarowski L and Dorman DC (2014) Explosives detection by military working dogs: olfactory generalization from components to mixtures. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 151. 84-93
  7. Learning Centre Valutek Blog (2016) Odor and Color Determine the Quality of Your Cleanroom Gloves. https://blog.valutek.com/home/odor-color-determine-the-quality-of-your-cleanroom-gloves# Accessed: 27.8.2020
  8. Pinc L, Bartos L, Reslova A, Kotrba R (2011) Dogs Discriminate Identical Twins. PLoS ONE. 6(6)
  9. Salter M (? date) Examples of Occam’s Razor. https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-occam-s-razor.html Accessed: 24.8.2020
  10. Thomas-Danguin T, Sinding C, Romagny S, Mountassir FE, Atanasova B, Le Berre E, Le Bon AM, Coureaud G (2014) The perception of odor objects in everyday life: a review on the processing of odor mixtures. Frontiers in Psychology. June. 5. 504
  11. Wright HF, Wilkinson A, Croxton RS, Graham DK, Harding RC, Hodkinson HL, Keep B, Cracknell NR, Zulch HE (2017) Animals can assign novel odours to a known category. Scientific Reports. 21 August. 1-6

Smoothing out the Lumpy Bits; Why it might be wise to teach the indication before the search and all that back chaining stuff

At its most basic, Scent Detecting requires your dog to search for, and locate, the source of an odour. On this simple description, your dog is engaged in Scent Detecting activities (entirely independent of you) for a very large portion of his day; finding a dropped crumb of food on the floor, discovering where a passing rabbit has left some tasty deposits, examining your clothes when you return home at night.

A little bit of independent Scent Detecting.

As Horowitz et al (2014) point out, your dog’s Umwelt or “Self-World” is primarily olfactory; “Dog noses house hundreds of millions more olfactory cells than humans’ do, and their corresponding brain regions are much more developed relative to their visual areas than in humans“.

So, what differentiates your dog’s independent Scent Detecting activities from those that involve you, his handler?

One word … Training

Well, two actually … Careful training

Ok, three … Careful, thorough, training!


Careful, thorough, training

Given your dog’s natural Scent Detecting talents, it can be hugely tempting to simply let him ‘get on with it‘. Spend a few minutes browsing any social media platform and you’ll soon find plenty of examples of this laissez-faire approach to Scent Detecting training, often with highly questionable results.

Yes, olfaction is your dog’s speciality but he isn’t Lassie! He can’t read your mind, guess what you want or speak your language. If you want him to find a specific odour for you – truffles perhaps – then you need to find some way of harnessing his natural abilities … some way of communicating your particular scent detecting requirements to your dog that might just differ from his own! And this is where careful, thorough, training comes into play.


Splitting vs Lumping

I start by splitting my Scent Detecting training into three separate, but interconnected, phases;

  1. Familiarising my dog to the target odour.
  2. Training the passive indication.
  3. Searching.

By splitting I am referring to the process of dividing the whole training task – in this case, Scent Detecting – into smaller, more manageable, training elements as opposed to lumping all three elements together and training them as a whole (Berg, 2018. Zerubavel, 1996).

According to Zerubavel (1996), “although the world in which we live is essentially continuous, we experience it as discrete chunks: strangers and acquaintances, fiction and nonfiction … Carving out of reality such ‘islands of meaning’ involves two contrasting yet complementary cognitive acts – lumping and splitting. The former entails grouping ‘similar’ things together in a single mental cluster. The latter involves perceiving ‘different’ clusters as separate from one another“.

In short, splitting makes our world, and our training, more manageable.


Why Split the training?

Well … the simple answer is … I like my Scent Detecting training to progress as smoothly as possible. I don’t like lumps!

I don’t like lumps in my Scent Detecting training!

If, as seems common practice, I were to lump my scent detecting training together and set my dog off to search an area before he’d been familiarised to the target odour and had a trained and reliable indication, how would I manage the following possible outcomes?

  1. He seemed to search the area very well but he didn’t find the target scent source.
  2. He definitely found the target scent but he pulled it out of the box, ran around the room with it in his mouth and chewed it up.
  3. He didn’t move from my side.

How do I let my dog know which bits he did well and were exactly what I could have hoped for and which bits were (to my view) just plain wrong? How can I reward his thorough searching in outcome 1 even though he didn’t actually locate his target scent? How can I reward my dog for locating his target scent in outcome 2 when he then went on to chew it up? And what on earth do I do about outcome 3?

Tricky, isn’t it? …. and this is what lumpy “training” looks like. Messy. Confused. Frustrating. Directionless. Unreliable. If our dogs learn anything from this lumpy approach to training, it would seem to be despite us rather than because of us. In contrast, splitting allows us to work on one specific training element at a time, helping to ensure competence in that area before moving on to another training element and then, eventually, putting all the elements together in one Scent Detecting whole or Lump.


But Splitting the training is so time-consuming, isn’t it?

Well, NO … it isn’t.

Splitting your training into smaller elements allows you to simplify things for your dog, aids clear communication, reduces frustration and increases your chances of getting things right in the first place without the need to add in further, remedial (Sticking Plaster), training at some later point in time.

Splitting your training results in …

  1. easily understood and manageable steps toward a larger end-goal.
  2. tiny bits of behaviour that, when successfully achieved, will allow you to reward your dog immediately.
  3. tiny bits of behaviour that, when things don’t go so well, will allow you to identify and address the problem rapidly with a revised training plan and approach.
  4. no need for your dog to “guess” what is required of him → less frustration → increased likelihood of training success.
  5. no wasted opportunity to reward a well executed behaviour because it’s been lumped together with a whole host of other, poorly executed, behaviours.

When you Split … always keep the Lumps in mind!

Although I’m a big advocate of splitting, it’s worth keeping in mind that there will always be connections between the different phases of training and the overall end goal. In other words, never lose sight of the training lumps! For example, the process of familiarising your dog to the target odour (Hall et al, 2014) acts … believe it or not … as the foundation for later searching!


Splitting … and even more splitting  … 

So, as mentioned earlier, I start by splitting my Scent Detecting training into three separate, but interconnected, phases;

  1. Familiarising my dog to the target odour.
  2. Training the passive indication.
  3. Searching.

… but, my splitting doesn’t end there! Each of these three phases will be split further.

For example, the apparently simple phase of familiarising my dog to the odour – which takes approximately 30 minutes to conclude – is split, again, into the following elements;

  1. Introduction to the environment – Physical and Psychological. If you’d like to know a little bit more about this particular element, follow this link to Scent Detecting and the Enriched Environment
  2. Choice of equipment – Harness and Line.
  3. Rewards – Food vs Toys (play?). Quantity. Timing. Look out for my forthcoming Blog post – Food, Glorious Food.
  4. Selection of the Target Odour – Safety. Cost and Availability. Previous use. Single Odour vs Configural Odour. Quantity (Concentration) of Odour. There’ll be more guidance in my forthcoming Blog post – Selecting a Training Odour for your Scent Detecting Dog. Some Considerations.
  5. Mechanics of Training – Classical (Pavlovian) conditioning. Development of a positive Conditioned Emotional Response (CER).

The devil is, very definitely, in the detail.


… and then there’s Back Chaining

According to Orr (2015), back chaining is a really effective way to build reliable behaviours. It’s a very efficient way to teach a specific behaviour, limits any potential errors and “leads to fluency with less training time” (Pryor, 2012).

Scent Detecting requires a whole series of individual behaviours that, together, form a particular behaviour chain. My dogs’ Scent Detecting behaviour chain looks something like this;

Cue to start work (Context. Harness. Scent in the Environment. Word) → Searching the Area → Locates the Target Scent Source → Passive Indication → Verbal Cue to move away from the scent source → Leaves the Scent Source → Click → Returns to me → Rewards

Your dog’s Scent Detecting behaviour chain may look very different to mine. It all depends on your training approach and your particular requirements … but I’m sure you get the idea; it’s complex and, for success, careful, thorough, training is required.

I teach Scent Detecting by starting at the end of the behaviour chain and working my way back to the beginning. As Orr (2015) states, “by teaching the last part first the learner [my dog] is always moving toward the part of the skill that he learned first and with which he is most confident“. For my dogs, this means learning about the target odour first – the familiarisation process.


Familiarising your dog to the target odour – the mechanics

Familiarising your dog to a specific (target) odour involves Classical, or Pavlovian,  Conditioning. It’s about helping your dog form positive associations with the scent. What starts out as a completely irrelevant odour to your dog, or neutral stimulus (NS), will, after conditioning, start to predict that good things (rewards) will follow (McLeod, 2013).

Familiarisation does not mean leaving the target scent with your dog (amongst his bedding, perhaps) for a few weeks until he becomes “used to”, or “familiar with”, it … unfortunately, “mere exposure [has] no effect on the acquisition of an odor discrimination in dogs” (Hall et al, 2014). If only it were that simple.

Scent : Detect : Find uses a very adapted form of Hall et al’s (2014) familiarisation protocol. Unit 13 is not a laboratory! Firstly, your dog is introduced to his “working” environment – he’s allowed to explore (or not) as he wishes – and then the familiarisation process begins. Over a 20 – 30 minute time-frame, as your dog continues to investigate the environment, he’s given the opportunity to “sniff” the target odour followed, immediately, with food rewards. No other behaviour is required … no need to sit, stand, down or similar. This procedure is repeated approximately 6 – 10 times within the 20 – 30 minute time period.

As for the “sniff” … well … some trainers place huge emphasis on hearing the dog inhale – sniff – during this familiarisation process … nothing less will do. This view probably has its origins in the work of Craven et al (2010) who state that, during normal respiration, approximately 12-13% of inspired air will reach the chemosensory area of the nose – the ethmoturbinate region – and that during active sniffing this may increase by 2-3%.

I’m not worried about hearing your dog sniff. That 12-13% of normally inspired air will do just fine for me! Why? Well let me give you an everyday – olfactory – example. If you walk along a road … breathing normally … you’re likely to become aware of a multitude of different odours, from the smell of bad drains, to the odour of frying chips, to diesel fumes, to … no need to sniff. Interestingly, you’re only going to start sniffing when you encounter a very faint hint of an odour, one that you’re trying to identify and locate. As Mainland and Sobel (2006) state, “when the olfactory system encounters a concentrated odorant, sniff vigor is reduced in real time; when it encounters a diluted odorant, sniff vigor is increased in real time“. In short, as your dog explores the environment, he’ll be aware of the target odour regardless of whether he chooses to sniff or not!

So, back to the familiarisation process and classical conditioning.

Before Conditioning – if your dog is offered food, an unconditioned stimulus (US), he’ll begin to salivate. It’s a physiological process resulting in an unconditioned response (UR). He just can’t help it.

Food (US) —> Salivation (UR)

Initially, if you let your dog smell what will eventually become his target odour, it’ll mean nothing to him. It’s a neutral stimulus (NS).

Target Odour (NS) —> No Salivation

During Conditioning – this requires you to allow your dog to smell the target odour and then provide him with food.

Target Odour (NS) —> Food (US) —> Salivation (UR)

After Conditioning – the target odour is now a conditioned stimulus (CS) and is associated with food. Smelling the odour in his environment will cause your dog to salivate in expectation of food rewards. Salivation in response to the target odour is now a conditioned response (CR).

Target Odour (CS) —> Salivation (CR)

According to Hall et al (2014), familiarising your dog to the target odour in this way enhances odor discrimination training and may reduce the overall training time. In short, it’s a worthwhile exercise to work through especially as it only takes approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Interestingly, and importantly, by classically conditioning your dog to the target odour, it will become what Berridge et al (2009) describe as, a “motivational magnet” – something that has to be approached, often compulsively. This is the foundation of all subsequent searching behaviour. Your dog WANTS to find the target odour. As Berridge et al (2009) explain, WANTING can apply both to unconditioned stimuli (US) such as food as well as conditioned stimuli (CS) such as the target odour after a classical conditioning procedure has taken place such as the one described here.

According to Litman (2005), WANTING involves dopamine activation in the brain and is thought to “motivate approach behaviour and to attribute incentive value to stimuli associated with reward” … the target odour!

But not only will your dog WANT to find the target odour, he’ll LIKE it too. After classical conditioning, your dog will have formed a positive conditioned emotional response (CER) to the target odour. As Litman (2005) states, LIKING involves brain opioid activity and “consequent states of pleasure“. Your dog will LIKE the target odour and WANT to find it. This phenomenon – your dog’s desire to get to the target odour – is sometimes referred to as Scent Obedience.


