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 my next Blog – “Smoothing out the Lumpy Bits; Why it might be wise to teach the indication before the search”. 

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.