How to Scent Train Your Dog

March 22, 2021 7 min read

Scent Training Your Dog

Scent training your dog can take many forms, depending on the type of hunting you are going to be doing with your dog. As there are multiple forms of training, there are also multiple types of training scents that would be used in each training scenario. We suggest reading The Science Behind Scent Training and Environmental Factors Affecting Scenting Abilities, if you haven’t already, as these explain the fundamentals of how your dog’s nose works and the science behind how scent molecules travel in the air.

Retrieves

When training a retriever, especially for waterfowl, you’re most likely going to be using bumpers and training dummies. These will either have scent bands on them or directly injected with training scents. Scent training for retrievers is very important for finding birds that went down out of sight of the dog, called a blind retrieve. A trainer will train for blind retrieves by either staging a bumper in cover or throwing/launching a bumper into cover or out of sight of the dog, and then have the dog work into the area to find its target. Launchers, such as a bird launcher, Zinger Winger, or Retriev-R-Trainer launcher, work great for placing bumpers and dummies well out of human throwing distance. This also saves the trainer for arm injuries from repetitive throwing.

Shed Hunting

When training for shed hunting, you want your dog to use both their eyes and nose to find shedded antlers. Antlers are often covered by leaves or brush, so it stands to say that scent training a shed dog will greatly increase their antler finds. Shed antler training uses an Antler Training Scent, which is made up of ground up antler, hair, and blood of deer (all the things that would generally be attached to a freshly shedded antler). Shed antler training in its later stages is done with staged antler hidden and placed out of sight of the dog, and then the trainer will bring the dog into the area and have them use their nose to hunt out the hidden antlers.

For more information on antler shed hunt training see our, Phase 1 of Antler Shed Hunt Training and Phase 2 of Antler Shed Hunt Training.

Upland Bird Hunting

Training for upland birds is a combination of where the bird is and possibly has been. Upland birds will move around when you get in the area, so occasionally the dog is going to have to be smart enough to not only find scent, but to also know if it is where the bird was or is. This is especially important when training a pointing dog, which is trained to go on point when it smells the bird. Scent training for upland birds can be done with training bumpers and dummies, but there is really no replacement for training with live birds. Some trainers, because of availability and cost of game birds, will train with pigeons. At first, they will train the dog to scent out the pigeon because pigeons are smelly birds that allow young dogs will pick up their scent quickly. But you are not hunting for pigeons, so using a liquid scent and giving the pigeon a quick shower in scent can help train your dog for the game bird you are going to be hunting without having to use that game bird. This comes especially in handy for grouse training, because finding grouse to train with is hard and if you can find them, it is going to be expensive. Most trainers will start with pigeons and then work their way to quail and chukar, which can be inexpensive and are hearty training birds. 

Rabbit/Fox/Coyote Hunting

Unlike all other scent training discussed so far, training for rabbit and fox/coyote is training a dog to smell the past to find the present. This is done by training a dog to find runs, which is the path of scent where the animal has recently run. Once your dog is on a run, their goal is to run in the direction which makes the scent hotter, or more recent. This would be the direction the animal is more likely currently at. Training for this is normally done using scent drags, like the Leather Scent Drag, or by squirting liquid training scent in a path. Later stages of fox and coyote training would normally be taking your dog to a training pen, which is a giant 20+ acre fenced-in pen with one or more fox or coyotes. The trainer will take their dogs into the pen and find fresh tracks or visually find the fox or coyote and then let their dog’s chase after the fox or coyote for several hours, learning their scent and how to track them. Fox and coyotes will also outrun or outsmart even the fastest hunting dogs. It is also important to note that it is just as vital to teach your dog to not hunt certain scents, like those of deer or other game. This is called scent breaking or trash breaking, which can be done through several methods depending on how stubborn the dog is.

Types of Training Scents

Training scents come in several different styles and scents. Our LCS Training Scent is a liquid scent in a convenient squirt bottle. It comes in quail, pheasant, grouse, duck, rabbit, coon, dove, and coyote to meet nearly every type of scent training. Liquid training scents, like our LCS Training Scent, have the advantage of being able to be injected into training bumpers and dummies using a Scent Injector or squirted in an area without having to have the scent dispenser coming in contact with the object.

Another unique style of training scent is the Conquest Training Scents, which come in a wax scent stick that resembles a stick of deodorant. The Conquest Training Scents come in duck, grouse, pheasant, quail, and rabbit scents. A major advantage of this style of training scent is that being a wax, it will not spill or spoil. They are also convenient from applying to the outside of bumpers and training dummies. You can also use them to do a drag path from training for rabbits or to simulate a bird that may have run.

The last style of training scent is a scent stick, such as the Dokken Training Scents, Rack Wax Training Scent, and Top Dog Scent Sticks. These training scents are in a chapstick-like dispenser, making them easy to carry around and they will not spill out. Like the Conquest Training Scents, these are great for applying directly to training bumpers and training dummies. But unlike the Conquest Scents, these do not make a great scent dispenser for simulating drag runs, unless you use them with a scent drag like our Leather Scent Drag, which is a device that you apply scent to and is pulled across the ground.

Gear for Scent Training

Depending on your training, training scents can be used on their own or added to a live bird. However, additional training equipment is often needed. Live birds are the best training tool, but they are sometimes difficult to handle, unpredictable, and have to be kept alive.

Freeze Dried Wings

Before introducing puppies to live birds, many trainers prefer to use freeze dried wings. These are real wings that were harvested off game birds and freeze dried to prevent decay. Freeze dried wings are available in pheasant wings, quail wings, and chukar wings. These wings can be used on their own using their natural scent or with added scent using either liquid or wax scents. Some retriever trainers will tie these training wings to bummers or dummies for added realness.

Scent Collar and Collar Scent Pads

When it comes to scent breaking a dog from running “trash,” there are many methods, some harsher than others. One of the easiest and less harsh methods is using a scent collar or a collar scent pad designed to have the desired break scent added to it and then applied to onto the dog’s neck. The training theory here is that the dog smells this scent for hours or days on end becoming either “nose blind” or intolerant to the scent. For example, if you are trying to break your bird dog from chasing deer, our deer break scent would be used.

Antler Shed Training

Shed hunt training is done with the use of either antler dummies or real shedded antlers. The use of training scent comes in the form of liquid antler scent from Dog Bone or wax antler scent from Rack Wax. Whichever training scent you choose, you’ll apply it to the base of the antler to replicate real world scent profiles of blood, hair, and bits of antler that would have come from the antler socket when the antler was shedded. If you’re new to shed training, check out our Top 5 Shed Hunting Training Products article for a breakdown of our recommendations for everything you need to begin training.

Training Bumpers

Training bumpers come in several different forms, sizes, and styles to meet your training needs. Bumpers can be used for short retrieves, blind retrieves, and launched retrieves. Bumpers are designed to be the relative size and weight of a game bird to train your dog as realistically as possible, while still using relatively inexpensive and durable bumpers. Canvas bumpers allow from injecting scent directly into the body of the bumper, whereas rubber and plastic bumpers will have scent applied to the outside of the bumper. Not sure what bumper is right for your training needs? See our Which Bumpers Are Right For You article to help guide you to the right decision.

Thank you for reading, for more information on scent training, see our blogs Science Behind Scent Training and Environmental Factors Affecting Dog Scent Ability.

- Michael Cassatt, Director of Marketing


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