Familiarising your dog to the target odour and the notion of Imprinting

For clarity, in some scent detecting circles, the process of Familiarising your dog to the target odour (as described here, but often using very different training protocols) is frequently referred to as Imprinting. I prefer to avoid using this term in the context of scent detecting as it has its origins within the field of Ethology and is associated with the work of Konrad Lorenz and the rearing of Geese. Beware, terminology can be confusing and misleading!


and in conclusion …

If you’d like your scent detecting to progress a little more smoothly, consider splitting your training to avoid the lumps. Start where you’d like to finish – Back Chain!


Final Note

As with all of my blogs, I include a reference list. This allows you to investigate the topic a little further, check out the sources of my information and decide for yourself whether my interpretations of the literature represent an accurate reflection of the author’s work. Happy reading.


© Lesley McAllister – Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2020

www.scentdetectfind.co.uk


References / Further Reading

  1. Berg J (2018) Lumping and splitting. Science. 359. 6382. 1309
  2. Berridge KC, Robinson TE and Aldridge JW (2009) Dissecting components of reward; ‘Liking’, ‘Wanting’ and Learning’. Current Opinion in Pharmacology. Feb. 9(1): 65-73
  3. Craven BA, Paterson EG and Settles GS (2010) The fluid dynamics of canine olfaction: unique nasal airflow patterns as an explanation of macrosmia. Journal of the Royal Society. Interface. 7. 933-943
  4. Hall NJ, Smith DW, Wynne CDL (2014) Effect of odor preexposure on acquisition of an odor discrimination in dogs. Learning and Behavior. Jan
  5. Horowitz A and Hecht J (2014) Chapter 9. Looking at Dogs: Moving from Anthropocentrism to Canid Umwelt. IN: Horowitz A (2014) Ed. Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior. The Scientific Study of Canis Familiaris. Springer.
  6. Litman JA (2005) Curiosity and the pleasures of learning: Wanting and liking new information. Cognition and Emotion. 19(6). 793-814
  7. Mainland J and Sobel N (2006) The Sniff is part of the Olfactory Percept. Chem. Senses. 31: 181-196
  8. McLeod S A (2013) Pavlov’s Dogs. http://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html accessed; 22.12.2015
  9. Orr J (2015) Back Chaining: The top secret teaching tool that is the key to professional success. TAGteach International. https://tagteachblog.com/back-chaining-the-top-secret-teaching-tool-that-is-the-key-to-professional-success/ 
  10. Pryor K (2012) Back-Chaining “Retrieve”. Karen Pryor Clicker Training. https://www.clickertraining.com/back-chaining-retrieve Accessed: 3.8.2020
  11. Zerubavel E (1996) Lumping and Splitting: Notes on Social Classification. Sociological Forum. 11.3. 421-423.

Scent Detecting and the Enriched Environment

When Unit 13, the permanent home of Scent : Detect : Find Ltd, opened its doors to clients in September 2016, it became the FIRST training space in the UK to provide a DEDICATED Enriched Environment for every dog that would subsequently spend time there. Since then, all training at Scent : Detect : Find Ltd has continued to take place in an environment that looks something like this …

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At the end of September 2016, Unit 13 opened its doors to provide the FIRST dedicated, Dog-Centric, Enriched training Environment in the UK

Although it changes on an almost hourly basis – items are repeatedly moved around the space and alternated with newer items –  Unit 13 is always full of interesting things. As the saying goes, one (wo)man’s rubbish is another (wo)man’s treasure! Dog-Toys. Plant-Pots. House-Hold Furniture. Wood-Piles. Cardboard Boxes. Plastic Milk Cartons. Garden Furniture. Books. Magazines. Squeaky Toys. Newspapers. Plastic buckets. Old kitchen appliances. Egg Boxes. Scent ‘n’ Snack Mats. Bricks. Children’s Toys. Toilet-Roll Centres. Balls. Mats. Cuddly Toys. Bedding. Blankets. Varying textures, different odours, different colours, sizes, shapes and heights, unusual and unexpected sounds … and odours.

In addition to the items deliberately selected to add enrichment to Unit 13’s space, happenstance also plays a big part – background radio, conversation between clients, food odours, odours left by previous visitors (human and canine), the sound of machinery and voices from neighbouring Units.


So, what exactly is an Enriched Environment?

Well, according to Bender and Strong (2019), enrichment “has become a buzzword [that] gets casually tossed around in conversations … but when asked to define enrichment, things get a little less clear”. For some owners, enrichment might mean providing their dog with a puzzle feeder or scattering a few food treats around the garden. For some trainers, enrichment may be a purposeful, specially planned, event (within the auspices of a larger training event, perhaps) where dogs are allowed and encouraged to interact with a selection of novel items. Once the interaction has taken place, the items are removed from the space and training continues as “normal”.

With what seems like a recent eXpLoSIoN, within dog training circles, of all things enrichment, the concept seems to have taken on an almost mythical status; something “very special” – an “occasion” or “event” – rather than, as Bender and Strong (2019) would prefer, learning what our dogs’ needs are and then structuring an environment for them that allows them, as much as is feasible, to meet those needs“. As they continue, “this isn’t just about toys and play. It’s about who dogs are, the entire spectrum of their physical, behavioral, and instinctual needs, and how we can meet those needs as a part of our daily routine“. 

Clearly then, an enriched environment is just one aspect of an enriched life – “the meeting of all of an animal’s needs as closely as possible to how they would be met in the wild, in order to empower them to engage in species-typical behaviors in healthy and appropriate ways” (Bender and Strong, 2019).

(Incidentally, I’d highly recommend Bender and Strong’s (2019) book. A really comprehensive, readable, in-depth, exploration of the subject area).

According to Faverjon et al (2002), an enriched environment (specifically) is one in which there is a “combination of inanimate and social stimulation” and might include elements that innervate any, or all, of your dog’s senses – Olfactory. Auditory. Visual. Gustatory. Touch. Herron et al (2014) highlight the positive effects that might come from this type of enriched environment stating that it “increases the complexity of dog behaviour and helps prevent undesirable behaviour“. 

Interestingly, Boissy et al (2007) argue that the term enrichment “should be reserved for environments that are truly enriched beyond basic needs“. As they point out, simply “adding resources or features to an impoverished setting” is better described as “supplementation” with a reduction in “indicators of poor welfare … rather than an increase in indicators of good welfare”. For me, this lends weight to the position that environmental enrichment can only constitute real enrichment if it’s something that’s added into an already complex and interesting environment. A specially planned section within a larger training event – where your dog is given the opportunity to interact with a few novel items, for a short period of time, before they are removed again – is far better described as “supplementation” with, arguably, somewhat limited benefits.


What are the claimed benefits of creating an enriched environment for your Scent Detecting Dog?

Exploratory Behaviour

Studies conducted on numerous different species demonstrate that, amongst other things, an enriched environment will result in an increase in the animal’s exploratory and locomotor behaviour (Beattie et al, 1995). These are precisely the types of behaviour that we want to develop in our Scent Detecting dogs; dogs who will happily, and confidently, explore … search … their environment.

According to Panksepp (2011), any increase in exploratory (searching) behaviour will activate the brain’s “reward-SEEKING” system. “This system engenders an enthusiastic affective-‘energy’ … it provokes animals to become intensely energized to explore the world and also promotes learning … it leads animals to become excited about the mundane, and the system conditions rapidly to yield vigorous approach, exploration and, eventually, various consummatory behaviors … it just wants opportunities to explore the world, which is critical for survival. Indeed predatory behavior is one manifestation of this system in action”. 

Improved Learning and Cognition

An enriched environment provides novel experiences for your dog. Novelty demands increased effort … “consequently, coping with enriched environments requires activity and exercise, and such environments favor hippocampal neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity” (Boissy et al, 2007). As the hippocampus has a major role in the learning process and the formation of new memories, the connection between a novel, enriched, environment and the enhancement of learning seems self-evident.  

In addition, Milgram et al (2005) point out that “rearing in enriched environments improves learning ability, produces beneficial changes in cellular structure and increases the resistance of neurons to injury”. For Schipper et al (2008), “environmental enrichment induces structural changes in the brain that results in improved cognitive abilities”. This position is further supported by Gluck and Harlow (1971) who state that “deprivation rearing attenuates all learning capacity, while rearing in enriched environments facilitates all learning”. If an enriched environment can support your dog’s learning in this way, this has got to be a good thing!

What seems worth noting here is the reference to the enriched environment and rearing. As Boissy et al (2007) point out, “experiences that occur during adulthood may … influence emotional responsiveness, particularly through classical processes of learning and habituation. The exposure of adult animals to enriched environments … has been shown to decrease subsequent fear, although the reported effects are generally less marked than those induced by the same treatments during infancy”. The development of a successful Scent Detecting Dog starts young and central to the success (or otherwise) of this project may be the rearing practices employed; namely, the provision of an enriched environment.   

Better Welfare

Schipper et al (2008) point out that, “in general, an animal’s inability to perform specific behaviours (for example, due to a lack of suitable stimuli or physical restraint) is often viewed as a cause of reduced welfare of animals kept in captivity … there is increasing evidence that the opportunity to display more species-specific appetitive behaviours is beneficial to captive animals”. 

Whilst much of the work on enrichment practices originated within Farm and Zoo settings, it’s an uncomfortable truth that our dogs (family pets or working dogs) are as “captive” as any Meerkat, Penguin or Pig. Giving our dogs the opportunity to “just be dogs”, providing them with an enriched environment as part of an enriched life – investigating new items in their home, shredding old cardboard boxes, rummaging through a pile of clothes, locating food items scattered in the garden, taking the lead in terms of direction and speed during a walk, having the company of their own and other species – can only lead to an improvement in their welfare.    

Positive Emotions (Affect) and Eureka

The enriched environment can provide your dog with much needed challenges. According to McGowan et al (2014), “animals may experience positive affective states in response to their own achievements“. Your dog appears to be aware of the efforts he’s made and the success (or otherwise) of these efforts. As Boissy et al (2007) state, “the possibility of controlling the environment and coping successfully with challenges may be another source of positive emotions. Despite some degree of stress being necessary in the initial state of coping to activate alertness and metabolism, successful actions with a positive outcome make the animal master of the environment”. 

Context and Place Preference

Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, your dog (and you too!) will experience something that Feuerbacher and Wynne (2012) describe as a “place preference”. Typically, your dog will choose to “spend more time in an [environment] paired with positive reinforcers … [and] … less time in [environments] paired with aversive events”.

But place preference is not simply dependent on how many food rewards your dog receives in a particular environment. It’s about the quality of the environment itself. As Ikemoto and Panksepp (1999) point out, your dog is able to learn about his environment without the need for rewards such as food treats. This is a form of declarative learning – the ability to recall facts and events. Did he have a good time there? Would he like to visit again? Was it interesting? Did it stimulate his SEEKING system?


Why does Scent : Detect : Find choose to work in an enriched environment?

Firstly – ASSESSMENT – From his very first visit to Unit 13, your dog is free to investigate the environment in whichever way he chooses. This time – long before he starts any Scent Detecting training – provides an opportunity to assess his ability to navigate the area, climb, clamber and interact with what might be, to him, novel stimuli. His coping strategies. His body language. His use of Calming Signals (Rugaas, 2006). Whether he moves away from you without “instruction”, “direction” or “luring”. These observations provide valuable information. They tell you who your dog really is. They shed light on his past training history and ability to act independently of you. 

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Tweed investigating the enriched environment

You are advised to just let your dog “be”. To begin with, he may choose to simply sit beside you rather than explore the area. This is his decision. As Kaufer (2013) argues, it’s “a shame when puppies [and dogs] do not get enough time to explore new situations, but instead are coaxed with food before they can overcome their insecurity or fear on their own“.

During this assessment phase, I do not use food to encourage your dog to explore the area. “Luring”, as I think this could best be described, may prompt your dog to move toward the food and so, on the face of things, start to ‘explore’ the environment but …  before he feels ready to do so! Rather than food, I let the enriched environment do all the work and simply wait …

SecondlyCONFIDENCE – To help your dog develop his confidence in new and complex environments. An opportunity to investigate new items, play with toys, encounter novel surfaces and sounds. Start to habituate to new stimuli in a safe and secure space … when your dog feels ready!

