Odor Carriers vs. Real Substances – A Comparison – My Thoughts
Detection dogs are known for their impressive abilities to use their extraordinary sense of smell to identify various substances. In the training of detection dogs, two main methods are used: working with odor carriers and working with real substances. Both approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages, and in this article, we will scientifically examine and compare them.
Odor Carriers: What are they and how do they work?
Odor carriers are synthetic materials (base materials for synthetic fibers are petroleum products that are converted into fibers through chemical processes. These include polyester, polyamide, elastane, or polyacrylic), which have been specifically developed to mimic the specific odor molecules of a sought-after substance (imitate, replicate).
They are often used as a safe alternative to real substances, especially when the sought-after substance is dangerous or difficult to obtain. Odor carriers provide the dogs with an “odor sample” of the target they are to be trained on.
Advantages of Odor Carriers:
Safety: Since they are synthetic, there is no risk of the dog or handler being exposed to dangerous substances such as drugs or explosives.
Availability: Odor carriers are often easier and more cost-effective to obtain than real substances, especially when it comes to illegal or dangerous materials.
Controlled Conditions: Odor carriers allow trainers to better control the training environment, as they know exactly which odors are in play.
Disadvantages of Odor Carriers:
Limited Accuracy: Although odor carriers have been developed to mimic the odor molecules of a substance, they may not capture all nuances of a real substance, and the vapor pressure behavior is different from that of real substances.
Cross-contamination: Odor carriers are designed to absorb and imitate other odors. However, there is a risk that this property may lead to the odor carrier itself becoming additionally contaminated or absorbing other odors, which can result in false positives or confusing outcomes.
Real Substances: What are they and how do they work?
Real substances are the actual substances that detection dogs are supposed to search for. When working with real substances, dogs are exposed directly to the authentic odor of the target substance. This can be particularly useful when it comes to training dogs on complex or difficult-to-imitate odors.
Advantages of Real Substances:
Accuracy: Since the dogs are trained directly on the actual substance, they are better prepared to identify the real odors in practice.
Comprehensive Training: Working with real substances allows dogs to become familiar with various odor nuances and combinations that may occur in real situations, such as altered vapor pressure behavior due to thermal influences.
Disadvantages of Real Substances:
Safety Risks: Working with dangerous or illegal substances such as drugs, explosives, or biological hazards can pose a significant safety risk to both the detection dog and the handler.
Procurement and Storage: Real substances can be difficult and expensive to obtain, especially when dealing with illegal or dangerous substances. Moreover, they may require special storage and handling procedures to minimize risks.
Legal and Regulatory Hurdles: The use of real substances, especially for prohibited or strictly regulated materials, can present legal and regulatory challenges.
Both the use of odor carriers and real substances have their own advantages and disadvantages in detection dog training. Odor carriers offer a safer, more accessible, and controllable training environment, but possibly at the expense of accuracy. Real substances, on the other hand, provide an authentic training basis, but with increased safety risks, procurement and storage issues, and potential legal challenges.
In practice, it may be most effective to use a combination of both approaches, depending on the type of substance being sought, the availability of resources, and the specific requirements of detection dog training. Ultimately, handlers and trainers should always prioritize the well-being of the dog and the safety of all involved, while simultaneously employing effective training methods to achieve the best possible results.
Personally, I always condition only on real substances and incorporate odor carriers as a supplement in later training sessions. An odor imprint can only ever be an insufficient imitation of a scent, meaning a copy in very small quantities and without marker substances or production-related additives of real substances.
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