Written by Samary Birkline, © 2020
Canines are born with incredible noses. With even the weakest canine nose sporting four times the smell receptors and an area in the brain dedicated to smell four times larger than the corresponding area in the human brain. Even more impressive, dogs can use their noses (and their observation skills) to identify human emotion. Indeed, the canine nose is an obvious work of divinity. One might assume there is no way to improve upon such a design. Or is there?
Dr. Gayle Watkins, a retired colonel in the United States Army, performed a long-termed study on her own Golden Retrievers in the effectiveness of early scent introduction (ESI) to select members of a litter. The idea was to see how effective the introduction of particular kinds of smells to a puppy each day between days three and sixteen of life. The others did not receive any special scent introduction. The results weren’t just measurable. They were spectacular. Participants who had received the ESI not only titled more often, held more titles, and performed better in individual trials. They also titled up to five years earlier than their litter mates whom had not. Countless breeders have begun to participate in this program, also known as the Avidog Program.
It’s a simple program, in which each pup is exposed to a strong smell each day from day three to sixteen of life. The smells must be strong, and can come from many sources. Natural items make great selections; things like grass, dirt, pine needles, pine cones, leaves, etc. Fruits, herbs, and spices also work well; lemon, lime, mint, cloves, orange peel, rosemary, bananas, apples, etc. Also helpful are training accessories, like leather, wood, tennis balls, training scents for birds, deer, etc. Furthermore, the fur of animals to be tolerant or aware of, such as rabbit, cat, rodent, etc.
Since the idea is to stimulate olfactory cells, and not the gustatory (taste) ones, the Avidog program does not recommend the use of meat products or bi-products, such as fresh bones or blood. The exception is with dry, skeletal bones, as this can give a leg up in search and rescue training if that is the end-goal for a dog.
The Avidog system recommends scent selection based on the specific work (if any) the dog will be doing in his or her life. For example, if raising a Doberman with the intentions to work in search and rescue, we select a skeletal bones and human hair over retrieving dummies and duck scents. Or, if we’re targeting a Labrador for drug detection we might expose a pup a small amount of [non-activated] marijuana to prepare him or her for this specific line of work. A hunting dog might benefit from feathers of the fowl he or she might retrieve, , a sheep dog to sheep’s wool, a farm dog might be exposed to the smell of pig or horse hair, and so on. If the work is unknown, general pungent scent smells from the above categories work perfectly.
The pup is gently exposed to a different scent each day for fourteen days, for thirty seconds, and the reactions are logged. Either the pup has a negative (retreat from), a positive (pursuit of), or a neutral (neither) reaction. This is logged, and efforts are made to log any dog’s titles earned during scent trials or in the line of duty.
A general list might look like this:
- Day 3: Lemon
- Day 4: Sticks
- Day 5: Cat Fur
- Day 6: Rosemary
- Day 7: Fresh Cut Grass
- Day 8: Lavender
- Day 9: Cedar Chips
- Day 10: Tennis Ball
- Day 11: Leather
- Day 12: Rack Wax
- Day 13: Hamster
- Day 14: Fetching Dummy
- Day 15: Clove
- Day 16: Fresh Rose
If a breeder chooses to participate in early scent introduction, it is advised that the breeder keep records of the exposures, the pup’s reaction, and future titles earned. Of course, however, record keeping is not necessary to gain the benefits of the practice. More research would have to be done in order to fully understand the positive side-effects of early scent introduction, but enough is known to definitively proclaim its benefits and begin participating.
The Kennel Birkline isn’t the only breeder to adopt this and similar programs, such as the BioSensor Program. We, among others, believe that every dog should benefit from such simple actions, producing a super nose, even for a dog. A preservationist breeder of Doberman Pinschers, we do everything we can do to give your pup a leap in the right direction.
Click below to see TKB’s available super puppies. Reserve yours today!
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