Thirdly – CHOICES – The enriched environment provides your dog with items that he can interact with if he needs a break from scent detecting. A toy to play with, a cardboard box to rip, a teddy to fling around. Real Choices. If you’re interested in the subject of “choice”, keep a look-out for my forthcoming Blog – Let your Dog Decide. Scent Detecting and the Power of Choice.

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Sully using a Squeeky Pig to take a break

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Rosie relaxing amongst the “treasure” before starting back to work!

Interestingly, according to Sommerville et al (2017), “more destructible toys increase play, perhaps because they better imitate prey”. Certainly, the opportunity to shred a box or chew a toy is used as a “coping” strategy by a number of dogs who visit Unit 13. If they’re becoming tired, finding the work too tricky, struggling with a particular training element, they can walk away from the task, interact with any of the items available to them and then, without further “instruction”, and after only a very few minutes (often seconds), return to work at the point they’d left off!

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Bea taking a break with a little bit of box-shredding!

And … NO … this doesn’t cause (or encourage) your Scent Detecting Dog to be lazy, or disobedient, or easily distracted, or … or … or …! Far from it. With increasing Scent Detecting experience, your dog’s need to “take-a-break” diminishes greatly and he’ll become less easily distracted in other, new, search environments.

FourthlySEARCH – As discussed earlier, enriched environments promote movement and exploration, the hallmarks of search behaviour. There is no need to use food to lure your dog out of his comfort zone and it may well be counterproductive. For further discussion of this topic, look out for my forthcoming Blog – Food, Glorious Food

Fifthly – HIDES – The enriched environment provides innumerable places in which to secrete your dog’s target scent source. In addition, because of the complexity of the environment, it’s far more difficult for either you, or your dog, to “guess” where the scent source might be located. This can be a particular issue for competition style scent work. Compare the following photos. Which search area “tells you” where you and your dog should search?

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Two luggage line-up searches. Enriched Environment vs Barren Environment

I wonder how surprised you and your dog would be if you were to discover that, in the barren environment, the scent source was actually hidden on a window-ledge, behind a curtain?   

Similarly, in an outdoor search area I would recommend that you use what is already there; it’s enriched enough. Use the trees, use the old plant-pots, use the walls and window-ledges and bricks and fence-lines and hedgerows. Think twice (or three times) before placing any items there that don’t naturally belong; it’ll do little other than act as a big pointing finger to you and your dog saying “search here”!

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Don’t add to an Outdoor search area – Use what’s already there!


So, faced with an environment like this …

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or like this …

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Poppet. Dream. Teddy. Abel. Luytje.

… which do you think your dog would prefer to investigate?


So … in conclusion …

Enriched environments may be the latest in a very long line of “next BIG things” in dog training circles but Scent : Detect : Find Ltd has always harnessed their beneficial effects. What is so heartening to witness is the number of Scent : Detect : Find Alumni who, after having spent time at Unit 13 with their own dogs, have gone on to create their own enriched environments based on the Unit 13 model. That’s a lot more happy Scent Detecting dogs reaping the benefits of an enriched environment!


Final Note

As with all blogs, I include a reference list. This allows you to investigate the topic a little further, check out the sources of my information and decide for yourself whether my interpretations of the literature represent an accurate reflection of the author’s original work. Happy reading.


© Lesley McAllister – Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2020

www.scentdetectfind.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/scentdetectfind/?ref=bookmarks


References / Further Reading

  1. Beattie VE, Walker N and Sneddon IA (1995) Effects of Environmental Enrichment on Behaviour and Productivity of Growing Pigs. Animal Welfare. 4. 3. August. 207-220
  2. Bender A and Strong E (2019) Canine Enrichment For The Real World. Making It a Part of Your Dog’s Daily Life. USA: Dogwise Publishing
  3. Boissy A, Manteuffel G, Jewen MB, Moe RO, Spruijt B, Keeling LJ, Winckler C, Forkman B, Dimitrov I, Langbein J, Bakken M, Veisser I and Aubert A (2007) Assessment of positive emotions in animals to improve their welfare. Physiology and Behavior. 92. 375-397
  4. Faverjon S, Silveira DC, Fu DD, Cha BH, Akman C, Hu Y and Holmes GL (2002) Beneficial effects of enriched environment following status epilepticus in immature rats. Neurology. 59. 1356-1364
  5. Feuerbacher EN and Wynne (2012) RELATIVE EFFICACY OF HUMAN SOCIAL INTERACTION AND FOOD AS REINFORCERS FOR DOMESTIC DOGS AND HAND-REARED WOLVES. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. 98. 105-129
  6. Gluck JP and Harlow HF (1971) The effects of deprived and enriched rearing conditions on later learning: A review. Cognitive processes of nonhuman primates. 285-319
  7. Herron ME, Kirby-Madden TM and Lord LK (2014) Effects of environmental enrichment on the behavior of shelter dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 244. 6. 687-692
  8. Ikemoto S and Panksepp J (1999) The role of nucleus accumbens dopamine in motivated behavior: a unifying interpretation with special reference to reward-seeking. Brain Research Reviews. 31. 6-41
  9. Kaufer M (2013) Canine Play Behavior. The Science of Dogs at Play. Washington: Dogwise
  10. McGowan RT, Rehn T, Norling Y, Keeling LJ (2014) Positive affect and learning: exploring the “Eureka Effect” in dogs. Animal Cognition. May. 17(3) 577-87
    2014
  11. Milgram NW, Head E, Zicker SC, Ikeda-Douglas CJ, Murphey H, Muggenburg B, Siwak C, Tapp D and Cotman CW (2005) Learning ability in aged beagle dogs is preserved by behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification: a two-year longitudinal study. Neurobiology of Aging. 26. 77-90
  12. Panksepp J (2011) The basic emotional circuits of mammalian brains: Do animals have affective lives? Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews. 35. 1791-1804
  13. Rugaas T (2006) On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. 2nd Ed. Washington: Dogwise Publishing.
  14. Schipper LL, Vinke CM, Schilder MBH and Spruijt BM (2008) The effect of feeding enrichment toys on the behavior of kenneled dogs (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 114. 182-195
  15. Sommerville R, O’Connor EA and Asher L (2017) Why do dogs play? Function and welfare implications of play in the domestic dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 197. 1-8

Lighten-Up your Scent Detecting!

I’m sure you’ve all seen the video clips of scent detecting dogs being lifted onto the shoulders of their handlers before being carried around the search area to try and locate a scent source placed high on the top of a cupboard or door. A friend, and colleague, of mine says that she’s unable to watch these videos without picturing the dog as some sort of flesh-and-fur vacuum cleaner, the handler directing their dog’s nose into every crevice of the search area to suck out any lingering odour molecules. I must admit, I see this picture too!

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Based on the number of videos posted across a variety of social media sites, lifting dogs for high hides appears to have become a more and more commonplace practice. What started out as a strategy employed almost exclusively by the “professional” handler has been picked up (no pun intended) and run with by an ever-increasing number of scent detecting “hobbyists”. Perhaps that’s not so surprising really given that, rightly or wrongly, there’s a tendency amongst many scent detecting enthusiasts to look towards the “professional” community for ways they might improve their handling skills and, ultimately, their dog’s performance.

So, is lifting your dog skyward for high hides a good idea? What are the likely outcomes for you? What are the likely outcomes for your dog? Is it a handling strategy that will increase your chances of scent detecting success or might there be a better way of working with your dog?


You

Every time you attempt to lift your dog from the floor, you’re engaged in a manual handling activity. According to the HSE (2020) “manual handling means transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force. It includes lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, moving or carrying a load. A load is a moveable object, such as a box or package, a person or an animal”.

Worryingly, around 40% of all work-related ill-health and injury is associated with manual handling tasks (HSE, 2016). Self-evidently, manual handling activities are far from risk free and UK legislation – “The Manual Handling Operations Regulations” (1992/2002) –  places a duty on all employers to protect their employees from the risk of injury and ill health arising from any hazardous manual handling task in the workplace (HSE, 2020).

At first glance, as a scent detecting “hobbyist” (as opposed to a “professional”), manual handling legislation may not seem particularly relevant to you. From a strictly legal standpoint, it probably isn’t, however, what might be highly relevant is the practical guidance it can provide. Remember, every time you decide to lift your dog from the floor, you’re engaged in a manual handling activity; you’re as likely to sustain an injury whilst engaged in your hobby as anyone else is during their time at work.

In addition, if you’re a scent detecting trainer, you’ll owe a duty of care to your clients. A duty of care can be defined as “the responsibility of an individual to not harm others through carelessness” (LawTeacher, 2013). At a minimum, for a duty of care to exist, there has to be;

  • “reasonable foresight of harm” – if you advise your client to lift their dog then you need to be sure that this advice is safe.
  • “a relationship of proximity” – unquestionably, as your client, this relationship exists between you.

Always keep in mind that Professional Indemnity (Liability) Insurance exists because poor advice from a trainer can result in injury or loss to a client. A sobering thought!

So, what might constitute best practice in terms of manual handling? If you do decide to lift your dog or advise your client to lift theirs, how can you avoid causing harm to yourself or others? One very important consideration is the weight of your load – Your dog!

The HSE (2020) provide weight categories where they consider the risk of injury to be low and where it is probably safe to proceed with the lift. Any weight outside these limits is “likely to increase the risk of injury” (HSE, 2020).

WOMEN

Close to Body         Arms extended

Shoulder height               7kg                       3kg

Elbow height                   13kg                      7kg

Knuckle height               16kg                      10kg

Mid lower leg height     13kg                       7kg

Ground level                    7kg                        3kg

 

MEN

Close to Body         Arms extended

Shoulder height              10kg                      5kg

Elbow height                   20kg                     10kg

Knuckle height                25kg                     15kg

Mid lower leg height      20kg                     10kg

Ground level                    10kg                      5kg

Already, you’ll be able to see that these weight limits, particularly those at shoulder height, are very low – anything between 3kgs and 10kgs depending on whether you’re a man or a woman or holding the weight close to or further away from your body. As the owner of dogs weighing in at 30kgs and 45kgs, it would be unsafe for me to attempt to lift either of them. As for getting any one of them to shoulder height ….. I’ll just leave that to your imagination!

The HSE (2020) also stipulate that these safe weight guides assume that “the load is easily grasped with both hands and is handled in reasonable working conditions, with the worker in a stable body position”. Here lies the next difficulty, your dog can be considered an unstable load. At best he’s likely to move, wriggle and adjust his position as he’s lifted from the ground, at worst he’ll struggle violently as he attempts to get away from you! Unstable loads place you at further risk of injury as does working in a confined or cluttered space whilst attempting to look around your dog to watch him work – your body position is no longer stable.

The HSE (2020) outline three key points that must be considered in preventing and managing risk – Avoid. Assess. Reduce;

Avoid – as far as possible, avoid any potentially hazardous manual handling task. Do you actually need to lift your dog? Can you, as the HSE (2020) suggest, do your work in a different way?

Assess – if you decide that the manual handling task can’t be avoided, you’ll need to assess the risk of possible injury and, as far as possible, find ways of reducing that risk. What weight will you be attempting to lift? Have you any pre-existing health conditions that might affect your ability to lift safely? Have you had any training?

Reduce – you must minimise the risk as far as possible. Can someone help you lift your dog? As Becker (2017) says, “the best way to lift a large dog is with two people”! Can you arrange the search area in such a way that there are fewer restrictions on your movement that could further compromise your safety?

To summarise, as a scent detecting “hobbyist”, unless your dog weighs less than 10kg (7kg if you’re a woman) and you can keep your dog close to your body as you lift him to shoulder height, you’re at risk of injury and should not proceed with the lift. Additionally, in considering the HSEs (2020) three key points – Avoid. Assess. Reduce – there can be little justification for lifting your dog for what is, at the end of the day, only a hobby. There is even less justification if your dog weighs over 10kg. You need to find another way of working with him.


Your Dog 

Aside from the very obvious risk to your dog of being dropped, he may not actually like being picked up. As Becker (2017) points out, even if your dog never complains, it doesn’t mean he’s okay about it. With your dog at shoulder height it’s unlikely that you’ll be in any position to notice any signs of distress, anxiety or pain – lip-licking, yawning, half-moon eyes, looking away from you. For dogs with arthritis or joint disease, “lifting can be extremely painful” (Becker, 2017). Many dogs will endure a great deal of discomfort or pain without any vocalisation (Vogelsang, 2016). It is beholden on you, your dog’s handler, to act as his advocate and protect him from any unnecessary distress.

