Sarah Owings
Sarah Owings

Masters of Odor Pt. 1

“Your dog is Yoda….You are Luke.” — Leah Gangelhoff

course has started
1 September 2021


Previous editions

September 2020

June 2020

Next editions


Master’s of Odor Trailer

Whether they are brand new to formal scent detection or highly experienced working dogs, all dogs are masters of odor.


From scavenging food, to hunting rabbits, to noticing when a neighboring dog has just come into season, processing the complex world of scent with exquisite accuracy is what dogs have evolved on this Earth to do. In comparison, the human nose is handicapped. We tend to picture odor moving through space in a limited, two-dimensional way. Like Luke Skywalker impatient with Yoda’s cryptic descriptions of the Force, we are sometimes baffled as to why one day our dog makes a beeline straight to source, but then on another day seems to take forever to find a hide directly in front of his face.


Because scent-detection is often high stakes or timed with titles on the line, we often set hides with specific training goals in mind, such as teaching the dog not to pass thresholds, or to check every container in a row. However, in this class we will be taking a different approach. Instead of putting out hides to teach our dogs how to be more efficient competitors, we are going to set up single hide searches and let our dogs teach us about odor. Each week we will compare and contrast how different types of hide placements change how the dogs search.


Come join me on a fascinating journey into the world of scent, led by the true masters of odor—our dogs!


Pre-requisites: I am most familiar with essential oils as target odor, but if your dog is trained to a different scent, we can make it work. All levels welcome, but you will get the most out of this course if your dog has a strong reinforcement history in place for hunting for something specific. Food or toys can work as well as oils, but the dog still needs to understand the game. In this course I will not be covering how to teach an indication behavior, or basic search skills, but I will provide a lot of guidance on how to adapt the exercises so each dog can be successful.


Working spots: 10


Course Outline:

WK 1: Meet your master, young Jedi.

  • Defining our terms
  • Basics of handling odor, how to set hides, and expecting the unexpected
  • Taking a baseline. What is your dog’s search style and level of commitment to the game?
  • Preserving confidence and enthusiasm
  • Becoming an odor scientist

WKS 2-3: Odor + Structure

  • Painting the odor picture: what do all those body language changes mean?
  • Containers
  • Floor Surfaces
  • Wall surfaces
  • Clutter Puzzles
  • Suspended vs. Out in the Open

WKS 3-4: Odor + Air Movement

  • Upwind vs. downwind
  • Doors open vs. doors closed
  • Narrow spaces + wind
  • Turbulence and eddies
  • Pooling odor due to air movement

Explorations WKS 5-6: Odor + Temperature

  • Sun vs. shade
  • Window vs. wall
  • Heat source vs. cold
  • Dry vs. damp

Explorations WK5: Odor + Height

  • Exterior vs. Interior Elevation
  • Ground hides vs. high
  • Odor falling on surfaces

Explorations WK6: Handler’s Choice

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Reviews for this course

Jennifer Will
2020-07-15 08:59:51

5 big fat stars! I started this course having no confidence that my dog could read odour. I felt she just happened to luckily come across the hide while searching. Well Sarah seemed to think otherwise and proceeded to detail Pies videos showing that she was clearly working scent. It took a while to tune in my eye but it has opened up a whole new really fun part of scentwork for us. It has made a Pie considerably more confident as I have learnt to shut up and not be constantly trying to help her which was in fact doing the complete opposite. She now works away at the puzzle on her own and very rarely looks like she needs assistance. I’ll be forever grateful to you Sarah for your very generous help and patience. We are loving this new found fun! Don’t hesitate to do this course folks! I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!