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Handling, Preparation, and Storage of Odor

A Nosework student, and proud observer of two German Shepherds, who love the sport.

The Hot versus the Cold

Containers used in Nosework are classified as Hot and Cold.

Hot containers mean they have been exposed to odor and cannot be used for anything else. Cold containers have not been exposed to smell and can be used as empties and distractors. The boxes and containers you use for odor mustn't contaminate other containers, as it is straightforward to confuse your dog and even desensitize them to the scent. This rule goes for rooms, furniture, vehicles, and other areas the dog occupies.

It is best to keep everything in an airtight container when transporting odor. Though it isn't 100% effective, it is the best option for minimizing contamination. Hot containers should be kept together, away from the cold containers.

Suppose you get oil on your hands and physically interact with your environment or the search area. In that case, the scent can linger for months, called Residual Odor, confusing your dog, causing them to alert the source or desensitize them to the smell.

The cool thing is you have a choice of Nosework kits. You can DIY your own, or you can find a reputable company such as Leerburg or AllGoodDogs LLC, sell ready-made kits and other supplies like tins, plastic vials, and more. Neither company pre-scent their Q-tips, so that will be your job once you receive your equipment. Once the Q-tips are saturated, the scent can last up to a year if sealed in a glass jar.

I use Gerber Baby food jars

Scenting your Q-tips

If you DIY your kit, there are a few methods by which to load your Q-tips. Cut in half, the Q-tips are stored in a small jar that seals, such as baby food jars or canning jars.

Dropping the Q-tips in, it is recommended to do so with tweezers to get into a good habit of minimizing contamination. Once you have the number of Q-tips you desire, typically 20-40 Q-tips per jar, you use a dropper to add your odor. Seal it with the lid and shake.

Another way is to 3-4 drops onto a cotton ball, put it in the jar, and then add Q-tips. Seal the lid, shake and leave for 24 hours before using.

Try to avoid fumigating yourself by adding too much scent.

Avoid the plastic Q-tips for your DIY kit when buying Q-tips at the store. There are times when the dog may ingest the Q-tip. It's not the end of the world, but the cardboard/paper-based Q-tips are easier on the digestive tract. Also, Birch will melt the plastic Q-tip. Plastic Q-tips come with their odor, making it counterproductive as the plastic smell would be "paired" with the scent.

Unscented Q-tips can be stored in any jar, but make sure it is thoroughly washed if it once had food in it.

Unscented Q-tips can be stored in any jar, but make sure it is thoroughly washed if it once had food in it.

Containing your Q-tips

To avoid odor contaminating everything from your skin to your vehicle, the Q-tips should be contained in a sealed container, whether it’s a baby food jar, a nosework tin, kept within a jar, etc.

Make sure each tin holding an odor is separated from any other scents. Birch is not housed with Anise or Clove and vice versa.

The scented jar. This particular jar holds Q-tips scented with Birch only.

The scented jar. This particular jar holds Q-tips scented with Birch only.

Remember, always use tweezers to move your Q-tips to avoid any contamination and work in an area where you have room to move freely. When loading the tins or jars, try not to drop the Q-tips on the floor or work surface, especially if the Q-tip is scented.

  • Try to avoid contaminating the outside of the tins or jars with the odor.
  • Avoid getting the scent on your hands or clothes, and easier said than done, I know from experience.
  • You could use a cloth or mat if you drop a Q-tip. Make sure not to use this cloth or mat for anything other than Nosework.
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As the dogs excel in nosework, moving on to harder searches, boxes called search containers will be introduced. The scented Q-tip will go into the box; once the Q-tip is used, this container is now HOT, as explained earlier.

This search box will no longer be anything but a scented box, or Hot Box.

Eventually, your dog will be searching boxes specifically for ORT (Odor Recognition Test: mailer boxes), plastic Tupperware, and even bags such as school bags and travel bags. Each Nosework/scent work organization has its own rules.


How many?

Typically, three Q-tips are used for any given search.

For the Odor Recognition Test, ORT uses three Q-tips in one Hot Box. However, you might only use one Q-tip outside of trials and see how far your dog has come if you want to challenge them. If your dog shows any hesitation or discomfort upon finding a Q-tip, it's best to assume your Q-tip(s) are overwhelming in odor, and you can remove as many as you feel will not overpower your dog’s senses. Or if your dog is having a hard time finding the odor, then add another Q-tip.

A particularly fun game is the use of stainless steel tea strainer balls. Made of a thin mesh of metal, this everyday item is fantastic to use in Nosework. Not only does the odor leak tendrils around the mesh, also known as Channeling, it also snakes out of the tiny pores and collects in and around the object, called Pooling. Circular in shape, you can easily place up to three Q-tips inside of the tea ball, and with the hook on the end of the chain you can hang them anywhere from low place to high.

  • Remember to never place a hide higher than 6 feet, as that is standard height for any Nosework trial, especially the NACSW.

I also appreciate the fact the tea balls are hardy, meaning they aren't easily broken if you take the care. They do have a small clasp to hold the ball shut. Abuse to that clasp will result in it breaking, if care is not taken. However, Nosework students and trainers almost always have all their supplies carefully stored.

I used the tea balls in a Nosework session with a trainer and was impressed with how the dogs took to them. Not only can the dog put their nose directly on the source, there is no chance of them ingesting the Q-tip. A win-win.

[See my article The Channeling and Pooling Hides for more information regarding the training methods]

The Tea Strainer

My Birch tea ball.

My Birch tea ball.


Whether to train or trial, load your Q-tips before leaving if you are on the road. It makes it a lot easier than trying to avoid contaminating the vehicle your dog will be in all the time. You can use ziplock bags, mason jars, baby food jars, and any storage with an excellent seal to contain as much odor as possible. It’s not a bad idea to seal your Q-tips in a smaller jar and then store everything in a larger sealed container. You can find a great selection of sealed containers in Walmart's House/kitchen department.

Everyone’s routine is different; find what works for you.

Evidently, all your supplies will wind up in one big container but individually stored. Birch tins, Q-tips, tea-strainers, etc, will all be together and the same goes for Anise and Clove.

  • It is not the end of the world if scents are contaminated. Yes, it is irritating but the situation is salvageable. Make sure you find solid containers such as mason jars, baby food jars and more to keep your scents separate. Carefully, wipe down any tools that may or may not have been contaminated.
  • REMEMBER: Birch, Anise and Clove are OILS. Like that saying, oil and water don't mix. While soap and water can help clean any contaminated items, only time will actually make a difference as the odor ages. Try to keep you dog away from the contaminated item as much as you can to avoid desensitization.

There you have it, now you can store, prepare and use your scented Q-tips like a pro. Until next time!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Regin St Cyr

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