Injuries related to poor lifting techniques include;

  • Picking the dog up under his front legs like a child – “strains the muscles in the front legs and spine, which can result in torn ligaments and even a dislocated shoulder or elbow” (Becker, 2017).
  • Using the dog’s tail as a ‘handle’ – “Damage caused by pulling your dog’s tail can affect the nerves and muscles that move the tail as well as those that control elimination” (Becker 2017).
  • Picking the dog up by his collar – this can “cut off his air supply and cause him to choke. It’s also a good way to do serious permanent damage to the very delicate organs located in his neck, including the throat, larynx and trachea” (Becker, 2017).

For a useful pictorial guide on how to lift your dog as safely as possible, you might like to refer to Pippa Elliot’s (2019) information sheet – “How to Pick up a Dog Properly”.


Scent Detecting

For me, the simple solution to the high hide problem (which will greatly reduce the possibility of causing any harm to you or your dog) is to train an unambiguous passive indication with duration. With a passive indication, your dog can point out the location of the high hide, with a great degree of accuracy, without his feet ever having to leave the floor. If you’d like to know more about the benefits of a well-trained indication, take a look at my blog from 2018 – “The Indication. It’s not an optional extra!” 

Poppy pointing towards the high hide - just follow the line of her nose!
Poppy indicating the position of her high hide – just follow the line of her nose!

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Abel pointing out the high hide in the projector grill.

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Dream reaching up toward the scent source

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Luytje, an older lady, doing a little bit of clambering to point out her target scent

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Abel’s nose pointing skywards!

In addition, I’d want to foster my dog’s confidence to climb and clamber. The closer he can get to a high hide, without having to be lifted, the better it is for all concerned. Your dog can still give his passive indication perched on top of a piece of furniture!

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Climbing and clambering – Useful skills

Very sadly, if lifting our dogs for high hides becomes “normal practice” within scent detecting circles this will preclude many handlers and their dogs from participating in this activity. If you work one of the large breeds or have an underlying medical condition or pre-existing injury … this could mean you!


In conclusion

  • Will I ever lift either of my dogs for scent detecting activities? No. While there are other, safer, ways of working with my dogs, there’s no need. A well-trained passive indication is all that’s required.
  • What will I do if my dogs start to climb and clamber by themselves? Support them. That’s one of the reasons they wear a harness.
  • Are there any circumstances in which I would attempt to lift my dogs? Yes. If they were injured and in danger, I’d do my utmost to move them to safety. That said, a lift may not be the best option or, for that matter, even possible. Dragging and sliding may be a far safer practice.

So, keep yourself and your dog safe and leave his feet on the floor!


Final Note

As with all of my blogs, I include a reference list. This allows you to investigate the topic a little further, check out the sources of my information and decide for yourself whether my interpretations of the literature are an accurate reflection of the author’s original work. Happy reading.


References and Further Reading

1. Becker K (2017) 3 Things Never to Do When Picking Up Your Dog. https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2017/02/17/how-to-pick-up-a-dog.aspx Accessed; 30.4.2020

2. Elliot P (2019) How to Pick up a Dog Properly. https://www.google.com/amp/S/www.wikihow.com/Pick-up-a-Dog-Properly%3famp=1 Accessed; 1.5.2020

3. HSE (2016) Manual Handling. Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. 4th Edition. Crown Copyright.

4. HSE (2020) Manual handling at Work. A brief guide. HMSO.

5. LawTeacher (2013) Duty of Care Lecture. https://www.lawteacher.net/modules/tort-law/negligence/duty-of-care/lecture.php?vref=1. Accessed; 30.4.2020

6. McAllister L (2018) The Indication. It’s not an optional extra!” https://scentdetectfind.blog/2018/12/15/the-indication-its-not-an-optional-extra/?fbclid=IwAR2QaNQbyeUyaMuO5ExuYi2ORF05xhSnPyuhPHSwa-vQsVtR2leQcbm-pSg Accessed; 1.5.2020

7. Vogelsang J (2016) 5 Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew About Picking Him Up. vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/5-things-your-dog-wishes-you-knew-about-picking-him-up Accessed; 30.4.2020

 


© Lesley McAllister – Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2020

www.scentdetectfind.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/scentdetectfind/?ref=bookmarks

 

The Indication. It’s not an optional extra!

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Poppy clearly indicating the location of her target scent inside this person’s trouser pocket.

What is an Indication?

The indication or alert is the means by which your dog is able to communicate to you that he’s found the location of his target scent source. It’s a behaviour that, after training, your dog will perform “immediately and unprompted” (Cablk et al, 2006) and is usually categorised as being either passive or (pro)-active in nature. In large part this classification is dependent on the degree to which the indication behaviour involves contact, or direct interaction with, the scent source.

I tend to view passive indications as those where the dog makes minimal or no contact with the scent source. For example, your dog might sit or lie down beside the scent source or place his nose on it or simply stare at it. In contrast, the pro-active indication involves far more direct engagement with the scent source and may include behaviours such as scratching, grabbing, biting and retrieving (Hurt et al, 2009).

Barking is another very commonly used indication. As this behaviour doesn’t involve any direct contact with the scent source, it would seem to be just another type of  passive indication, however, as Hurt et al (2009) point out, as a fundamentally frustrative behaviour that “can accelerate into other frustration behaviors” it is probably better described as a pro-active indication. In explaining their position, Hurt et al (2009) cited the case of search dogs on the Island of Guam who were trained to detect brown tree snakes and indicate their location by barking. Unfortunately, before very long, this behaviour transformed into pawing and biting and, for the safety of the dogs and the welfare of the snakes, the dogs had to be re-trained.


Does my Scent Detecting dog need an indication?

My short answer to this question is YES and here’s why …

Successful Scent Detecting requires your dog to search for, and locate, his target scent source. Without an indication (either passive or pro-active), you’ll have no means of knowing – for sure – that he’s found it. As Scent Detecting is primarily all about finding, it makes little sense to overlook training the one unambiguous way that your dog has to tell you that he has done just that … his indication.


Why spend time training an indication when I can just watch for a COB?

Recently I’ve noticed a growing trend toward relying on a dogs change of behaviour (COB) to help the handler recognise that their dog has located the scent source. Typical changes in behaviour might include slowing down, speeding up, heightened interest in a particular area of a room, walking on tip-toes with head held high … the list of possibilities is almost endless. Each of these behaviours may help you narrow down the location of the target scent source but may also act to totally mislead you.

As an example of just how poor a COB can be as a means of helping you decide that your dog has located the target scent source, take a little look at this video of Dream working amongst farm machinery.

 

At 23 seconds Dream starts to show a heightened interest along the wall of the tractor shed. This extra interest, or COB – standing on tip-toes, head in the air, staying close to the wall, carefully investigating certain areas – continues until approximately 58 seconds into the video when she then moves on to investigate other parts of the building.

I think it perfectly reasonable to suggest that many handlers, seeing their dog showing this level of interest in a particular area, would be sorely tempted to keep their dog working there until something is ‘found’. That something being a false indication.

Put simply;

The dog’s COB → Increased interest in the area by the handler → Increasing interest in the area by the dog → Further interest in the area by the handler → Increasing psychological pressure on dog to ‘find’ something → False (positive) indication by the dog!

This is just one example of  the ‘Clever Hans Phenomenon’ or ‘Clever Hans Effect’ at work – “where a person or animal can be influenced by subtle and unintentional cueing on the part of a questioner” (Jackson, 2005). If you’d like to know more about how the Clever Hans phenomenon can impact your scent detecting, just follow this link to False Indications, Clever Hans and You

At “Scent : Detect : Find” dogs are trained to search independently, following scent plumes and filaments back to source without undue interference from their human partners. This “hands off” approach to scent detecting goes a long way toward mitigating the Clever Hans Phenomenon. In addition, all dogs are trained an indication behaviour that is totally reliable and unambiguous …. so much so that it is easily recognisable, not only to the handler but, to anyone else who might be looking on.

If you review the video again, you’ll notice that throughout her search Dream’s handler remains out of shot. At all times, Nicky gives Dream the necessary space to work independently. Even when Dream shows heightened interest along the wall of the tractor shed (23 secs – 58 secs), Nicky stays clear of the area and waits for Dream to persuade her, by way of her indication, that her target scent source is there … or, as in this particular search … in a completely different area!

And this is why your dog’s indication is not an optional extra. Having a well trained indication allows Nicky to simply watch her dog until that indication comes.

… Nose Touch. Stillness. Duration.


So, what type of Indication is best – Passive or Pro-Active?

I favour the passive indication and train my own, and other handlers, dogs to place their nose as close to the target scent source as possible and hold it there for a minimum of 5 seconds or until their handler asks them to move away.

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Chewee accurately indicating the location of his target scent; a tiny sticky dot.

This type of indication fits well with your dog’s natural olfactory behaviour. Watch your dog when he’s pottering around the garden. What does he do when he catches an interesting odour? He gets his nose as close to it as possible and, more often than not, will stay fixed to it for a lengthy period of time.

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The Passive “nose touch” Indication; a very natural olfactory behaviour

If the scent source is inaccessible to your dog’s nose, for example, placed high up on a wall, or submerged under-water, then this nose touch is transformed easily and quickly into a sustained nose point.

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Bob using his nose to point to his target scent.

 

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Fynn pointing to his submerged target scent.

My reasons for selecting the passive indication and, more particularly, the

nose touch → nose point (if inaccessible)

include;

Safety – Passive indications help minimise any direct engagement with the target scent source. This can be important where either the target scent itself, or its location, may pose a danger to your dog.

For example, tobacco products such as cigarette and cigar butts, nicotine patches and gum and e-cigarette fluid are all harmful to our dogs (Novotny et al, 2011).

Whilst the target scent may be safe for your dog, its location may not be. Sadly, every year there are a number of reported dog fatalities from Acute Water Intoxication following a period of time playing in water (Toll et al, 1999). Typically, these dogs have been repeatedly diving into water to retrieve items thrown in for them whilst, at the same time, ingesting excessive volumes of water (Becker, 2013). Although the actual prevalence of this condition is difficult to confirm – Becker (2013) believing it to be a relatively rare occurrence – retrieving from water should be an activity that you monitor closely and / or consider restricting.

If your dog has a passive indication, all of these potential dangers are markedly reduced.

Precise and unambiguous – There is no mistaking the precise location of the target scent when your dog’s nose is either touching or pointing toward it. Adding duration to the indication adds even more certainty … your dog isn’t simply having a passing investigatory sniff!

Other passive indications such as a sit or a down cannot match this degree of accuracy particularly in situations where your dog is searching for tiny amounts of target scent, so tiny that you would be hard pressed to see it yourself.

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Brook using her nose to indicate on an invisible target scent

Can be used in all situations – No matter where the target scent is located – submerged under water, high up on a piece of furniture, buried underground, in an easily accessible position – it will be possible for your dog to either touch his nose to it or point toward its position.

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Abel using his nose touch to indicate “buried treasure”!

Preserves the integrity of the scent source – A nose touch, or point, minimises any possible damage to the target scent source. This is unlikely to be the case with a Pro-active indication.

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Luytje pointing out a bundle of cash whilst leaving it completely intact!

Requires no further training or re-training in changed circumstances – Starting off your Scent Detecting training with a pro-active indication may seem like a good idea at the time … until you decide to introduce a new target odour. It may be potentially dangerous to you or your dog or very valuable. Ooops … now may be the time to start afresh with your training, this time with a passive indication.


But a Passive Indication is difficult and time-consuming to train, isn’t it?

Well, that all depends on your point of view …

It certainly requires careful, detailed and thorough training to ensure reliability. Training can take anything from just a few hours or, in a limited number of cases (and for some very specific reasons), a few months to complete and this should all happen BEFORE searching “proper” begins.

Without this careful, early, training you are likely to encounter indication problems further down the line. Far simpler to train a reliable passive indication in the first place than have to add in further, often complex, remedial training at some later point in time including “Show me” or “Where is it?” cues.

The “Show me” or “Where is it?” cue is used, predominantly, within competition scent work circles where TIME means POINTS means PLACES! For very obvious reasons, an indication with lengthy duration is rarely trained and, as a consequence, any indication that there is may be missed by the handler. The “Show me” cue is a way of asking the dog to return to the location of the target scent and indicate again. I’m afraid I’m not a great fan of this sticking plaster approach to training. Far better I’d say to train the indication behaviour thoroughly in the first place than add in this extra layer of training complexity.

