… and why should you care?

As a part of recent quiz that I put together for my online students, I found out that the term “residual odor” was confusing! You might think. “who cares it’s just semantics…” but it’s actually much more important than that! Terms, and language give us a distinct path forward. They help us to understand what we need to do in the face of challenge. Language matters.

Language Matters

How we communicate and interpret gives us a distinct path forward rather than muddling around in ambiguity.

Language Matters!

When I worked “In Corporate”, my company sponsored my enrollment in a two year long course called the Business Professionals Course by the Aji Network.  It was an interesting, and very expensive course.  As with all things Corporate, I am using the nuggets I learned way back when, NOW, when I’m self employed.  The Aji Network in part teaches how powerful language is and why using distinctive, purposeful language helps define what we do and should do.  My two years’ education drove home the value of language.

Fast forward to today.

Today I’m a dog trainer.  And an author.  And a teacher.

My Corporate days are behind me (thankfully) and I am now liberated and autonomous!  If you haven’t tried it, you should.  Autonomy is a major driver of happiness!  But I digress.

My profession is wrapped around the concept of clarity to the point that you really can’t communicate and help people to grow without very specific language.  Recently, I wrote a blog on Scent Cones.  it was actually a language lesson.  How we respond to language influences our command of a topic.  In that blog, I highlighted how the word “cone” has caused mass confusion in the Nose Work world and has negatively affected MANY handlers by conjuring up the wrong mental image for its existence.

This week we will talk about another misunderstood term…  Residual Odor.

As a student of language, one of my peeves is the misuse of terms.  Residual odor seems to be one of these terms.  Again, why do I care?  Because my approach to applying my training skills may vary depending upon the distinction!

Let’s level set on terminology:

Residual Odor is odor left behind on a surface due to contact.  When you remove a hide, the oils that have saturated and adhered to the tin, transfer to the surface where the tin was affixed.  This type of contamination is not readily eliminated.  Additionally, it continues to generate a new scent cone!  Dogs alerting on residual odor are technical not wrong.

Lingering Odor refers to the remainder of the scent cone after the hide has been removed.  Eventually, lingering odor dissipates because it’s not adhered to anything.  Dogs alerting to lingering odor are not correct because there is no source.

Why does this matter?

Well, it matters when we think about how we use our search areas and what we are teaching our dogs. Ideally, we are teaching our dogs to alert on a source of odor regardless of the concentration of odor. We want our dogs to differentiate “source”. This is one reason why in some titling organizations, there are strict restrictions on the use of sites prior to a trial. This is definitely ideal. In other organizations, they take a less ideal situation and focus more on practicality. Trialing in those organizations requires the dog to understand “intentional source”. Considering residual odor is technically a source of odor, this is rather confusing!

The other reason why is matters is to be able to DIAGNOSE training issues! If my dog alerts on lingering odor, I have a training hole. In that case, my dog may very well alert in pooling odor and doesn’t have the concept of working to source. If my dog alerts on residual, that is more an issue with how I’m using my search area and is not a training problem!

So what can we do about Residual Odor?

In order to train for multiple organizations, your best bet it to minimize the amount of residual odor in your search area. This may mean removing “contaminated” objects between your searches AND airing out the area between searches, OR getting in your car and looking for exteriors that have seen light use for searching. I recommend doing both.

Realistically of course, many of us train a lot at home or go to a class where the location is used over and over again… and our dogs tend to be rather smart and start to understand the difference between residual odor and a fully constructed “hide” (with a qtip, straw, etc). Is it ideal? Probably not… but it’s doable. In that case, again… your best bet is to augment your training with getting in your car and going to work at exteriors that have seen light use.

That’s if you are a handler of course. Now if you are a judge in one of the organizations that reuses search areas… the challenge is greater for you! In that case, you need to get creative and do your best to minimize the likelihood that a dog will alert on residual odor. Putting your best foot forward in minimizing residual shows the most respect for the dog’s training.

What can we do about Lingering Odor?

If your dog is alerting on Lingering Odor, you may have an issue with Pooling Odor. This is a foundational issue with the dog’s understanding of working to source. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to set up simple searches where you have no complexity and reinforce working to source. If you are having lingering or pooling odor issues, ALWAYS air out your search area and minimize searching in the presence of residual odor.

Semantics Matter!

Whenever we are diagnosing challenges with our training, the first thing we need to do is to describe the challenge accurately. If we can verbalize the issue, we can fix it.

Semantics matter!