Scent Work 1-2 – Handling Odor

How To Handle Odor

We call containers/items that have odor in them as “hot” and containers/items that do not (will never) have odor in them as “cold”.
The most important aspect is to avoid contamination!! If you get oil on your hands and then touch objects in your environment or search area, the scent can linger for months.  This can cause your dog to alert on odor when not intended or have them around odor when not training. Neither are what we want! Once a container has been used as a hot container, IT MUST ALWAYS REMAIN A HOT CONTAINER. Even if it just had a hot tin in it, odor will linger and if qtips ever fall out of tin or you handle the hot box after preparing odor, it’s more likely it has scent on it and into the material.  So ALWAYS use tweezers when you handle your Qtips!
The second most important aspect is to never leave odor out when you are not training your dog. We never want our dog to be around odor when not working since they aren’t getting rewarded or will start thinking odor doesn’t pay! Store your kits and hot boxes/containersin a room/basement/garage where your dog never goes. You can also put your kit in another container to help contain the odor. I also store my cold containers seperately from my hot containers!
You all should have your kits. The kit will have a vial of birch scented qtips and vial with cocktail scented qtips. They should last up to 3 months or so without refreshing. Your kit should also include a small tin with holes and tweezers.
If you are making your own kits, put 3-4 drops of oil on a cotton ball (preferably a flat one) and place on the bottom of the jar. Place the qtips cotton down in the jar (cut in half first) and then drop 2-3 drops of oil on the inside of the lid. Close and shake. Give it at least 24 hours to sit before using. The smell should not be over powering, but enough for you to smell when you place the qtips in your qtip container for training.
Another method is to have an extra jar just for making scented qtips. Coat that jar with oil and extract out the extra so there is no pooling of liquid odor. Place your new cut qtips in the jar and let sit for 24-48 hours. Transfer the qtips to your main jar.
If you are doing primarily AKC Scent Work, the method of applying odor is applying 2 small drops of oil directly on the Qtip.  If you do this, make sure that you are using gloves and that you don’t spill any oil.  You might also want to place the new Qtips in a jar for about 24 hours being using them.  NOTE: This is A LOT of odor… best to start your dog using the NACSW strength (previous paragraph) so that the odor is not aversive.  Also, it’s important regardless of the venue that you compete in to use variable strengths of odor once we get to searching.
When making new Qtips, always use plain Qtips with a normal cardboard stick and pure cotton swabs.  Don’t use the kind with a plastic stick for several reasons…  (1) Birch can melt plastic, (2) plastic comes with it’s own odor and we don’t want to pair that odor with the target odor and (3) these types of Qtips might not be 100% cotton.
When training Nosework, the qtips will always be in some type of “container” or “vessel” so that the qtips are not exposed. Also, we don’t want the dogs to chew or swallow the scented qtips! The small tin in your kit is used for this purpose.  We will call these “qtip containers”. Sometimes a dog can get used to looking for/smelling a tin with odor. Eventually we will move to other qtip containers like straws or heat shrink tubes. Some dogs have difficulty with the transition from the metal tin to other types of qtip containers if they stay on the tin for a long time. Usually it’s a visual thing when they can’t “see” the tin, they aren’t sure or will alert on something that looks like a tin if they are near source.
When you are preparing your qtip containers to place the qtips in, always work in an area where you can safely take the qtips out of the jar and into the container.  Use tweezers!
  • Avoid dropping qtips on the floor or work surface.
  • Avoid getting odor on the outside of the tin
  • Avoid getting odor on your hands. You can use disposable nitrile gloves or wash your hands immediately after preparing your tins.  Vinegar is recommended to get odor off your hands.
  • Use a table cloth or mat in case you do drop one.
When we start using large containers for searching, we will call these “search containers”. You’ll put the qtip container (with qtips inside) inside the vented container. Examples of search containers are the ORT boxes, plastic tupperware containers and eventually luggage, bags, etc that can be used in the container element searches.
One of the other common questions is how often to refresh the jar of qtips and how?? You’ll find many different methods discussed on the various forums.
  • Generally refresh about every 3 months or sooner if you think they are weak. You want to be able to smell the odor but not be overwhelmed by it. If you use TOO much and your dog is used to A LOT of odor, your dog may struggle on less odor at tests and trials.
  • Refresh by taking the lid off, dropping 2-3 drops on the inside of the lid, place it back on the jar (quickly) and shake!
  • You can also use a flat cotton ball on the bottom of the jar that is scented with the odor and the qtips placed cotton down so they rest on the cotton ball.
How many qtips do you need in training? When starting out, you can increase odor by having 4 or 5 qtips in the tin, but as with anything you should vary the number you use as it can vary at a test. For your ORT, the rules explicitly state that 3 qtips are taped inside the box (underneath the top lid). You might want to train with 3 most of the time. then go down to 1 for a bit of a  challenge. And use more than 3 if you’re setting up a difficult hide.
Another frequent question is how to take your odor on the road when training. One method is to prepare tins/containers before leaving the house so you’re not messing with the odor/jars away from home. Put qtips in the qtip containers and put the container in a zip lock baggie or a more sealed item like a glass jar.  Your beginner kits or a dive container is perfect for this purpose.
It’s also suggested to store your prepared tins/holders in the refrigerator or freezer between sessions to save on prep time. This prevents the qtips from drying out.
Over time you will find what methods work for you and it will become easier and easier to manage the kits and odors.

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