And then there’s the thorny issue of being “just a pet dog owner”. According to this viewpoint, pet dog owners are rarely interested in training a reliable passive indication. … It takes time … It delays their dog from starting to search until the indication training is complete … They aren’t bothered about an indication … They don’t have the training skills … and so on. Certainly this has never been my experience. The vast majority of my clients are “just pet dog owners” with almost 60 of them having trained reliable passive indications and another 50 or more well on their way.

If you are “just a pet dog owner” … keep this in mind … In a study by McCulloch et al (2006), investigating the ability of dogs to detect early- and late-stage lung and breast cancer, it was a mix of pet dogs with only basic puppy training who (in a matter of weeks) were able to accurately identify breath samples from lung and breast cancer patients. Those of you who are “just pet dog owners” can, and do, achieve great things with your dogs.


So … in conclusion …

As Scent Detecting is all about finding, it makes little sense to overlook training the one unambiguous way that your dog has to tell you that he has done just that … his indication.

If you’d like to know how I train a Passive Indication, look out for a future Blog – one of a series of three – Smoothing out the Lumpy Bits; Why it might be wise to teach the indication before the search and all that back chaining stuff 

And  … NO … your dog’s indication should never be a scent detecting optional extra.


Final Note

As with all of my blogs, I include a reference list. This allows you to investigate the topic a little further, check out the sources of my information and decide for yourself whether my interpretations of the literature are an accurate reflection of the author’s original work. Happy reading.


© Lesley McAllister – Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2018

www.scentdetectfind.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/scentdetectfind/?ref=bookmarks


References / Further Reading

  1. Becker K (2013) Water Intoxication: Too Much of a Good Thing. https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2013/10/28/water-intoxification.aspx Accessed 15.12.2018
  2. Cablk ME and Heaton JS (2006) ACCURACY AND RELIABILITY OF DOGS IN SURVEYING FOR DESERT TORTOISE (GOPHERUS AGASSIZII). Ecological Applications. 16(5). 1926-1935
  3. Hurt A and Smith DA (2009). Conservation Dogs. IN: Helton WS (Ed) Canine Ergonomics: The Science of Working Dogs. Taylor and Francis Group: London.
  4. Jackson J (2005) The Clever Hans effect – a horse’s tale. Critical Thinking. http://www.critical-thinking.org.uk/pdf/clever-hans.pdf
  5. McCulloch M, Jezierski T, Broffman M, Hubbard A, Turner K and Janecki T (2006) Diagnostic Accuracy of Canine Scent Detection in Early- and Late-Stage Lung and Breast cancers. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 5(1). 30-39
  6. Novotny TE, Hardin SN, Hovda LR, Novotny DJ, McLean MK, Khan S (2011) Tobacco and cigarette butt consumption in humans and animals. Tobacco Control. 20. 17-20
  7. Toll J, Barr SC, Hickford FH (1999) Acute Water Intoxication in a Dog. Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. 9. 1. 19-22.

There’s Nothing to See Here; why your Scent Detecting dog doesn’t need an audience

This may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you but I don’t allow dogs to ‘spectate’ when another dog is working.

NO … “But my dog is friendly” dogs.

NO … “But they know each other and play together” dogs.

NO … “But they live together” dogs.

NEVER, EVER, EVER! And I apply this rule to my own dogs too.

If you’re used to attending any training, competition or social events with your dog (where it seems ‘de rigueur’ to keep your dog with you at all times including within an audience setting) you’ll appreciate that my stance is definitely not the norm. For some of you, my position will be irritating and inconvenient, for others it’ll come as a blessed relief; I give you permission to give yourself, and your dog, a break!

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I don’t allow dogs to spectate when another dog is working. NEVER, EVER, EVER!

So, what are my reasons? Well, two-fold really. Firstly there are behavioural considerations for both the working and the audience dogs. Secondly there are Scent Detecting considerations that will have a direct impact on your dog’s training.


1. Behavioural Considerations

I live with two dogs, L and BB. They’ve been together now for almost 4 years and apart from the very occasional mild disagreement about something or other, their relationship is largely peaceable. In short, they’re ‘good mates’ … they understand one another.

As evidence for (what some might say are) my wild claims of sibling harmony, take a look at some of these photos … and … no … they’re not related.

I think you’d agree; they’re a team!

So, they rub along together very nicely, they know each other well, they play and live together … why on earth will I not allow them into the search area together while one or other of them is working?

Well, take a little look at this short video clip.

I’m in a field with L and BB. L is recalling to me very slowly. At 3 seconds she comes to a halt and turns her head away. At 9 seconds I think I see her lick her lips. Because of her dark coat colour, it’s not very clear, but I do notice her swallowing. Out of shot, lying beside me, is BB. L’s behaviour tells me that something that BB is doing is causing her some concern … enough to stop her in her tracks and use a number of “Calming Signals” – slowing down, head turning, lip-licking (Rugaas, 2006). L is attempting to defuse any potential conflict between herself and BB. When I look down at BB he’s staring intently at L, crouched and ready to pounce. He might think it’s a game … she quite obviously doesn’t … or … perhaps he doesn’t like her direct approach and she’s attempting to signal her good intent toward him? Either way, I’m in no doubt that they are in ‘conversation’ with one another.

Rugaas (2006) describes calming signals as a “life insurance policy”. Amongst other things they help “prevent things from happening … [and importantly] … make the others involved feel safer and understand the goodwill the signals indicate”. Mariti et al (2017) view these signals as having “a communicative role” and, as a social species, being able to communicate clearly with one another is not an optional extra for your dog.

Now imagine L and BB together in a search area; BB spectating perhaps while L attempts to work. As I think the video illustrates, despite knowing each other well, living in the same house, playing, sleeping and eating together, the need to communicate their intent toward one another at any given moment in time has to extend into the search environment and will interrupt, albeit in only a very small way perhaps, their training and work.

So, how about your dog, the one who’s trying to search in an environment where other, unfamiliar, dogs are part of the audience? Well, unsurprisingly perhaps, in Mariti et als (2017) study, calming signals were found to be used by dogs “more frequently while interacting with unfamiliar dogs”. In other words, your dog, if he’s to feel safe, will have to expend considerable amounts of energy monitoring (and responding to) the other, unfamiliar dogs’ apparent intentions (for good or bad) in preference to Scent Detecting.

As Palagi et al (2015) point out, it’s “probably adaptive for animals to discriminate others’ emotional expressions because this allows them to anticipate the behavioural response of the observed individual and to adjust their own behaviour accordingly”. It’s also worth considering here that, as Nielsen et al (2015) warn, “odors from animals in distress have an impact on conspecifics … [with the spreading of] … negative states”. This view is supported by Siniscalchi et al (2018) who state that “when a dog experiences an emotional state, for example anxiety, it releases a specific body odour into the environment. Despite being involuntary, this signal is received as a communicative signal by other individual because it informs them about the sender’s inner state and it can produce changes in the receiver’s behaviour”. If there are any dogs in the search environment – perhaps as part of the audience – who are uncomfortable around other dogs or people – fearful, anxious, worried – they will be distressed and your dog will know!

And what about you? A number of handlers have reported that because they don’t have to worry about other dogs in the search area they’ve been able to relax and feel more comfortable. It probably doesn’t need stating but, if you feel “safe” your dog will feel “safe” too. In support of this view, in a study by Custance and Mayer (2012), dogs were found to orientate “toward their owner or a stranger more often when the person was pretending to cry than when they were talking or humming … [this] … response was behaviorally consistent with an expression of empathic concern, but is most parsimoniously interpreted as emotional contagion”. In short … your dog is aware of, and will respond to, your emotions. His Scent Detecting performance will be influenced by how you are feeling. For more information on how you can influence your dog’s performance, you might like to take a look at False Indications, Clever Hans and You

So, what about the oft repeated claims that Scent Detecting can be beneficial in terms of your dog’s behaviour? Well … “Yes” and “No” and “Perhaps” and “Maybe”. Put most simply, there are “theoretical” reasons why Scent Detecting might have a number of beneficial behavioural effects for your dog (I’ll keep that discussion for another Blog) but any behavioural benefits may have more to do with the training methods employed (and there are as many different training methods used in Scent Detecting as there are in other dog sports and activities) rather than olfaction itself. It’s complicated!

All that said, a search area is not the best place to work on your dog’s social skills … he’s learning how to Scent Detect and that means giving him his own working space. As Anderson (2016) points out, “there is still a common expectation that dogs should automatically like, or at least get along with all people and all other dogs. Fearful, shy, or just plain introverted dogs really suffer from this. But even the most extroverted dog still has personal space. We need to learn to respect it”.

Sommer (1959) explains an animal’s “personal space” in terms of “the distance that the organism customarily places between itself and other organisms. The distance may vary from species to species and individual to individual” and, as Hall et al (?) state “contracts and expands depending on several factors” including his emotional and psychological state, his background and the activity that he’s engaged in at any given moment in time. In short, depending on your dog’s breed, past experiences, physical health, personality, familiarity with the environment, mood on a particular day (the list of variables is almost endless), to work successfully, he will require to be afforded more or less “space”.

I train my dogs to follow odour plumes, filaments and tendrils (Furton et al, 2001) back to source (more in a future blog) rather than using “pattern searching” and / or “detailing”. Patterns and Detailing require you to guide your dog around the search area and point out specific areas for him to investigate. Instead, I encourage my dogs to “free search”, to work independently … to use their natural abilities to locate the target scent source by going in whichever direction the odour plumes, filaments and tendrils lead. To do this … your dog needs space.

More often than not the scent source may be in location X but for your dog to find it he may have to take himself into location Y to pick up any scent filaments and follow them back to source. What if location Y is also where the audience (including other dogs) is sitting? How will your dog feel if he has to push through that audience to do his job? How will the audience dogs respond to having their space intruded upon by an unfamiliar dog? I’ll leave it to you to consider the answers to some of these questions.


2. Scent Detecting Considerations

The very early stages of Scent Detecting training involves “familiarising” your dog to the target odour (Hall et al, 2014). It’s about helping your dog form positive associations with the scent. What starts out as a completely irrelevant odour to your dog (or Neutral Stimulus – NS), will, after “conditioning”, start to predict that good things (food) will follow. In short, your dog starts to develop a strong liking for the odour. Here lies the first potential scent related problem.

If “familiarization” is conducted in an environment where your dog is feeling anxious or worried, perhaps because of the proximity of other unfamiliar dogs, this process is likely to be compromised. It’s certainly worth bearing in mind that “the olfactory system has direct anatomical and phylogenetic linkages to the limbic system, making it the sensory system most closely related to the parts of the brain that seem to mediate emotion” (Wrzesniewski et al, 1999) with a number of studies indicating that “odours present at the time of an event can be encoded in parallel with event details and consequently be used as cues in the retrieval of those event details” (Hughes, 2004). Rather than developing a liking for the target odour your dog might be developing far more negative associations.

And now for the second potential problem. By “familiarising” your dog to the target odour you are attempting to develop a positive conditioned emotional response (CER) … the target scent becomes, as Berridge et al (2009) describe it, a “motivational magnet” which has to be approached, often compulsively! This is definitely the attitude that you’ll want to foster in your scent detecting dog. As soon as he becomes aware of it in the environment it’ll be a cue for him to start working … but … and it’s a very BIG but … what if he’s not the dog whose turn it is to work? What if you have him beside you in the audience? You’ll have spent considerable amounts of time and energy turning what was an irrelevant odour into something that cues him to work and now you’re trying to prevent him working because he’s part of an audience. This has the potential to detract from all the training you’ve put in. Hopefully you’re now starting to see why keeping your dog with you in a search area, when it’s not his turn to work, is a very bad idea!

And finally, the human element of this discussion. I limit any audience to handlers only. If a dog demonstrates any difficulties working around people then the audience is asked to leave the search area until the dog has finished working. This is really no different to my rule that no dog works with other dogs present. In terms of people and what effect they might have on scent, it’s worth considering that every time you move around the search area you’re disturbing the air flow and, with it, scent molecules (Angle et al, 2016). This may, or may not, add to the complexity of the search for your dog but, as your dog’s handler, I ask that you give your dog plenty of space to work and as an audience I ask that you stay seated at all times.

So next time you attend any Scent Detecting event, will you work your dog with other dogs present? Will you let your dog be part of an audience? I’m hoping that you might just give it a little more thought.


Final Note

As with all of my blogs, I include a reference list. This allows you to investigate the topic a little further, check out the sources of my information and decide for yourself whether my interpretations of the literature are an accurate reflection of the author’s work. Happy reading.


