I'm gonna cut through the fillers as I'm sure you've got more important things to do with your day.
There are several, from the Randy Hare method to marker and target training. The method of your choice will depend on your experience and your dog's drives.
The method I used here on this video is marker and target training. By marker training I mean I use a terminal marker (Click, yes, etc), and by target training I mean... well, target training (In this case the target is the scent hole/odor source)
If you don't know what I mean by marker training, terminal marker or target training, look it up. Or wait for me to break it down on a future blog. Whenever I feel like typing that.
As I explain in the video below, my expectations are very low and easy in the beginning. You touch the target area with your nose and that's the moment I give a terminal marker (This means "perfect! a reward is coming" in operant conditioning terms)
I make it very easy by standing or sitting right over the target (a 5 gallon bucket with scent holes [odor inside]), as I progress, I slightly move away from the box. I do this GRADUALLY until the dog goes away from me and toward the target.
At this stage I don't ask the dog to down/sit (passive responses that tell the handler the odor is there), that comes later. My priority is to work on frequency and eventually a bit of duration on the nose target. Once the dog is very proficient with the concept (still on one box), I start adding the down command, which hopefully your dog already knows what that is. You could also use a sit, what matters is that they give you a passive response instead of an active response (scratch, bite or bark).
Once the dog gets this, I then add a second box. It is extremely important that the boxes you choose to use look identical (some scratches or a subtle visual reference for you are OK). We want the boxes to look identical because dogs are really good at discriminating. In scent work this is great! but we want them to discriminate with their olfactory sense, not their visual sense.
In the process of me adding a second box (an eventually a third, fourth, etc.) the dog may get slightly confused because now we're changing the picture. This is not uncommon, so don't call too much attention to it. Don't get mad, don't expect too much, just take whatever the dog can give you, the dog should quickly figure it out.
One thing you'll see by adding a second or third box, is that they'll start alerting on the wrong box (empty). I don't correct the dog, she's not lying to me, she's just trying what worked for her in the past. So all I do is nothing. I don't say "no", I don't correct, I simply wait. Because the live box(odor box) is so close to the other one, the dog will usually think to himself "well shit, why am I not getting rewarded? I'll try the other one" When the dog does that, even if it doesn't offer me the passive response, I immediately mark and reward. On following reps I start to raise the bar again.
By adding a second box the dog is learning that the most reliable way to get a reward is by going to the one box that has the specific smell. This is a critical moment in the dog's learning because this is where he really understands the basics of what the game is all about.
Eventually I add a third, and fourth box, following a very similar process to when I added a second box. Once you get to 4 boxes or so, make sure to move the boxes around, don't always use the same spot for your scent box because dogs are also good at remembering YOUR pattern of training
Once the dog is a pro at this game, you can bring the boxes to realistic training scenarios, to a kitchen, parking lot, etc. This gets the dog comfortable playing a predictable game in unpredictable locations. When I remove the boxes, I use a very easy to search location, like a corner for instance and at nose level. When you remove the boxes for the first time, remember that it's a new level your dog is playing at, a more difficult one. So don't expect too much the first 1 to 3 reps. I will even settle for a quick nose near at the odor spot (no alert), a few reps later and the dog goes "Ohhhh, it's the same thing minus the boxes now!". Congratulations! your dog understands the game now!
The boxes used on the video are just one version of what you could use. I wont take full credit for the design as it was a group effort among three of us. Your boxes could be made out of wood with just a hole on the top, they could be PVC thingies, or plain old cardboard boxes (with cardboard boxes be aware that some dogs start pawing and throwing the box around)
Here's what we used to put these boxes together:
Keep in mind this is only ONE method. There are other methods out there. You may have experience in different methods of imprinting odor and this new concept may contradict what you know or what you were taught. Which is fine! There are trainers that don't agree with this method because well, dog trainers are like that. Most dog trainers are too elevated in their own ego to accept new concepts when it doesn't come from them or people they look up to.
"CAN YOU DO THIS WITH A HIGH SPEED/LOW DRAG WORKING DOG?"
Yup! I do this on a fairly regular basis with high drive dogs using toys.
"CAN YOU USE TOYS?"
Yes!, however, the only hick up you may run into would be that your boxes will go flying all over the place (unless they're wooden boxes). The other thing to keep in mind is that when using toys, your dog will run out of fuel fast, so your training sessions will have to be shorter
Give it a try, if you're new to scent detection you may need to get together with someone with experience so they can give you some hints here and there. If you're new to marker training, maybe start there first. If you're new to dog training, don't be too ambitious and take your time.
Your training sessions shouldn't be that long. Anywhere between 2 to 5 or 10 minutes is more than enough. One common mistake trainers make is they work the dog to boredom, at that point you're just giving your dog schoolwork and no one likes schoolwork (unless you're a weirdo).
If you're getting frustrated, take it easy, slow down and be patient. If your dog is not getting it, it means YOU are not getting it.
And for the love of God, use a reward your dog actually likes! I see people on a regular basis trying to use kibble (which is OK if your dog is a crackhead for food). If your dog isn't motivated to get the reward, you wont get far at all.