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.