© Lesley McAllister – Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2018

www.scentdetectfind.co.uk


References / Further Reading

1. Angle C, Waggoner LP, Ferrando A, Haney P and Passler T (2016) Canine Detection of the Volatilome: A Review of Implications for Pathogen and Disease Detection. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. June. Vol 3. 47. 1-7.

2. Anderson E (2016) Space Invaders. Barks from the Guild. Issue 21. Nov. 18-25.

3. Berridge KC, Robinson TE and Aldridge JW (2009) Dissecting components of reward; ‘Liking’, ‘Wanting’ and ‘Learning’. Current Opinion in Pharmacology. Feb 9(1). 65-73.

4. Custance D and Mayer J (2012) Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to distress in humans; An exploratory study. Animal Cognition. September. Vol 15. Issue 5. 851-859.

5. Furton KG and Myers LJ (2001) The scientific foundation and efficacy of the use of canines as chemical detectors for explosives. Talanta. 54. 487-500.

6. Hall ET and Hall MR (?) The Sounds of Silence. https://mymission.lamission.edu/userdata/etherism/docs/Sounds%20of%20Silence(1).pdf Accessed: 10.8.2018.

7. Hall NJ, Smith DW, Wynne CDL (2014) Effect of odor preexposure on acquisition of an odor discrimination in dogs. Learning and Behavior. 42. 2. 144-152.

8. Hughes M (2004) Olfaction, Emotion & the Amygdala: arousal-dependent modulation of long-term autobiographical memory and its association with olfaction: beginning to unravel the Proust phenomenon? Impulse. June 1 (1). 1-58.

9. Mariti C, Falaschi C, Zilocchi M, Fatjo J, Sighieri C, Ogi A and Gazzano A (2017) Analysis of the intraspecific visual communication in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris): a pilot study on the case of calming signals. Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research. Volume 18. March-April. 49-55.

10. Nielsen BL, Jezierski T, Bolhuis JE, Amo L, Rosell F, Oostindjer M, Christensen JW, McKeegan D, Wells DL and Hepper P (2015) Olfaction: An Overlooked Sensory Modality in Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. December. Vol 2. Article 69.

11. Palagi E, Nicotra V, Cordoni G (2015) Rapid mimicry and emotional contagion in domestic dogs. Royal Society Open Science. 2. 150505.

12. Rugaas T (2006) On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. 2nd Ed. Washington: Dogwise Publishing.

13. Siniscalchi M, d’Ingeo S, Minunno M and Quaranta A (2018) Communications in Dogs. Animals. 8. 131.

14. Sommer R (1959) Studies in Personal Space. Sociometry. 22. 247-260.

15. Wrzesniewski A, McCauley C and Rozin P (1999) Odor and Affect: Individual Differences in the Impact of Odor on Liking for Places, Things and People. Chemical Senses. 24. 713-721.

The Heat Is On: Summer Temperatures and Our Scent Detecting Dogs

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It’s hot out there!


Please Note

The focus of this Blog is our dogs’ normal thermoregulatory mechanisms and how these might impact on their Scent Detecting activities during the warmer summer months. If you feel that your dog is struggling in any way with the heat, SEEK IMMEDIATE QUALIFIED VETERINARY ASSISTANCE.


With day-time temperatures in the UK currently reaching anything between 25°C and 30ºC, social media has seemingly gone into overdrive with dire warnings of the dangers this heat may pose to our dogs. Owners are being advised to curtail all usual activities in a bid to keep their dogs cool and many sporting events have been cancelled or postponed. But what about our scent detecting dogs? Can they continue to work in these high temperatures or should we keep them in the shade until the cooler weather returns?

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Should we retire our Scent Detecting dogs until the temperature drops?


Some background …

Without sweat glands, panting (with accompanying evaporative cooling from the upper respiratory tract) is the main means by which our dogs are able to maintain their normal body temperature of between 37.5°C and 39.1°C (Gazit et al, 2003. Jordan et al, 2016). Any deviations from this narrow range can interfere with normal cellular function (Bear et al, 2016) and, in extreme cases, may result in death.

Our dogs are considered thermally stable when any extra heat they gain is matched by the equivalent amount of heat loss (Stanley, 1980). The thermoneutral zone (TNZ) is the environmental temperature range (between 20°C – 30°C) at which our dogs can maintain their normal body temperature without having to expend energy to either increase heat production or heat loss (Jordan et al, 2016).

The total heat load our dogs experience is made up of both environmental and metabolic factors. If the ambient temperature exceeds our dogs’ body temperature then they will absorb heat from the environment (Jordan et al, 2016). While the heat produced by our dogs’ organs remains fairly constant, heat production by their skeletal muscle is dependent on their activity levels. Up to 80% of our dogs’ body heat is produced by their working muscles (Stanley, 1980).


A little bit of anatomy and physiology … well … quite a lot actually!

Cold– and Warm-sensitive neurons, found in the pre-optic area of the anterior hypothalamus of our dogs’ brains, detect (and respond to) changes in circulating blood temperature. In the case of any rise in temperature, there is a reduction in the release of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) from the anterior pituitary gland resulting in a slowing down of our dogs’ metabolism. Blood is shunted toward our dogs’ peripheries to help dissipate heat through the skin and you might start to notice some behavioural changes including a desire to seek shady areas. In addition, our dogs involuntary motor response is to pant (Bear et al, 2016. Hardy et al, 1964).


If you’d like to find out a little more about the hypothalamus and the pre-optic area … just follow these three links.

https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/2014/5/10/hypothalamus-know-your-brain?rq=hypothalamus

https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/2-minute-neuroscience-hypothalamus-and-pituitary-gland?rq=hypothalamus

https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/know-your-brain-preoptic-area?rq=Temperature%20regulation


Goldberg, et al (1981) have identified three patterns of breathing exhibited by dogs’ as their need for evaporative cooling increases either because of increasing environmental temperature or exercise load. As previously mentioned, up to 80% of our dogs’ body heat is produced by working skeletal muscle!

  • Pattern I – Inhalation and Exhalation through the nose.

Panting I
Pattern I – Inhalation and Exhalation through the nose

This pattern of breathing is characteristic of the resting dog and, in Goldberg, et als (1981) study was observed in dogs who were either resting in environmental temperatures below 26°C or running at slow speeds in cooler temperatures (10°C).

As inhaled air travels to the lungs, it is warmed and humidified by the moist nasal mucosa. In turn, the nasal mucosa is cooled. On exhalation, air loses its heat to the now, cooler, nasal mucosa and water condenses. This counter-current heat exchange system helps our dogs conserve heat and moisture that might otherwise be lost to the external environment.

In contrast, when our dogs’ need to lose heat, this heat-exchange mechanism can be circumvented by a) vasodilation of the nasal mucosa between inhalation and exhalation and b) switching to exhalation through the mouth as in Patterns II and III.

  • Pattern II – Inhalation through the nose. Exhalation through the nose and mouth.

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Pattern II – Inhalation through the nose. Exhalation through the nose and mouth

Goldberg, et al (1981) observed this pattern of breathing in dogs either resting quietly in environmental temperatures ranging between 30°C and 42°C or during exercise (except when running slowly at low temperatures as in Pattern I). In these types of environmental and exercise conditions, dogs breathing was seen to oscillate between patterns II and III.

The dogs normal, resting, respiratory rate of between 10-35 breaths / minute (average 24 breaths / minute) increases to approximately 250 breaths / minute. Interestingly, this panting frequency matches the active sniffing frequency of the scent detecting dog (3-7Hz = 3-7 sniffs / second). Panting and active sniffing frequencies are thought to minimise energy expenditure (Craven et al, 2010. Settles et al, 2002).

Although our dogs can now by-pass the heat exchange system in the nose and increase heat loss by exhaling through their mouths, heat loss still occurs mainly in the nose. Vasodilation of the nasal mucosa, with extra moisture being provided by two lateral nasal glands (Steno’s glands) which open through ducts just inside our dogs’ noses, increases evaporative cooling. As breathing rate increases, so does secretion of fluid from these glands (Blatt, et al, 1972).

  • Pattern III – Inhalation through the nose and mouth. Exhalation through the nose and mouth.

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Pattern III – Inhalation and Exhalation through the nose and mouth

This pattern of breathing is seen in situations of severe heat stress. The amount of time our dogs use this pattern of breathing increases alongside increases in environmental temperature and exercise load. According to Goldberg, et al (1981), exercise will increase our dogs heat load more so than an increasing environmental temperature.

Lingual blood flow (blood flow to the tongue) increases during moderate heat stress alongside Salivation. Saliva production is governed by the hypothalamus as one of its thermoregulatory responses. Evaporative cooling takes place as dry air is inhaled across the moist tongue and mouth.

Unfortunately, although these three respiratory patterns can be useful signposts to us with regard to how our dogs are coping with the environmental temperature or exercise, Baker, et al (1989) warn that dehydrated dogs will reduce thermoregulatory evaporation in order to reduce water loss. In short, a dehydrated dog will have a lower respiratory rate with a consequent higher body temperature as panting is reducedBaker, et al (1989) observed a rapid recovery of panting in their study dogs after they were able to drink water.


So … What does all of this mean for our Scent Detecting dogs?

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Our dogs cannot sniff and pant at the same time

Our dogs’ ability to detect their target odour is largely dependent on their ability to sniff  (Mainland et al, 2006). During normal breathing, approximately 12-13% of inspired air will reach the chemosensory area of our dogs noses – the olfactory epithelium – but, importantly, active sniffing will increase this amount by another 2-3% (Craven et al, 2010).

In high temperature environments or, after strenuous physical activity, our dogs’ need to divert attention away from the scent detecting task (and active sniffing) and toward maintaining their body temperature within normal limits (Gazit et al, 2003). As previously discussed, this requires our dogs to pant.

Unfortunately, when our dogs pant, not only are they NOT actively sniffing but “a large turbulent jet is expired from the mouth, obscuring any scent-bearing air currents in the vicinity. The dog must therefore normally stop panting in order to sniff” (Settles et al, 2002). Our dogs cannot sniff and pant at the same time!

In Gazit et als (2003) study investigating explosives detection by sniffer dogs working in hot climates, they found a decrease in “olfactory efficiency [resulting] mainly from overheating [which caused] physiological and behavioural resources to be diverted from concentration on the assigned task and applied instead to methods of body cooling”. Interestingly, however, after training in, and exposure to, high temperature working environments, their scent detecting performance improved. This is likely to have been due to the process of acclimatization whereby the animal becomes physically adjusted to, and able to tolerate, the temperature of their environment (University of Iowa: Hospitals and Clinics, 2016). Amongst other things, acclimatization to heat decreases the temperature threshold at which heat dissipation mechanisms are activated (Bruchim et al, 2014. Horowitz, 1998); Our dogs’ “cooling strategies” come into play much sooner than they would pre-acclimatization.

According to Horowitz (1998), “heat acclimation is switched on in response to persistent, moderate ambient heat and takes time to develop but is long acting (several weeks)”. Partial acclimatization may take from 10 – 20 days while full acclimatization may take up to 60 days (Jordan et al, 2016). Certainly, from a personal perspective, this rings true for me. Now, a number of weeks into these unusually high UK temperatures, my own dogs are far more active than they were in the early days of this ongoing heatwave.


So … Should we retire our Scent Detecting dogs until the temperature drops? 

With a little care, thought and planning, Summer Scent Detecting is still perfectly possible, however, each of us must decide for ourselves whether it is safe to proceed.


A few points to keep in mind

  1. Our dogs pant in response to an increasing body temperature – we need to keep Scent Detecting sessions short and, wherever possible, work in areas with plenty of shade / protection from the sun.
  2. Panting is an involuntary motor response which helps our dogs’ maintain their body temperature within normal limits – they cannot choose to stop panting and continue sniffing. Scent Detecting activities may take longer than expected as our dogs pant rather than sniff. Ensure plenty of “down-time” and allow our dogs’ to take extra breaks whenever they want to.
  3. Our dogs will cease to pant (and overheat) if they are dehydrated – Ensure a plentiful supply of fresh drinking water at all times. Do not “force” a dog to drink.
  4. Remember that up to 80% of our dogs’ body heat is produced by their working skeletal muscles – Scent Detecting may be a far safer activity for our dogs in high temperature environments than other, more strenuous, sports and hobbies. No dog should be forced to exercise.
  5. Take extra care if you own any of the brachycephalic breeds, eg; pug – the anatomy of their head is likely to interfere with their ability to pant and regulate their temperature (Stanley, 1980).
  6. Our dogs’ can acclimatize to high ambient temperatures but it takes time – Do not expect our dogs’ to be working as enthusiastically, or at as fast a speed, as they would normally during the cooler months.

