Scent Box Ideas for Detector Dogs

Scent dogs go through months of training.
Scent dogs go through months of training. (Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Scent boxes are a critical component of training a detection dog. Using scent boxes, the handler is able to reward the dog for correct hits on designated scents and provide the dog with the challenge of searching several different areas of one large space. Scent box design is fairly basic, but there are a few things you can do to up the challenge for your dog as he progresses through his training.

Distance Between Boxes

When you first begin training your detection dog, it's helpful to keep scent boxes spaced at least 3 feet apart to make it easier for the dog to pinpoint the specific scent he's hunting. As the dog becomes more proficient, distance between boxes can be reduced. In the field it's important that a dog can zero in on one scent amongst many and signal toward a small area; forcing the scent boxes into a smaller space increases the challenge and encourages more accurate responses.

Box Height

Detection dogs have to work in a variety of tough circumstances. Dogs must be trained to search high and low for scents -- moving one horizontal plane isn't going to get the job done. Mounting your scent boxes at varying heights that force the dog to follow scents vertically makes the dog more flexible in the field. Changing box height is also important in teaching the dog how to indicate detection of a scent that is outside of the dog's reach.

Changing Boxes and the Environment

Dogs are highly intelligent animals that learn based on situational information as much as they do based on commands. Training a detection dog in one environment for long periods of time will impair his ability to work in environments that do not match. If you're working with a detection dog in training, be sure to use boxes of varying types and to challenge the dog in a mixture of environments to ensure he responds effectively no matter the circumstance in the field.

Scent Box Alternatives

A scent box is just one tool to teach a detection dog. Pouches, bags, and other scent-carriers can be purchased from K-9 suppliers and hidden for the dog to discover. The Herstik wall, which is a long wall with reward-delivering scent tubes placed at varying heights, is very effective for teaching detection to dogs. Scent boxes are available in a wide range of materials and design; work with the ones that present the most lifelike challenge for your individual detection needs.

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