A little while ago I wrote about what was in the scentwork tin. Today I thought I’d share what’s in my scentwork bag. What items do I think are essential? And what are super useful to have to hand? So let’s have a rummage to see what’s in the bag.
Well this shouldn’t come as a surprise, this is THE essential item. Without the scentwork articles there is no scentwork. If you’ve not had a read about what can go in the tin, check out my previous post dedicated to the scentwork tin.
This had always been part of my essential kit. But in these pandemic ridden days, it’s become even more essential. Not only does it help protect us from germs and viruses, it helps stop inadvertent spreading of the target odour. Contamination is ridiculously easy. It only takes an instant for the hand that placed the scented article to touch an another object and boom! – you’ve just contaminated a previously target-scent-free area.
In the main, while it’s undesirable and can cause confusion and even frustration, most dogs can cope with it well. This is mostly down to the handler’s reaction to the dog hitting the scent outside the hide. If the feedback is positive and encouraging, the dog will be happy to continue on to find the target scent elsewhere.
I use a variety of sanitisers in order to minimise the association of them with scentwork. The only scent I want to be constant during scentwork, is the target odour. So one day I might use a lemon scented sanitiser, the next a strawberry. Or a mint, etc.
And a word or two on the safety of hand sanitisers. They are toxic to dogs but inly if ingested in large quantities. This is due to them containing a high percentage of alcohol which is toxic to dogs. For this reason I don’t recommend leaving your sanitiser lying around. Always stow it carefully back in your bag or somewhere out of your dog’s reach. Having said that, I’ve not yet found a dog who actually likes the taste of it. Most recoil from the just the smell. And even more back away if they take a sneaky lick of your hand post-sanitising. This lick will not harm your dog, but she may well find it rather unpleasant. Ultimately, washing your hands is always preferable. But it’s easier to carry a little bottle of sanitiser than a sink! You can read more on sanitiser safety here.
For any teams working at height or on slippery or uneven surfaces, the harness is a must. But it needs to be the right harness. Every harness is designed for a specific purpose. Some for walking, some for pulling, some for scentwork. And if you have more than one scentwork dog, you’ll probably need more than one scentwork harness. The fit needs to be just right so unless your dogs are very similar in size and build, each with need their own harness. So essential is this piece of kit that I produced a downloable printable guide which you can get here.
Container for used articles
You need somewhere to store articles once they’ve been used. This may be to allow you to transport them home to be washed and reused. Or to take them to an appropriate bin, i.e. one far from the search areas. You can use something simple like an unused poo bag. But you need to keep this away from unscented items. For example, if I’ve got a bag of used mice I put the bag in the front footwell of the car, with unused or uncontaminated boxes placed in the back of the car. And that’s always been my rule. Used in the front, clean in the back. It helps prevent any mix ups. The poo bag of used mice will give out some scent but combined with the distance from the clean stuff (obvs don’t put the heater or air con on) it’s so minimal not to matter. For best contamination prevention, place the used items in a separate tin or other sealed container.
All that sniffing makes dogs dry. Even if your dog doesn’t usually drink much, or if you’re working in cold weather, you may be surprised at how much more your dog will need to drink compared to her usual intake. I like the collapsable rubber bowls as I can clip one onto the outside of my bag for easy access. That stops my bag getting wet (on the inside) too.
And of course, if you’re not sure if there will be a water supply where you’re working, bring water too. I always have water in the van for my girls but when we’re going sniffing, I make doubly sure that we have lots.
When working in cold weather, often the dog doesn’t need to wear a coat. Of course, this depends on many factors including age, coat type and temperature. But most dogs are warm when working. I know that I heat up when I’m searching with my dog. More than once I’ve had to strip off layers, often working in a just a T-shirt during frosty searches. But as soon as we stop working, we can get cold. So when waiting or resting between searches it’s a really good idea to pop a cosy coat on your dog to stop her muscles from cramping and prevent her from getting a chill.
My go to coats for post-search cosiness come from Equafleece. They do a great range, lots of designs and colours to suit every dog. Each of my girls has several. Ettie has a pale (scentwork) purple tank and a chocolate brown full body suit for really cold days (Ettie feels the cold much more than the other two.) While Ella has bright orange so we can see her coming (or going lol!) Cherry has a regal blue one with front legs to help look after her aging joints.