Happy Scent Detecting!

 


Final Note

As with all of my blogs, I include a reference list. This allows you to investigate the topic a little further, check out the sources of my information and decide for yourself whether my interpretations of the literature accurately reflect the author’s work. Happy reading.


© Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2018


References / Further Reading

  1. Baker M A and Turlejska E (1989) Thermal panting in dehydrated dogs: effects of plasma volume expansion and drinking. European Journal of Physiology. 413. 511-515.
  2. Bear M F, Connnors B W and Paradiso M A (2016) Neuroscience. Exploring the Brain. 4th Ed. Philadephia: Wolters Kluwer.
  3. Blatt C M, Taylor C R and Habal M B (1972) Thermal Panting in Dogs: The Lateral Nasal Gland, a Source of Water for Evaporative Cooling. Science. 804-805.
  4. Bruchim Y, Aroch I, Eliav A, Abbas A, Frank I, Kelmar E, Codner C, Segev G, Epstein y and Horowitz M (2014) Two years of combined high-intensity physical training and heat acclimatization affect lymphocyte and serum HSP70 in purebred military working dogs. Journal of Applied Physiology. 117. 112-118.
  5. Craven B A, Paterson E G and Settles G S (2010) The fluid dynamics of canine olfaction: Unique nasal airflow patterns as an explanation of macrosmia. Journal of the Royal Society. Interface. 7. 933-943.
  6. Gazit I and Terkel J (2002) Explosives detection by sniffer dogs following strenuous physical activity. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 81. 149-161.
  7. Goldberg M B, Langman V A and Taylor C R (1981) Panting In Dogs: Paths Of Airflow In Response To Heat and Exercise. Respiration Physiology. 43. 327-338.
  8. Hardy J D, Hellon R F and Sutherland K (1964) Temperature-Sensitive Neurones in the Dog’s Hypothalamus. Journal of Physiology. 175. 242-253.
  9. Horowitz M (1998) Do Cellular Heat Acclimation Responses Modulate Central Thermoregulatory Activity? News Physiological Science. 13. 218-225.
  10. Jordan M, Bauer A E and Croney C (2016) Temperature Requirements for Dogs. Are they tailored to promote dog welfare? Purdue Extension. October. 1-3.
  11. Mainland J and Sobel N (2006) The Sniff is part of the Olfactory Percept. Chem. Senses. 31. 181-196.
  12. Settles G S, Kester D A and Dodson-Dreibelbis L J (2002) The External Aerodynamics of Canine Olfaction. IN: Barth F G, Humphrey J A C and Secomb T W (Eds) Sensors and Sensing in Biology and Engineering. New York: Springer.
  13. Stanley S M (1980) A Study of Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion in the Dog. Iowa State University Veterinarian. 42. 24-27.
  14. University of Iowa: Hospitals and Clinics (2016) Acclimatization: Adjusting to the Temperature. https://uihc.org/health-topics/acclimatization-adjusting-temperature. Accessed 1.8.2018

The Tortoise and The Hare … and we all know who won that particular race!

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Showing a clean pair of heels

It’s hard not to be impressed by the dog who speeds around the search area appearing totally engaged with the task in hand as he tries to locate his target scent. In comparison, the dog who moves more slowly is often overlooked in favour of his flashier counterpart. But, where scent detecting is concerned, speed might not be everything and selecting the right breed for the job may be more a matter of taste than a matter of science.

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Speed isn’t everything

In the UK, the most commonly selected breeds for scent detecting work include (amongst others) Labradors, Spaniels, Border Collies, German Shepherds and Malinois. But which breed is best?

Gadbois and Reeve (2014) favour the Border Collie, basing their preference, amongst other things, on the breed’s apparent persistence and good sniffing ability. They propose that certain breeds have higher baseline levels of dopamine than others which, they state, “raises the intriguing possibility that baseline dopamine levels may have a direct impact on cognition, motivation, learning, and overall olfactory behaviour and performance”. They refer to this possibility as their “dopamine hypothesis” and link this to the notion of “work ethic”. Other breeds they single out as “dopamine dogs” include Belgian Malinois and Jack Russell Terriers. More about dopamine in a future blog.

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Gadbois and Reeve (2014) favour the Border Collie. Floss in action.

All that said, Hall, et al (2015) and Rooney and Bradshaw (2004) argue that the choice of working dog may have far more to do with historical precedent than any real evidence of superior scent detecting ability. According to Johnen, et al (2017), good quality empirical studies remain thin on the ground and as Jamieson, et al (2017) warn, “continually selecting the same dog breeds, without inspecting other breeds, may reduce the effectiveness of detection dog programs”.

Interestingly, in McCulloch, et als (2006) study investigating the ability of dogs to detect early- and late-stage lung and breast cancer, it was a mix of pet dogs (rather than ‘working’ dogs) with only basic puppy training who (in a matter of weeks) were able to accurately identify breath samples from lung and breast cancer patients.

Hall, et al (2015) argue for the need for “direct behavioural measurement of assumed behavioural breed differences”. Contrary to all expectations, in their 2015 study comparing the scent detecting abilities of German Shepherds, Greyhounds and Pugs, the Pugs significantly outperformed both other breeds.

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The Pug … a surprisingly good scent detecting breed?

Whilst Hall, et als (2015) study may not have persuaded you to purchase your first scent detecting pug … well, not yet anyway … it does raise another important question. Did the Pugs succeed because of their superior olfactory ability or because of the training methods employed in the study?

In an attempt to address this question, Polgar, et al (2016) developed a simple strategy to measure differences in olfactory ability that did not require any pre-training. Raw turkey meat was placed under 1 of 4 ceramic pots. Five levels of difficulty were arranged by way of decreasing numbers of holes in the ceramic pots. Subjects were assigned to one of four groups; dog breeds selected for their scent detecting abilities, dog breeds selected for other purposes, dog breeds with short noses and hand-reared grey wolves. The dogs / wolves were led along the row of pots to identify, by scent alone, which contained the meat. Dog breeds selected for scent detecting work out-performed both the short nosed breeds and those bred for other purposes. At the most difficult level, wolves and the scenting breeds performed better than chance.

Interestingly, according to Maejima, et al (2007), “research with drug detection dogs failed to reveal any significant link between performance and theoretically relevant genotypes” however, Lesniak, et al (2008) argue that breed and heredity may have some influence on scent detecting ability … “there may be a relation between a certain genotype at a particular locus and the ability of more accurate scent detection of particular volatile organic compounds”. This raises the intriguing possibility that not only may some breeds (or individuals within a breed) have better olfactory abilities than others but that some breeds (or individuals within a breed) may have better olfactory abilities when tasked to detect particular target scents.

Similarly, we also show variation in our ability to detect certain odours. Odour sensitivity is heritable. One well referenced example of this “specific anosmia” relates to the ability to detect a sulphurous odour in urine following asparagus consumption (Pelchat, et al (2011)). Some of us can smell it, some of us can’t. Could our dogs also have “specific anosmias”?

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Asparagus – Can you smell it?

Returning then to the original subject of this blog. Tortoise or Hare? Accuracy or speed? According to Helton (2009) “a dog may quickly find substances, but may miss targets because of haste. A dog may also be very slow to find substances, but based on a methodical approach may miss few or no targets”. Self-evidently, a dog whose performance is both accurate and fast seems hugely desirable and, as Helton (2009) suggests, “training and practice can markedly improve skill” … a combination of speed and accuracy, perhaps?

But, can training and practice really alter your dog’s general “approach” (or speed) to scent detecting work? Can you turn your slow and thoughtful Rottie into a speedy working Cocker? Experience would suggest not. Each breed (and every dog within that breed) comes with its own, highly individual, set of characteristics; a mixture of heredity and past life experiences. Far better to work with the dog you have in front of you than attempt to turn him into something he can never be. For me, one of the big enjoyments of working with so many different breeds is their very different styles of working. Each and every one of them brings something new to scent detecting and helps break down any stereotypical views of what different breeds might be capable of. Tortoise or Hare … I’ll take both please!

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Slow and thoughtful Jim

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Speedy Brook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, a thought to leave you with. When Helton, et al (2009) asked a trainer which breed was best as an explosives detector dog, his reply was … “depends on where you live, you see here in the United States it is the Labrador Retriever, in the United Kingdom it is the Springer Spaniel, in Belgium it is the Belgian Malinois, in Germany the German Shepherd, and in Norway, they are pushing the Norwegian Drever, a dog most people have never heard of. Personally, I think it is all goofy, pick any dog you are comfortable with”.

And, if you think a Norwegian Drever might be the scent detecting dog for you … just follow this link … https://www.skk.se/en/NKU-home/nordic-dog-breeds/sweden/drever/

© Lesley McAllister – Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2018

References / Further Reading

  1. Gadbois S and Reeve C (2014) Canine Olfaction: Scent, Sign, and Situation. IN: Horowitz A (Ed) Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior. The Scientific Study of Canis Familiaris. London: Springer.
  2. Hall N J, Glenn K, Smith D W and Wynne D L (2015) Performance of Pugs, German Shepherds and Greyhounds (Canis Lupus Familiaris) on an Odor Discrimination Task. Journal of Comparative Psychology. 129(3). 237-246.
  3. Helton W S (2009) Overview of Scent Detection Work. Issues and Opportunities. IN: Helton W S (Ed) Canine Ergonomics. The Science of Working Dogs. London: Taylor and Francis Group.
  4. Helton W S, Feltovich P J and Velkey A J (2009) Skill and Expertise in Working Dogs. A Cognitive Science Perspective. IN: Helton W S (Ed) Canine Ergonomics. The Science of Working Dogs. London: Taylor and Francis Group.
  5. Jamieson L T J, Baxter G S and Murray P J (2017) Identifying suitable detection dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 195. 1-7.
  6. Johnen D, Heuwieser W and Fischer-Tenhagen C (2017) An approach to identify bias in scent detection dog testing. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 189. 1-12.
  7. Lesniak A, Walczak M, Jezierski T, Sacharczuk M, Gawkowski M and Jaszczak K (2008) Canine Olfactory Receptor Gene Polymorphism and Its Relation to Odor Detection Performance by Sniffer Dogs. Journal of Heredity. 99 (5). 518-527
  8. Maejima M, Inoue-Murayama M, Tonosaki K, Matsuura N, Kato S, Saito Y, Weiss A, Murayama Y and Ito S (2007) Traits and genotypes may predict the successful training of drug detection dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 107. 3-4. 287–298.
  9. McCulloch M, Jezierski T, Broffman M, Hubbard A, Turner K and Janecki T (2006) Diagnostic Accuracy of canine Scent Detection in Early- and Late-Stage Lung and Breast Cancers. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 5(1). 30-39
  10. Pelchat M L, Bykowski C, Duke F F and Reed D R (2011) Excretion and Perception of a Characteristic Odor in Urine after Aspragus Ingestion: a Psychophysical and Genetic Study. Chemical Senses. 36. 1. 9-17.
  11. Polgar Z, Kinnunen M, Ujvary D and Gacsi M (2016) A Test of Canine Olfactory Capacity. Comparing Various Dog Breeds and Wolves in a Natural Detection task. Plos One. May. 1-14.
  12. Rooney N J and Bradshaw J W S (2004) Breed and sex differences in the behavioural attributes of specialist search dogs – a questionnaire survey of trainers and handlers. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 86. 123-135.

Blank Searches. Yes or No?

The Blank Search – where your dog is required to search an environment that doesn’t contain his target scent – continues to be a common feature of many Scent Detecting Courses. If you’ve already spent many hours encouraging your dog to search for, and locate, his target scent, why might you want (or need) to train your dog to search an area when it isn’t there?

Two common responses to this question, include;

  1. Blank searches will increase your dog’s motivation to search.
  2. Future search areas may not contain your dog’s target scent. He needs to be ‘trained’ in preparation for this.

So, let’s examine each of these claims in turn and see just how much water they hold.

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Do these claims hold any water?

Blank searches will increase your dog’s motivation to search.

In a study by Gazit, et al (2005), seven highly trained explosives detection dogs took part in a series of 4 experiments.

