This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Factors Affecting Odor Detection Proficiency in Dogs




Smith, Jordan

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Psychological Sciences

Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



Dogs fill a variety of roles in human society, but the detection dog is widely believed to be the most adept tool used in detecting contraband materials. However, the demand for detection dogs far exceeds the supply within national breeding and training programs, partially due to the low success rates associated with these programs. Although characterization of behavioral and physical qualities related to detection dog success have led to advancements in selection tools, it is critical to understand what factors may also be influencing a dog’s overall proficiency at detecting its target odor. This dissertation explores some of these issues, specifically factors that may be influencing a dog’s ability to discriminate and respond to a target odor. Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the dissertation by summarizing previous research on this topic and outlining the factors that will be addressed in each experiment. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss methods employed during early periods of development to promote improved discriminative abilities and greater sensitivity to trained odorants. Chapter 4 evaluates variations in training schedules to determine how spacing within sessions influences initial acquisition and retention of an odor discrimination task. Chapter 5 summarizes the results of Chapters 2 through 4 and discusses how these findings apply to the development and training of future detection dog candidates. Together, these results indicate that variations in early olfactory and initial training experiences differentially impact performance on an odor discrimination task. Specifically, olfactory enrichment during the critical postnatal period led to poorer performance on an odor discrimination task, but this finding may be due to differences in temperament traits between the enrichment group and a control group. In contrast, early discrimination training with a single odorant led to improved performance on the task with that odorant as an adult, but this benefit did not translate to a novel target odor. Lastly, a mid-session break within a training session did not affect acquisition or retention of an odor discrimination task, but higher reward arousal did improve training efficiency. Future directions for this research are discussed along with implications for detection dog training programs.