Training a reliable detection dog is not easy because we need to dive into the minor details of training. Many books, YouTube videos, FB posts, Insta tips, online courses, and many instructors will tell you a different approach. Many roads lead to Rome. There is not one perfect approach that will always get you there. The reason for this is that, like humans, also dogs have different personalities and different learning styles. But what is the same for every approach is a strong foundation. I like to split the various fundamentals of the detection training. This week I want to highlight the importance of Odor Delivery Devices, the so-called ODDs.
There are many Odor Delivery Devices (ODDs), and they are used in detection training differently. The ODD is an essential device in detection training. It is a topic that needs to be highlighted more, while the impact of these devices is enormous on the quality of our work! The function is already clarified in the name, and the device will deliver an odor.
The ODD has many functions like;
1 Protecting the odor source
Suppose your odor source is vulnerable, like insects, small animals, or eggs in wildlife protection. In that case, it’s essential to protect them against predators or the impact of a dog’s nose or paw when your wildlife detection dog because a little bit too enthusiastic.
2 Protecting your dog
Odor sources can be dangerous for your dog. For instance, many sorts of explosive and narcotic materials are toxic. You don’t want your dog to have contact with these chemicals. There are dogs protecting birds of prey by searching for poisonous meat planted by people who want to kill these birds. You don’t want your dog to make a mistake and eat a piece like that. Yes, I agree, a well-conditioned passive alert would avoid these dangers but do you dare to take this gamble in a double-blind operational search? And do remember it will take some time and a very skilled trainer to teach your dog to that level of a very reliable passive alert!
3 Protecting your search area or training ground
When hiding your target odors in a specific area, you need to be aware of the contamination of the area. It’s common knowledge in the professional detection world that the residue of a target odor can trigger other dogs to react to the place where the hide was before. That can cause a problem for your overall detection dog program. It can lead to frustration for dogs and their handlers. And what if the dog is detecting a target odor, but for the trainer, that is not possible. Because the trainer is unaware of the contamination of the previous hide, he is not reinforcing the dog. Or even mark it as a false positive indication! ODDs can help to keep your training area clean.
Contamination of an area can also lead to even more significant problems. All the alarm bells will go off, planes will be grounded, and people will have to evacuate the building. The reason is that a security officer with an electronic sensor detects explosive residue. But what if that is from your previous training session? You want to avoid being responsible for that sort of confusion.
Besides protecting the odor source, your dog, or the search area, there are more reasons to use ODDs. These devices will allow you to hide odors most creatively. ODDs come in different sizes and materials. You can hide them, bury them, hang them, submerge them, throw them, shoot them into terrain with a giant catapult or pull them on a thin wire. ODDs will give us the creativity to train our detection dogs to the highest level. I use ODDs that I bury under the ground, and when I return to that area after a week, I can do a natural double-blind search because vegetation has changed so much. Or I submerge them under water, hang them with magnets under vehicles or pull them on a thin wire to teach my wildlife detection dog that the odor source is always moving.
ODDs will also help you to overcome Clever Hans problems
Dogs are opportunistic animals that use any kind of shortcut to get to their reinforcer. Using its nose to find a target odor, sampling the different odors, and deciding if it’s the target odor or a distraction is an intense process for the dog. So when it’s easier to look for other cues that will lead to the reinforcer, dogs will do. They are not as integers as most humans think. If you tend to hide your target odor in a specific object, the dog will try to alert to this object even when there is no target odor. Using many of the same ODDs, we can teach our dogs that only their nose will lead the reinforcement by finding the target odor. Because all odds look the same, the only difference is the target odor.
ODDs allow us to do objective testing.
We can test dog combinations objectively with a lineup of odds that look exactly the same. There is no excuse that the dog prefers a specific shape, color, or material. Nobody has to question if a particular material will affect the odor picture. And all ODDs will give off odor in the same way. By loading odds with distraction odors, no odors, and target odor(s) we can test the dog and handler most objectively.
Use as many different ODDs as you can
It’s not only the size or color of the ODD that will become a cue for the dog. It’s also the odor of the material of the ODD itself that becomes a cue for the dog. Imagine that you only will use a specific plastic cup as your ODD to prevent odor contamination of your training area. The dog will learn that the target combines a specific (target) odor AND that specific plastic cup. By using a variety of ODDs, the dog will learn that only target odor will lead to reinforcement.
Odor Delivery Device versus an odor carrier
It can be the same, but in general, an odor carrier is a piece of material that contains the odor liquid, powder, or whatever odor material you are working with. It can be a wrapping, a plastic bag, a piece of paper, a cotton ball, a cotton pad, a cloth, special paper, or whatever material you use to put your odor on. We often put these odor carriers because it’s easier to handle during training.
See the big picture in your work.
One of the persons I highly respect for her fantastic work on this topic is Lisa Albuquerque (USA) and her husband Joe. She reacted to one of my posts, warning that extinction does not work the way most handlers think it does. When using any container, barrier materials, gloves etc., you must make sure PRIOR to beginning with the target odor that you have extincted any natural interest the dog has in this interesting and novel odor. Many exposures to the items, in all contexts, to the point where the item is of absolutely no interest to the dog is critical so that the dog does not (1) select some of the item odors as part of their olfactory picture – those will not be there IRL, and (2) use the item itself as a cue for where to search and, potentially, not search carefully when the item is absent. We all know to use uncontaminated blanks in training to ‘proof’ the dog off them – but what we don’t realize is we are proofing off a problem we created through our training practices. You aren’t fighting spontaneous recovery if you never trained it in initially.
The ‘mother of all odor delivery devices.’
Michele Maughan (USA) and her team did the perfect job designing one of the best Odor Delivery Devices. It is absolutely amazing what they have achieved. She named it the TADD (Training Aid Delivery Device). Original created for the US Army and designed by canine trainers and scientists. And I’m so glad that they brought it to the K9 community! What is the TADD containment system? Most simply, it’s a container that lets the odor of your training aid out, but not the training aid. But it’s way way more than that. Go to her website scik9.com to read more about what the TADD containment system is capable of and how it revolutionizes scent detection training.
The ACT! Online shop provides many ODDs.
In the ACT! Online shop, you will find many different ODDs. And they are perfect for any detection job! Here you can select the Odor Delivery Device that will fit perfectly for your specific target training. The ODDs are versatile; you can bury them, hang them, hide them, submerge them, and even add a magnet. From maximum odor transfer through the smallest stainless steel netting to the tinniest ODDs that will ask for the highest concentration of your detection dog. The ACT! Wildlife, explosives, narcotics, HRD, invasive plants, insects, nosework, and more. ACT! has the ODDs you are looking for! And yes, I’m proud to announce that ACT! is also one of the few distributors in Europe of the TADD!
If you want to know more about using Odor Delivery Devices in your training, don’t hesitate to contact me! Enjoy training!
Any questions or comments?
If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to send me an e-mail.