In the first experiment the dogs were trained alternately on two very similar paths. Path A always contained 5 hidden explosives whilst Path B contained no explosives. In just a few sessions the dogs demonstrated a significant decrease in search behaviour on Path B but not on Path A. This seems to offer the first, albeit small, piece of evidence that blank searches may actually reduce, rather than increase, a dog’s motivation to search.

In the second experiment the dogs were trained exclusively on Path B. 1 explosive was hidden on the path every 4 days. The dogs detection rates during this second experiment were found to be significantly lower than in the first experiment.

The third experiment was conducted on Path C. As in the second experiment, only 1 explosive was hidden on this new path every 4 days. Interestingly, both the probability of detection and motivation to search were significantly higher than in second experiment despite the number of hidden explosives being the same in both experiments.

In the fourth experiment the dogs were returned to Path B. Despite being trained for another 12 days, with 1 explosive being hidden on the path on each of the daily sessions, the dogs failed to demonstrate the levels of motivation that they had previously shown when searching any of the other paths that had usually contained explosives.

According to Gazit, et al (2005), these findings suggest that even a highly trained Explosives Detection Dog will quickly learn that a specific area does not contain explosives and, as a result, the dog will be “less motivated to search and will miss newly placed targets”.

As the Gazit, et al (2005) study demonstrates, the loss in search and detection performance following exposure to only a small number of blank searches, is ‘context specific’. In other words, the decline in the dogs performance is limited to the area in which they have been exposed to the blank search condition. These findings are further supported by Porritt, et als (2015) study into performance decline in search dogs. They state that “without the opportunity to find rewarded targets in repetitive search environments, scent detecting dogs will become ineffective after a short period, and this performance decrement is hard to reverse”.

So, what are the implications of these study results for your own scent detecting training? Because of the speed at which this decline in motivation to search is evidenced, I no longer set up any blank searches for my own dogs and actively discourage my clients from doing so too. Although this reported decline in motivation is said to be context specific, this may actually cause you extra difficulties. For many of you, choice of training area can be very limited and if you practice blank searches in your regular venue it seems likely that this will be to the detriment of any future training in this same area. As Gazit, et al (2005) conclude, “if the [search] behavior is extinguished in a specific context, it will be very difficult to restore that [search] behavior in that context”.

Some anecdotal evidence, provided by my own two dogs, may lend further support to my ‘Just say NO to Blank Searches‘ training stance. ‘L’ has experienced a number of blank searches in her scent detecting training career. ‘BB’, has no experience of blank searches. Although it has been many years since ‘L’s’ last blank search, her motivation to search is, in my opinion, markedly reduced. She has a tendency to slow down and eventually stop searching if she doesn’t locate her target scent within just a few minutes. In contrast, ‘BB’s’ motivation to locate the target scent increases (faster and more thorough) the longer the search continues. ‘L’ has been ‘fooled’ in the past – asked to search when the area was blank. ‘BB’ has never experienced this ‘deception’ – if asked to search all his experiences tell him that his target scent will be present, he just needs to continue searching (perhaps more thoroughly) until he can locate it … and he does!

It seems worth asking ourselves here whether it’s reasonable to cue our dogs to perform a  behaviour that we know, because of the set-up, they won’t be able to complete? One example that comes immediately to mind is the practice of pretending to throw a toy. The dog rushes off to find it, searches around for a while, looks back, ‘puzzled’, at the ‘thrower’ and, eventually, gives up. Personally, I dislike this practice and I’m pretty sure the dog isn’t too keen on it either!

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Pretending to throw a toy …

Similarly, with the blank search, the dog is cued to perform a very specific behaviour chain – search an area, locate the target scent and indicate its location. Except … it can’t. It’s been set-up to fail. There is no target scent to find. Not only does this practice run the very real risk of diminishing the dog’s motivation to search but I wonder what it does for the relationship between dog and handler? Worth thinking about?

Future search areas may not contain your dog’s target scent. He needs to be ‘trained’ in preparation for this.

For the pet, hobby or sports dog I can think of no convincing reason that they should ever have to search an area devoid of target scent. Unfortunately, because blank searches continue to appear in the competition scent-work arena, handlers may feel that they have little option but to train for this possibility. I would simply urge caution.

In contrast, blank searches are a very real, everyday, experience for the working dog team; those that earn their living by scent detecting. But does this have to be the case?

According to Porritt, et al (2015) “a co-trained, non-contraband odour, secreted in a dog’s working environment and contingently reinforced upon being found, acts to maintain performance in finding contraband target odours that would be rarely encountered during a dog’s working life”.

In Porritt, et als (2015) study, 21 labrador retrievers were trained to detect 3 ‘contraband’ odours (explosives) and 1 ‘non-contraband’ odour. They were then exposed to a number of different experimental search conditions. The group of dogs who had worked extensively with the non-contraband odour showed “little difference in their detection on non-explosive and explosive targets in the test phase. … maintenance of expectation to find any target was sufficient to maintain attention to all odour targets”.

So, what does this all mean? Put simply, it suggests a highly practical method by which the blank search problem can be managed. Working dogs can be trained to detect multiple scents (Williams and Johnston (2002) suggest that dogs can be trained to detect up to ten different scents) including one that can be placed in the working environment prior to a search to ensure that there is always a find for the dog. A highly practical solution to the blank search problem!

Blank searches. Yes or No? I think you know my answer.

 

© Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2018

References / Further Reading

  1. Gazit I, Goldblatt A and Terkel J (2005) The role of context specificity in learning: The effects of training context on explosives detection in dogs. Animal Cognition. August. 143-150.
  2. Porritt F, Shapiro M, Waggoner P, Mitchell E, Thomson T, Nicklin S and Kacelnik A (2015) Performance decline by search dogs in repetitive tasks, and mitigation strategies. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 166. 112-122.
  3. Williams M and Johnston J M (2002) Training and maintaining the performance of dogs (canis familiaris) on an increasing number of odor discriminations in a controlled setting. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 78(1). 55-65.

False Indications, Clever Hans and You

In Berlin, during the late 1800’s, a horse named Hans started to demonstrate some amazing mathematical abilities. When asked a variety of computational questions, Hans would respond by stamping his hoof the correct number of times. According to his owner, Wilhelm von Osten, Hans could also tell the time, and successfully tackle more complex calculations (Jackson, 2005).

Initial investigations, by Professor Carl Stumpf, could find no evidence of cheating or trickery. Hans did, indeed, seem to be a very clever horse but not, perhaps, in the way that was first thought!

Hans with Osten
Hans and his owner, Wilhelm von Osten. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osten_und_Hans.jpg)

During 1907, further investigations, led by Professor Oscar Pfungst, reached the conclusion that, rather than being able to count, Hans was responding to the subtle postural and facial cues of his owner and other onlookers. Hans could only correctly answer questions that his questioner also knew the answers to. Additionally, Hans was unable to give a correct response if his questioner was hidden from view (Samhita and Gross, 2013).

What became known as the ‘Clever Hans Phenomenon’ or ‘Clever Hans Effect’ – “where a person or animal can be influenced by subtle and unintentional cueing on the part of a questioner” (Jackson, 2005) – led directly to the development of the “double blind” approach within scientific investigations; where neither the investigator nor the subject knows who is in the test or control groups.

So, what has the ‘Clever Hans Phenomenon’ got to do with you and your Scent Detecting dog? Well, just like Hans, your dog recognises and responds to the subtle (and not so subtle) cues delivered by those around him … including you, his handler!

This effect can be incredibly powerful and can influence your dogs actions in the most profound ways. In an interesting study by Szetei and Miklosi (2003), almost 50% of the study dogs would go to an empty bowl indicated to them by a person pointing to it rather than to a bowl in which the dog had previously seen and smelt food!

In another study by Lit, et al (2011), 18 drug / explosive detection dog and handler teams were given a number of detection tasks to complete. None of the tasks contained drug / explosive scent. In other words, they were all ‘blank’ searches. Any alerts / indications that the dogs gave would be incorrect, or, ‘false positive’ indications. Two of the detection tasks included a small piece of paper that falsely marked a scent location and two other detection tasks contained a decoy scent (toy / food).

In the detection tasks that included the false paper markers the handlers reported that their dogs alerted more at the marked locations than in other parts of the search area. According to Lit and her co-authors, when the handlers believed that there was scent present in the search area (paper markers) they were more inclined to claim that their dogs had indicated on a ‘target scent’; a ‘false positive’ indication. As Lit, et al (2011) state, this would seem to confirm that “handler beliefs affect outcomes of scent detection dog deployments”.

Interestingly, in the same study, when there were no paper markers present, there were more ‘correct’ (no indication) searches. It would seem then that we are as vulnerable to the ‘Clever Hans Effect’ as our dogs; taking cues from our environment and acting on our beliefs about these cues.

It’s worth noting here that, at the time of publication, the Lit, et al (2011) study received considerable criticism. If you’d like to know a little more about this debate, here are two interesting links to follow;

https://www.npr.org/2017/11/20/563889510/preventing-police-bias-when-handling-dogs-that-bite

http://swgdog.fiu.edu/news/2012/swgdog-response-to-lit-k9-study/swgdog_response_to_lit_study.pdf

So, how can you help guard against the ‘Clever Hans Effect’ in your own Scent Detecting work?

Practice more ‘Blind Searches’ – Find a training partner, someone who can hide your dog’s target scent for you. If you don’t know where it’s located you’ll be less likely to influence your dog’s searching behaviour. Remember, Hans could only ‘answer’ questions that his questioner could also answer. Your dog will now have to ‘answer’ the scent detecting question for himself.

Keep an OPEN mind – As Lit and her co-authors (2011) demonstrated, even a Blind Search doesn’t prevent you from starting to second-guess where the target scent might (or might not) be located. Something in the search area – for Lit, et al’s (2011) subjects it was a small piece of paper, for you it might be a chair that’s been moved – can cause you to encourage your dog  into, or away from, a certain area. Beware of any internal dialogue that tells you “He wouldn’t have put it there” because, guess what … he HAS put it there! I fell into this trap AGAIN just a few days ago. Believing I knew where the target scent wouldn’t be resulted in me directing my dog away from the correct search area. Ho hum. Time to follow my own advice!

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Keep an open mind

Allow your dog to work independently – I’m a big advocate of ‘Free Searching’. By this I mean letting your dog work away from you, choosing his own route around the search area without close-control and direction from you. Look out for a future Blog focusing specifically on this topic. Giving your dog space to work and, more importantly, resisting the temptation to start searching yourself – looking in boxes, opening cupboards, peering under furniture – helps alleviate any tendency that your dog might have to watch for cues from you rather than search the environment carefully himself. As the saying goes, “Why have a dog and bark yourself”? If you start to show interest in a particular part of the search area it’s highly likely that your dog will too. As soon as this happens, believing that your dog has located the target scent source, you’ll start to look harder yourself. A vicious circle with the almost inevitable result – a false indication from your dog prompted by inadvertent cues from you.

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Poppy working independently

Consider your audience – Like Hans, your dog will respond to cues from any onlookers in the search area. Whenever possible, try to set up searches where your audience is also unaware of the location of the target scent. If they don’t know where it is they’re less able to inadvertently influence your dog’s search. Encouraging your audience to talk to one another can be helpful too. The more attention they’re giving one another during the search the less attention they’ll be paying to your dog. Less helpful is ‘audience silence’ and ‘breath-holding’ as your dog comes close to his target scent.

With “increasing evidence for an acute sensitivity to human gestures and attentional states” in our dogs (Udell, et al 2010), guarding against the Clever Hans Phenomenon can be problematic but an essential consideration in the development of a reliable scent detecting dog.

© Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2018

References / Further Reading

  1. Jackson J (2005) The Clever Hans effect – a horse’s tale. Critical Thinking. http://www.critical-thinking.org.uk/pdf/clever-hans.pdf
  2. Lit L, Schweitzer J B and Oberbauer A M (2011) Handler beliefs affect scent detection dog outcomes. Animal Cognition. 14: 387-394
  3. Samhita L and Gross H J (2013) The “Clever Hans Phenomenon” revisited. Communicative and Integrative Biology. 6:6. November – December
  4. Szeiti V and Miklosi A (2003) When dogs seem to lose their nose: an investigation on the use of visual and olfactory cues in communicative context between dog and owner. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Sept 5. Vol 83. Issue 2. 141-152
  5. Udell M A R, Dorey N R and Wynne C D L (2010) What did domestication do to dogs? A new account of dogs’ sensitivity to human actions. Biological Reviews. 2010. 85. 327-345