As many will know, we have been running Sport Scent Dog Discrimination classes at the Academy for some time now. In researching for presentation of this class I ran across a recent study published in a scientific journal presenting some insight to the extent that scent plays in the life of our canine family members.
The study was designed to identify any differences in response to human vs canine scents. But what I found more interesting than the result, was the whole experimental design and training involved to carry it out.
According to the study there is a well known area of the brain responsible for prediction of a reward. The study group used a functional MRI to examine the brain’s response to various scents. Now I have never personally been in an MRI machine, but from what I have seen on TV and heard anecdotally, they are loud, Closter phobic and scary. And that’s for humans! The dogs had to be trained to remain motionless with there head on a chin rest inside the machine for 30 minutes at a time while the scents were presented!
Quoting directly from the report;
“The program was based on acclimatization to the MRI scanner noise, tight scanner enclosure, scanner steps, and operating vibrations and the shaping and ultimate chaining of several requisite behaviors. To do this, we constructed two replica MRIs, each of which consisted of a tube of approximately the same dimensions as the inner bore of the actual Siemens MRI, a patient table, portable steps, and multiple simulated receiver coils that adhered closely to the dimensions of a human neck coil. We also constructed a proprietary chin rest that facilitated comfort and proper positioning for the animals and that adapted the apparatus for the uniqueness of the canine anatomy. Once the animals became confident and competent regarding all the preparatory steps – proven by completing a simulated MRI in the replica apparatus – we then performed live scans in the actual MRI.”…” They were all highly proficient remaining in the chin rest, wearing ear muffs, while hearing the scanner sounds.”
And further on:
“Training for the smell experiment consisted of biweekly instruction at our training facility and practice at home with the mock head coil and chin rest. Because the dogs were already proficient in the basic behavior of placing the head in the chin rest and remaining motionless, the added training was aimed at acclimating the dogs to the presentation of a cotton swab in front of the nose. Using 6-in. sterile cotton swabs, handlers moved the swab to within a centimeter of the dog's nose. In the initial stage of training, dogs were rewarded quickly for not moving either toward or away from the swab. This was achieved through either clicker or praise and followed by a food reward. Once dogs demonstrated proficiency at not reacting to the swab, we replaced the clicker and praise with the hand signal learned in the original experiment. The hand signal thus functioned as a “visual clicker indicating correct behavior and imminent reward (because clickers cannot be heard reliably in the scanner)”
The scents presented were ;
· Familiar Human
· Strange Human
· Familiar Dog
· Strange Dog
In every case, each of the scents stimulated the olfactory area of the brain, but the area associated with positive expectations was stimulated maximally by the familiar human scent, negatively by the strange human and strange dog and not at all by the dog’s own scent. (I’m not clear how the negative responses were measured)
What we can take away from this is the malleability of our dog’s behaviour even in situations most humans find uncomfortable, and what every dog owner already knew, the extent of olfactory experience in the dog’s life.
It may be interesting in our next Scent Dog Detection Class to try the Familiar Human scent experiment. The complete study can be found at : http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376635714000473
The first sense that a puppy develops is the sense of smell. And for the life of your dog that will remain his first and foremost sense as he learns to explore the world that he lives in.
It is estimated that the dog’s sense of smell is about 2,000 times greater than a human’s sense of smell.
Humans determined long ago that it might be a good idea to put that natural ability to good use. And so many dogs have been partnered with their human companion, to hunt with their nose or track with their nose. Others have been trained to detect drugs, gas leaks, and many other things. It seems that there is no limit to the dog’s ability to find things through its sense of smell.
If you ever thought about doing something with your dog but are not keen on the discipline required to train for obedience, agility or Rally you might consider a sport that is a lot less rigorous. No running involved at all! Exploring the world of canine scent detection is a totally positive and rewarding sport that gives your dog a job to do that he already knows how to do better than you do! All that you have to do is teach him exactly what it is that you want him to find and go from there. Sport scent detection is a new dog sport that includes dogs from every size and shape. Any breed or mix of breeds can be involved in doing scent dog work. All that is required is a nose!
Nose work training teaches your dog to find one of three scents, wherever you decide to hide it. In nose work competitions, there are four locations involved in searching: interiors, exteriors, containers, and vehicles.
Canine scent detection is good for shy dogs, older dogs and some dogs that are not as comfortable in strange places. It gives them a job to do that involves a skill that they already possess.
Nose work training begins with encouraging the dog to hunt. This is encouraged through the use of positive reinforcement, while you learn how to read your dog’s body language to determine when your dog has found the required scent. Positive reinforcement can be food, a ball or something like a tug toy.
Gradually scent detection is enhanced and developed by encouraging the dog to search in increasingly difficult locations and with less and less scent.
We are pleased to announce that we are again teaching a canine sport scent detection class in November. This class will be held in Peterborough and limited to only 6 students.
Do you own one of those extra special dogs? I know they are all special! But I mean one of those dogs who seems to do everything perfectly. Or one of those dogs that can find the ball when you have no idea where it is. Or perhaps you have a dog whose favourite thing to do is to taking a running leap off of your dock.
All of these things are dog sports. Dock diving is a huge new sport open to any dog that loves to run off of a dock and jump in the water. Usually they jump in after their favourite toy but whatever it takes will work. It is a refreshing summer activity for your dog.
And for the dog that can always find that ball…why not try Nosey Dogs? This is a sport that encourages the dog to use its natural talents in a very fun and constructive game loosely based on area searches. The dog eventually learns to find a particular scent. You would be amazed at what they can find and how little it takes. We do this sport at DueNorth and it is a very popular class.
If you are the kind of owner that loves to train your dog and it walks perfectly on a leash….you are half way there….to a Companion Dog title. A Companion Dog title is a title that you can earn through the Canadian Kennel Club….and it is the Novice class.
This level is considered the basic level that any companion dog should be able to do to be a companion dog….hence the name. We do this here at DueNorth….in fact we do a lot of it and it is our favourite thing to do.
If you have a retriever who drives you insane all the time because he just has to have something in his mouth to carry around….you might take a look at retriever training.
This is a huge big game to the dogs….they love it. Bring your ear plugs though because once they find out how much fun it is they’ll be screaming for more of it.
If you want a less formal type of obedience competition….there is the new sport of Rally Obedience which encourages an ongoing dialogue with your dog while still focusing on obedience.
If your ears can handle the noise, your dog is fast and loves balls there is always fly ball. If your not too sure about it….why not go and watch. I hear there is a big tournament on in Norwood soon.
Herding dogs have their sports as well You can start out with herding ducks and then move on to the bigger livestock like sheep. And cattle dogs of course herd cattle.
There are folks in Lakefield that do carting with Newfoundlands and other giant breeds. A lot of these dogs were the poor man’s horse and actually worked for their keep.
Indeed almost all dogs were bred to do a job and no matter what it is I can assure you that someone out there is still doing it. There are sled dogs, lure coursing dogs, scent hurdling dogs and tracking dogs….the list is long and varied. And nothing bonds you to a dog more than working with it. So get up, get the leash and do something fun with your pooch….there are lots of people around to help you get started. And fall is such a great time for dog sports. Enjoy it!