Early scent introduction (ESI) is a training program for puppies designed to enhance their ability to identify, and react to, specific scents. Each day, the trainer introduces a strong scent to the puppy for brief intervals, and records the puppy’s reaction.

The reaction is considered to be positive when the puppy shows interest in the scent, moving toward it. A negative reaction is recorded when the puppy tries to get away from the scent. And finally, when a puppy is neither interested nor disinterested in the scent, this is a neutral reaction.

Seven Years of Research

Dr. Gayle Watkins is a breeder of sporting Golden Retrievers, and over seven years ago, she began testing dogs to determine the effectiveness of ESI. This involved selecting certain puppies from her litters to receive ESI training, and others that would not receive ESI. The results were nothing short of remarkable. The dogs that participated in ESI had more scenting titles than those that did not participate, and they were achieving titles at ages of up to five years younger than the pups that had not participated.

Baby Noses: Introducing Scents to Neonate Puppies from AKC Canine Health Foundation on Vimeo.

What It Means

For practical purposes, these results mean the potential for even better companion, service, and therapy dogs. Scent abilities are often very important. Just as an example, when a dog is a companion to a child with autism, his main function is likely to be a guardian of sorts, since children with autism can have a tendency to wander or run off. If the dog is able to easily follow the child’s scent and locate him or her, that could actually be a life-saving asset. Another situation in which scent abilities can matter a great deal might be alerting an elderly person to a gas leak, or to something burning on the stove – again, there is the potential for saving a life. Service dogs can also use scent to identify the early stages of diabetic reaction, or the onset of a seizure. All these skills enhanced by ESI. Of course, not all dogs are going to be service or therapy animals.

At Shadewood Farm, we perform the Early Scent Introduction on our border collie puppies because we understand how important a dog’s sense of smell is to him and his brain function. Our dogs’ noses are 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive to smells than our human noses, depending on the dog and dog breed.

What does that mean to dogs?  According to Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog, they examine and understand the world through their noses like we see and make sense of the world with our eyes. The area in the brain that processes the data picked up by the nose is 40 times larger in dogs than humans. A dog’s ability to smell is a function of their intellect.

The Procedure for Early Scent Introduction

To expose your puppies to ESI, begin when they are three days old and stop at 16 days. At Shadewood Farm, we use mint, cloves, lemon, apples, grass, essential oils, cat hair, sheep wool, duck or goose feathers, chicken feathers, cloths with goat scent, leaves, leather tracking gloves, lavender, alpaca wool, and oranges.

Every day, we introduce a new scent. To do this, we pick up the puppy or sit on the floor with the puppy in our lap. We hold on to the puppy with one hand so that he does not squirm away before the scent is introduced. Then, with your other hand, we hold the scent-bearing object about half an inch away from his nose. If he wants to move toward the scent, we let him. By the same token, if he wants to move away from it, that is fine too. Then we note whether the reaction is positive, negative, or neutral. Then we repeat the procedure with the other puppies in the litter.