Preparing and Handling Odour

Preparing and Handling Odor

Adapted from NW101: Introduction to Nosework;

We refer to 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 is 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 q-tips ever fall out of tin or you handle the hot box after preparing odor, it’s more likely it has scent on it and in the material.  So ALWAYS use tweezers when you handle your Q-tips!

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/containers in a room/basement/ garage where your dog never goes. You can also put your kit in another container to help contain the odor. Store your cold containers separately from your hot containers!

You will need:

  • One or two 1 or 2 oz glass jars to store q-tips
  • Two small metal tins with holes in the lid
  • Tweezers

Making your own scented q-tips:

Method 1:   Put 3-4 drops of oil on a cotton ball (preferably a flat one) and place on the bottom of the jar. Place the q-tips 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 q-tips in your q-tip container for training.

Method 2:  Have an extra jar just for making scented q-tips. Coat that jar with oil and extract out the extra so there is no pooling of liquid odor. Place your new cut q-tips in the jar and let sit for 24-48 hours. Transfer the q-tips to your main jar to use from.

Note:  When making new q-tips, always use plain q-tips with a normal cardboard stick and pure cotton swabs.  Don’t use the kind with a plastic stick for several reasons:

  • Birch can melt plastic
  • Plastic comes with its own odor and we don’t want to pair that odor with the target odor
  • These types of q-tips might not be 100% cotton.

When training Nosework, the q-tips will always be in some type of “container” so that the q-tips are not exposed and your dogs will not be able to chew or swallow the scented q-tips. The small tin is used for this purpose.  You can also use a plastic version of the small “tin” to put the 3-5 q-tips in for training. We will call these “q-tip containers”. Sometimes a dog can get used to looking for/smelling a tin with odor. Eventually we will move to other q-tip containers like straws or heat shrink tubes. Some dogs may have difficulty with the transition from the metal tin to other types of q-tip 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 q-tip containers to place the q-tips in, always work in an area where you can safely take the q-tips out of the jar and into the container.  Use tweezers!

  • Avoid dropping q-tips 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 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 a q-tip.

When we start using large containers for searching, we will call these “search containers”. You’ll put the q-tip container (with q-tips inside) inside the vented container. Examples of search containers are boxes, plastic Tupperware containers and eventually luggage, bags, etc that can be used in the container element searches.


How often to refresh the jar of q-tips and how?

Note:  There are many different methods, the following is one way to refresh your jar of q-tips.

  • The time frame varies.  If you can still smell the odor when you open your glass storage jar, you don’t need to refresh.  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 of the essential oil on the inside of the lid, place it back on the jar (quickly) and shake!

How many q-tips do we use in training?

  • Train with 3 most of the time. But occasionally go down to 1 to increase the challenge, or use more than 3 if setting up a difficult hide.

How to take your odor on the road when training?

  • Prepare tins/containers before leaving the house so that you are not messing with the odor/jars away from home. Put q-tips in the q-tip containers and put the container in a zip lock baggie or a more sealed item like a glass jar!
  • You can store your prepared tins/holders in the refrigerator or freezer between sessions to save on prep time. This prevents the q-tips from drying out.
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