The making of a scent dog.

A repeat of the guest post from Bryony Ravate.

Once again, I am having a struggle to come up with something original. Once again it is at these times of life that I am very grateful for the offer of a guest post. Take Bryony for example. This is not the first time that I have presented her work but I am grateful to her.

This is her article on scent dogs.


The making of a scent dog.

By Bryony Ravate, January 2nd, 2020

If you’ve been lucky enough to be around dogs, you will have probably noticed how their noses are always moving. By possessing a nose up to 15x times more sensitive than our own, with 600,00 neurones, they can sniff out different components in every room. When you’re cooking a meal, you will be able to recognise the smell of a dish. But when your dog smells the meal, he can smell each individual spice and seasoning, the oils, the crockery and even any water.
You can use your dogs’ keen sense of smell for play – laying out different scents for them to explore. But their noses can also be used for working environments– such as in airports, with the police and in search and rescue missions. They can track down suitcases hiding illegal substances, follow the suspect of a crime and sniff out the victims of a snowstorm. To become scent dogs, the canines go through vigorous training. However, although all dogs have an exceptional sense of smell, not all dogs make it through training.

It makes sense to analyse what leads to success and failure in scent dog training. So, a keen researcher at University College Cork, Ireland performed a literature review in which factors behind success and failure in scent dog training were analysed. A literature review is the process whereby you search a database full of information (usually research articles published in reputable journals) and you extrapolate the information to create your own source. Here, I’m going to pull together some of the points I found the most interesting, points you may not think would affect the making of a scent dog.


Dogs with strong motivation to play or search, dogs which were bold rather than shy, and dogs which can adapt and cope with stressful stimuli are more likely to become scent dogs. High motivation to play or search, makes a dog easier to train. Play can be used as a reward, by allowing the dog to pull on a chew toy after being successful in a trial. Finding scents may be perceived as a game to the dog, increasing his motivation to engage. Bold dogs are less unnerved by new surroundings and situations. A nervous dog may be hesitant about pursuing an unknown scent – but a bold dog will take little hesitation. Adaptable dogs may be able to apply their knowledge to different situations and they will be unphased by commotions and will keep working when faced with distractions.

Housing Standards

Dogs that live in enriched environments throughout their training have increased ability in trials. Like children, the more opportunities you offer your dogs to learn, explore and interact with their environment, the more it allows them to develop and grow. Dogs should feel secure in their home environment when not working; keeping them with other dogs and in bright rooms without using loud cleaning equipment (such as hoovers) will make them less anxious, leading to better accuracy in scent trials.

The Human Partner

Dogs emotions are often intertwined with their handlers. When a dog’s owner gets angry, the stress hormones in the dog increase as a result. If a dog handler is happy, the dogs will perform better. The bond between dogs and their handlers can affect the accuracy of scent trials. If the dog lives at the owners’ home when he’s not working, obedience and accuracy are increased. Although the bond between scent dog and handler is important, they must be independent thinkers. When faced with a problem- solving task, they must be able to manipulate the environment themselves to find a solution, rather than looking at their handler for cues about the answer.
These are some factors which can alter the likelihood of a dog being a successful, as reviewed by Camille A Trosi and her team. What we must keep in mind is that all dogs are individuals. We cannot use this information to ensure all dogs in the future will pass scent dog training. However, we can use this knowledge to give potential scent dogs the best possible start to life; providing enrichment, an affectionate bond with their handler, and a suitable home environment. Canine personalities are not always determined by genetics, and a suitable environment can give a dog a metaphorical push in the right direction to ensure he is the best he can be, whether that be as a scent dog, a guide dog or even a lap dog.

Original Source : Troisi, C. A., Mills, D. S., Wilkinson, A. and Zulch, H. E. 2019. Behavioral and Cognitive Factors That Affect the Success of Scent Detection Dogs. Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews, 14, pp. 51-76. doi: 10.3819/ccbr.2019.140007


Now what I haven’t done before but intend to do straightaway is to reproduce an extract from Bryony’s CV.

I currently hold a Pass with Distinction in MSc Animal Behaviour and Welfare from Queen’s University Belfast. I also have a BSc in Animal Behaviour and Welfare from Plymouth University. As well as holding two degrees relevant to the field, I currently have 2+ years of work experience. I possess the core attributes required when pursuing a career in the scientific industry; dedication, independence and initiative. I am highly passionate and believe that with my unique skillset I can have a valuable impact in the field of Science Communication.

Plus Bryony has her own blog, BrynsteinScience, and is also on Instagram, of the same name.

We wish Bryony much success in her work life and in her caring and interest for animals in general and dogs in particular!

There is an extensive article on Wikipedia in the UK on scent dog and the link to that article is here.

Finally to close with this wonderful photograph of a scent dog.

By Taz80 / SEDIRI Eddy – Personal picture, CC BY-SA 3.0,

That’s perfect!

5 thoughts on “The making of a scent dog.

  1. Once again, I am having a struggle to come up with something original.

    I know what you mean! It’s quite a struggle, sometimes. Glad to see that you always seem able to overcome the obstacle!


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