Hooks & Pegs
Hooks allow you to use the vertical space in your search area. You can usually buy bags of hooks from kitchen type shops, and of course my fav scentwork shop, IKEA. Make sure they have rounded or blunt ends and that you use them carefully.
Placing the hooks onto fences, railings, backs of chairs gives a quick and easy option for hanging bags, material, etc., both scented and unscented.
Pegs give you the same effect in areas where you can’t hang things. You can peg an article to the inside of your curtains to make a nice high indoor hide. If you clip just a small section of the article the dog can easily pull the article away from the peg without pulling your curtains down. You can do the same inside hanging clothes, on the back of sofas or even on bushes or trees in the garden.
Magnetic bulldog clips
As with hooks, clips give you that extra height that might otherwise be difficult. But the bonus withering magnetic clips is that you can place articles in even more unlikely spots. You can attach them underneath cars, under metal legged tables, on radiators and fridges. Any metal surface instantly transforms from a blank boring object to be ignored into an exciting option. For example, a series of magnetic bulldog clips placed at different heights along a cold radiator allows you to add a series of articles, some scented, some not. Or you can stick articles to metal cupboard doors in your office or garage. And if you are working near a corrugated iron sided building or shed, you can stick them on there too. These clips can be super useful to have in your kit bag.
I carry extra toys and treats to use as rewards. Although all my dogs search for scented articles, it’s still useful to have food treats on hand. It may be that one of the dogs doesn’t want to give up the article as easily as usual. Or that she’s managed to break a piece off and deserves a food reward for spitting it out.
Having extra toys also helps if I want to swap a scented article that’s not fun to play with a toy that is. That could be a metal spoon getting swapped for a tuggy, or a Post-it getting swapped for a ball. Whatever rewards you use, always carry extras.
I also bring extra scented articles. So I’ll have a second tin all scented up and ready to go. Plus I’ll have an extra cheese pot in case I’m using cheese as Ella’s article and we run out, it gets spilled/dried up/melted.
Pad & pen
These are so you can keep track of your searches. It’s good practice to keep a note of the different search areas, where you’ve been hiding things, how long the searches last etc. The more detail you can include, the better. This let’s you see what your dog finds easy or difficult. What you can do to increase or decrease the challenge.
And reminds you where you’ve hidden things so that you don’t inadvertently reuse the same hides again and again. If you see your dog automatically checking certain spots before she does anything else, you know that you’ve used that area and those hides too often. If you have a note of what you’re doing and where, you can avoid this. Your dog will always spot patterns faster than you, so writing everything down will help you keep pace with her.
Of course, you can make notes on your phone, but I find it easier to use paper and pen. Easier to see at a glance what’s happened in the past. And to make a note and comment on what’s happened today.
I mentioned using your phone as an option for taking notes. But it’s definitely the most convenient way to time and to film your searches. Timing is so helpful as it’s a real skill, one that I don’t possess, to accurately guess how long you’ve been working. Much better to time it than guess it. Timing searches allows you to track how long your dog is searching, and how long before she starts to tire. In turn this will let you plan your searches better. If they go on too long and she gets tired (mentally as well as physically) you may push her past threshold. This can make her less efficient and less motivated to search, both this time and in future searches. But if you know she started to get tired around the 2 minute mark, you can plan for that. You can put out a quick find at 2 minutes to help her end on a high. Or your can push her a little and put the article out at 2 mins 10 secs to help build duration and concentration.
And as for filming. Well, I’m sure if you’re a regular reader of my blogs you’ll already know that I’m a huge fan of filming searches. Not just so that you can show off how brilliantly your dog works on Insta or TicTok, but so that you can really take time to observe how you work together. How your handling is supporting her, or not. You can see how well you are moving and how well she’s responding to you. Reviewing clips gives you the chance to watch again and again, even slowing the footage down, so that you can spot her indications.
This is a useful piece of kit to have on hand. Even if your dog usually works beautifully off lead, you may find that one day, the long line will be needed. I dread the day when Ettie spots a speedy rabbit while we’re searching the trains at Railworld. From that point on she will need to work on a long line in that area for safety purposes. So it’s good to have one in the bag just in case.
So there it is, my fully stocked scentwork bag. I’d love to know if there’s anything else that you include in yours. Drop me a comment below to share your must haves.