Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Scent Work 101

Working terriers operate as diminutive scent hounds.

In fact, the work of a terrier is indistinguishable in the field from that of a dachshund (a true scent hound).

Both dogs find their quarry by sniffing the air and the ground until they happen to cut across a "hot" trail leading to a hot hole.

Most folks who work terriers find they do not have to do too much to actually get their dogs operational.

The same is true for most scent hound hunters. Scent is a powerful stimulus for dogs, and they will naturally follow a "sweet" scent out of curiosity, or some small hope of food, sex, or excitement.

So how do you amplify and channel this natural trait?

For starters, get a bottle of fox, raccoon or coyote pee from a local hunting or sports store or from a mail-order vendor like Amazon.

Next you need to make a drag out of an 18" inch square piece of heavy cloth or leather chamois (available at any auto-supply store).

Tie a 15-foot piece of cord to your scent drag, and slide a small stack of metal washers or fishing weights down the cord so the drag now has a small amount of weight attached to it.

Now load some of your store-bought critter pee into a cheap spray bottle, being sure not to get any on your hands.

Finally, obtain a package of hot dogs.

Got it all?

Good. Now we are almost ready to go train the dog!

Before we do that, however we want to get your dog well-motivated, and the secret here is to not feed the dog for a full 24 hours. You want that dog sharp! A hungry dog is a brilliant dog.

Now load everything into your truck or car and go out to a farm area where a grassy field or meadows borders a forest.

Leave your dog crated up in the car or truck while you walk down the edge. You should have the leather drag with you, along with the hot dogs, and the spray bottle with the critter pee in it.

About 200 feet from the vehicle, stop and spray the leather drag with critter pee, coating it well, but not getting any on yourself.

Now drop the drag in the middle of the trail (you can spritz the trail itself if you want) and walk perpendicular to the edge habitat, heading up into the grassy field.

As much as possible, you want to make an obvious trail in the grass, dragging the pee-scented leather or cloth behind you.

At the end of a straight 30-foot drag, stop and leave half a hot dog right in the middle, where it is quite clearly visible.

Pick up the drag and walk back the way you came to the exact spot where you took off perpendicular to the path.

From this spot, continue down the edge another 50 feet and then drop the drag and cut across the trail again, this time going 40 feet going into the woods side, dragging the pee-scented leather or cloth behind you as before.

Scuff logs and break a little brush as you go. An easily visible trail with a lot of scent is not a bad thing to have early on in the training process.

At the end of this straight 40-foot drag, leave the other half of the hot dog in plain site.

Continue down this math, making scent trails this until you have run out of hot dogs, each time making the distance to the hot dog a little longer, curving the trail, and perhaps making the trail a little less obvious.

Now take the dog out on a leash and walk down the path you started. You can slow down a little at the spot where the first "trail" goes off into the grass. Give the dog a chance to succeed, but do not shove the dog or make suggestions. Be calm and mellow. The scent is supposed to do the work, not you.

Once the dog starts down the path (you will wait at this spot until it does), quietly encourage the dog. When the hot dog has been found, and after it has been gobbled up, make a big happy production out of it with a little play and a scratch behind the ears. Good dog!

Now let's see if we can do that again another 150 feet down the hedge.

Repeat this process a dozen times an outing over the next few weeks, extending the trail, curving the trail and even cutting off at sharp angles.

In only a few outings, your dog will quickly "get it." The smell of a critter means hot dogs and play! Critter smells are FUN to follow.

Next, start putting live rats or mice in rat boxes at the end of the scent trail.  As much as a dog likes a bit of hot dog, they will like this part more, as once the rat box is located, the mouse or rat is going to be released for the dog to chase.  Will he catch it?  Maybe, maybe not.  Either way, the code will explode inside the dog provided it is over 6 months old, and pretty soon you will have a dog that is truly scent hunting and looking for vermin with a vengeance.

1 comment:

5string said...

Besides the varmint pee drag, the dog will also smell your own fresh trail.
I find it impossible to hide from my Ratties when we are in the woods. I watch them run right past me but as soon as they cross my footsteps they have a dead bead on me.