There are only two problems you can have in detection work:

1. the dog is not alerting on the target odor
2. she is alerting on things other than target odor

A rather simplistic view I know but let’s start to unpack how that could be and what we can do to avoid both problems from the start.

This will be the first of several posts presenting one approach to imprinting tartget odor.

A trained detection canine must be discriminate and selective. She must reliably identify target odor and selectively respond only to target odors. She must rely on her sense of smell and ignore what she sees and hears. My desired end state is a dog that searches independently yet will accept direction to a search area or for detailing.

There are many ways to accomplish these goals. This approach using scent tubes and a Manners Minder works well for starting puppies and adult dogs alike. The Manners Minder pulls the dog away from you, giving you time to move the tubes around.


I. Imprint Odor

  1. Start searching
    1. Learn to ignore controls and distractions

  2.  Shaping response to odor

  • Address non-productive responses
  • Learn to ignore handler misdirection

Equipment needed

  • 4 scent tubes
  • target odor sample
  • control and distractions odor samples
  • Manners Minder
  • one hungry dog.

Training Area

For the initial sessions work in a controlled environment with as few distractions as possible so you don’t have to compete for your dog’s attention. An empty room is ideal.

Before you start

If your dog is not familiar with the Manners Minder spend a session or two and introduce her to it before using it in training.

To introduce the Manners Minder, start with the machine turned on, loaded with food, and the “Volume” selection set on “Off’. You can use your dog’s regular ration or a treat like Biljac Little Jacs. Run the machine with your food a few times before training to see how the machine handles your food. Some food moves through the machine better than others. Large kibble does not work well.

Place some food on the Manners Minder tray. Allow your dog to eat the food. Do this several times.

Now, wait for your dog to move away from the feeder and then push the “Dispense” button. The Manners Minder will dispense food while you hold the button down. Don’t run the feeder with your dog at the tray until she has eaten several times from the tray.

When your dog is comfortable with the noise the feeder makes set your “Volume” selection to “Low’. The Manners Minder will “beep” each time before dispensing food. This beep will become your reward marker. Wait for your dog to move away from the feeder, press the button to mark and feed. Repeat this until she shows by her immediate and excited response to the marker that she knows the “beep” means the treats are coming. Now you are ready to use the feeder in training.


Pre-load your scent tubes. One with target odor, one with a distraction and one with a control; leave one empty. For your control use whatever packaging you keep your target odor material in. For instance, if your target material is in a cotton bag, use a clean fresh cotton bag, if your target is in a baggie, use clean fresh baggies for your control.

You will start with just the target odor tube but keep the other tubes where you can get to them, under your chair or on a shelf nearby.

Place your Mannersminder about 8 or 10 feet away from you.

Now you are ready to get started.

Step 1 — Imprint odor

In this first step do not ask or wait for the dog to respond to the target odor. Ideally the dog will encounter target odor and almost immediately you will “beep” to mark the odor and start the feeder. Very quickly the odor will become important to your dog.

Bring your dog into the room and sit down in the chair with the target odor tube.

Most dogs will investigate the Mannersminder. Call your dog and when she turns to you draw her attention to the scent tube by waving it or tapping on it. When she puts her nose in the tube push the “Dispense” button to mark and pay.

From now on make sure you catch her with her nose in the tube when you push the button. The marker will reinforce whatever your dog is doing when she hears it. Make sure her nose is in the tube. The less obvious the odor the more repetitions you need to pay at this level before you go to the next step, but generally, 5 or 6 rewards at this level is enough.

Do not work too long with just one tube. Your dog may think that putting her nose in the tube is what is making the reward happen.

Start searching

Pay your dog for sniffing the tube. While your dog is at the feeder place the target odor tube on the ground at your feet and place the empty tube on the floor at 2 0’clock so that it is closer to the feeder than the target odor tube.

Stop feeding. When your dog runs to you, she will encounter the empty tube first- Odds are that she will investigate it, putting her nose in the tube. Most dogs hesitate a moment then go on to check out the other tube that contains the target odor. As soon as she puts her nose in the correct tube push the dispense button to mark and pay.

She is discovering that the two tubes are different. The tube that smells funny results in reward.

Do several of these.

Learn to ignore controls and distractions

Add a third tube when your dog is at the Mannersminder. This new tube can be a distraction or a control. Shuffle the placement of the tubes after every find while she is at the feeder. After a few reps with three tubes add the fourth tube if she is searching intently.

With many dogs you can have all four tubes in play before the end of the first session. Continue with four tubes, shuffling the tubes after every find. Change your distractions and controls every session.

Continue to “beep” or mark as soon as your dog puts her nose into the correct tube until you see signs that she recognizes the target odor. When she knows that the odor predicts that the reward is coming you may see a head snap as she is moving near the tube, or she may begin to push harder into the correct tube or wiggle and dance a bit when she finds the target odor.

These signs prove that she is ready for you to begin shaping her response to the target odor. We will talk about that next week.

Please feel free to comment, question or complain.


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  • Great stuff!! Thank you for posting.
    Do u have to use a mannersminder? Can the reward come from me? I was planning on constructing a wheel like you showed in one of ur videos. This would allow me to quickly spin and shuffle scents but allowing me to be the reward and reward event. Excellent guide!!! Can’t wait to read next week!

    Luis Reply
    • Luis,

      No, you don’t have to use a Manners Minder. You can deliver the reward yourself.


      Pat Nolan Reply
  • How do you address them indicating on the blank baggie that you’re using to hold the target odor? Wait them out and allow them to make the correct choice? What if it’s a continuing issue?

    Matt W Reply
    • HI Matt,

      I am going to write a post addressing how I handle that and why. For a short answer, in early training I tend to wait them out. Once the dog has a trained final response I allow them 3 seconds to figure it out for themselves then I tell them they are wrong with a “No reward” marker and encourage them to move on.

      I do plan on explaining in more detail how and why soon.

      Good question.


      Pat Nolan Reply
  • Hi! Just woundering when step 2 is coming
    Love your work!

    / Jimmy

    Jimmy Reply
    • Hi Jimmy,

      it is up now.

      Pat Nolan Reply
  • Pingback: There are only two problems you can have in detection work— Part 2

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