We updated our popular public access test!
Now it will work even better for different disabilities and ways of working with a service dog.
Our PAT also now includes the explanations of our public access standard and CGC Canine Good Citizen Test.
The Smart Service Dog service dog public access test (PAT) helps evaluate service dog team behavior in public, no-pets places. It’s most often used toward the end of a team’s initial 1–3 years of training to behave in no-pets places.
The PAT includes unacceptable behaviors, obedience behaviors, and behavior in different locations and situations.
2022 PSDP Public Access Test
The 2022 update to our PAT combines the kind of explanations in our previous public access standard. with the practical evaluations of our 2017 PAT. The revised guidelines and activities are designed to work better for a diversity of disabilities and effective ways of using a service dog.
The PAT is based on the community standards within our organization.
The standards should not be construed either as a suggestion to over-specify new laws or as guidance for understanding current laws. As a result of these standards, SSD encourages more responsible handling of service dogs within the service dog community.
How do I take the PAT—and why should I?
The Smart Dog K9 Behaviour and Training Centre administers our Public access program, though it is administered by experienced trainers/service dog handlers.
Any PAT evaluation is only as valuable as the ability and accuracy of the tester. We advise that when teams take the PAT, they have a third person record the test on video.
This can provide useful feedback for future training. Further, in case a team ever has to go to court, a video record is an independent way of showing that the team accomplished what the tester indicates they did.
We recommend keeping training logs to personally track training and just in case you ever find yourself in court with a service dog related issue. The PAT is a part of this self-check and record-keeping. The PAT test must be done yearly by the dogs and handlers, this is not optional in our program.
This re-testing can give you the confidence you’re maintaining your training—and one community member found it to be extremely helpful in winning her case with a shopping centre and fitness gym.
Should you have any queries or need further information feel free to email us at or mobile 0812704672
puppy, dog training, puppy school

5 Important Tips to Socializing your dog

puppy, dog training, puppy schoolSo you know you’re supposed to socialize your new puppy but you just don’t have time in your schedule for a puppy class. Don’t worry; by following a few simple rules, you can keep your puppy safe while making sure he has the experiences he needs to become a well-adjusted member of your family.

First, get your treat bag on! Purchase from the Smart Dog online Store and get in the habit of wearing it everywhere. Every morning when you measure your puppy’s breakfast kibble, put most of it in a bowl or foraging toy and put a portion of it in your pouch to use during the day. When you take your puppy places or plan to expose him to things that may be scary, add some special treats to the bag such as tiny pieces of boiled chicken, string cheese, or soft, chewy, commercial dog treats.

Second, take your puppy with you everywhere that you safely can. Avoid allowing your puppy to walk in areas where dog of unknown health status may have traveled, so no pet stores or dog parks!

Do take your puppy through the drive-thru at the bank or fast food restaurant and allow him to see you talking to and interacting with people outside your car.

Do take your puppy to visit friends and family members, especially if they have well-behaved, well-vaccinated dogs, other species of animals, and family members of all ages and types.

Third, reinforce your puppy with a piece of kibble or other tasty treat every time he experiences something new and shows any interest at all. If the puppy acts concerned or startled when experiencing something new, don’t force him to explore further; just be patient and wait. You can toss treats closer to the object or person so that he is reinforced for being brave. It is important that it be the puppy’s choice to investigate!

When meeting unfamiliar people, stop and give your pup a treat. If he shows an interest in approaching the new person, allow the pup to approach (you can tell the puppy “Go say hello”) and allow the person to give your puppy another lower-value treat. This teaches the puppy to associate good things with meeting new people while also helping to teach some self-control.

Do praise your puppy, but never scold regardless of how your puppy is acting. Scolding is never helpful if puppy is afraid, and increases the chance of making the puppy afraid of you! If you feel a puppy’s behavior is inappropriate (your puppy is overly excited and ignoring you, or is fearful and distressed), remove him from the situation quickly but calmly and use a happy, upbeat tone of voice to try to distract him or draw his attention back to you.

Fourth, keep these same ideas in mind at home and think about giving your puppy the opportunity to experience new things in a very careful and considerate way.

For example, when it is time to vacuum, don’t just begin vacuuming around the puppy while he is confined to his crate and expect him to get used to it! First bring out the vacuum cleaner and, without turning it on, allow your puppy to explore at his own pace and eat treats that you slowly toss closer and closer to the vacuum cleaner. When you first turn it on, turn it on at the lowest setting with the puppy across the room, to keep from scaring him. Taking it slow and associating the big scary machine with yummy treats is the best way to teach your puppy there is nothing to fear. If you don’t have time to do this, place the puppy in a safe place out of hearing or visual range of the vacuum while you clean the house until you do have time to make this experience a positive one.

Expose the puppy to other household appliances, different flooring, gadgets, machinery, bicycles, umbrellas, and anything you can think of in this same careful way. The more positive experiences the puppy has during the first 4 months of life, with the greatest variety of people, places, and things, the greater the chances that the puppy will grow into a dog with fewer signs of fear and anxiety when confronted with novel situations.

Fifth, place an Adaptil Junior collar on your pup and replace it every thirty days for at least the first three months. Adaptil Junior, a collar made just for puppies, is impregnated with dog appeasing pheromone, a pheromone that mother dogs produce during the time that they are nursing their puppies.1

In one study, half the puppies attending puppy classes wore an Adaptil collar and the other half wore a placebo collar. At 1, 3 and 6 months later, the puppies who had worn Adaptil collars demonstrated signs of being better socialized than the puppies who wore placebo collars. They showed fewer signs of fear or anxiety when exposed to unfamiliar people, novel objects, and other situations that often result in fear in poorly socialized dogs.2 Wearing an Adaptil collar may help puppies develop into adult dogs who are better adapted to day to day life in a typical busy human household.


  1. Pageat P, Gaultier E. Current research in canine and feline pheromones. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2003: 33;187-211.
  2. Denenberg S, Landsberg GM. Effects of dog appeasing pheromone on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long term socialization. JAVMA 2008: 233;12.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Training Tips 1-8

1. Be committed.

Do not get a puppy or a dog for a pet if you are not fully committed in caring for it. Without commitment, you can never train your pet effectively. By being committed, as well as by loving your pet, you would have the necessary drive to do what needs to be done, in order to train him well.

2. Never give up.

Whether you are trying to train a dog or a puppy, you need to be aware that it requires time and a lot of patience, in order to get your pet to perform the things you want him to do. In other words, you need to be patient about it. Aside from that, you should never give up, so that he would be able to understand what you want and do it.

3. Be positive.

Be positive at all times when it comes to training your dog. A positive attitude will mean a lot for your pet, since he can feel when you become frustrated or angry. Being positive means that you have to praise him whenever he does something good. Aside from that, you should also believe that your pet can do it, so as to encourage a more positive atmosphere.

4. Prepare treats.

Dogs love treats like dog biscuits, and such. Prior to taking the steps in training your pet, you should prepare treats as rewards for your pet, whenever your dog is able to follow your command. Make sure that the kind of treats you have prepared is something that he really likes much, so that he would really know that he has done something right. The treat must equal the when im training a scent dog yummy steak is on offer for the correct indication.

5. Do not forget about your dog’s health.

Before training your dog, you have to make sure that he is in top condition. This is because, a dog that is not feeling a hundred percent well would not have the focus that you want him to have. He should be a happy and healthy dog to begin with, which is why you should make sure that he eats nutritious foods, and he should be taken to a veterinarian for his regular checkups.

Do a dogs First Aid course, we offer 3 various levels.

6. Take your dog for a walk.

Walking your dog can make him happy. It can also ensure that he gets enough exercise, which would promote his health. Doing this on a regular basis would make your dog see it as a routine; and, this would make positive results in your training program, especially if you do it on a regular basis as well.

7. Play with your dog.

Dog training should just be one of the things that you do in a particular day. In other words, do not do it for all the time that you spend with your dog. Play with him whenever you can, so that he can feel that being with you is not just all about learning new things, but having fun as well. Send us an whatsapp to receive your free 24 games booklet for free.

8. Train your dog in a place free from distractions.

You have to take note that dogs can get easily distracted. In other words, if you want his full attention on the trick or task that you need him to perform, then you should make sure that you are doing it in a place free from distractions. Keep in mind that your other pets can distract him, as well as other people in your household.

border collie

Border Collies

Border Collie Training: Working with herding breeds


Border Collies struggle in urban environments when they’re not given appropriate outlets for their intrinsic desire to herd. We see so many Collie owners desperately relying on a ball chucker to tire their dogs out, but what is this really doing to the dog?


It’s sadly very common to see Border Collies transfer their herding instincts into chasing anything that moves, be that cars, children, bikes or even shadows.


What these beautiful dogs need is access to engage in herding in a way that is controlled, fun and harnesses their natural instincts. They can learn to herd while increasing their ability to recall from a distance, engage with their human, and enjoy more freedom safely.


If you are working with herding breeds or considering doing so, then this will revolutionise how you empower owners to understand their dogs so that they can live healthy, happy lives together.

border collie


Understanding breed history

Whatever dog breed you are working with, understanding breed history is critical. Over thousands of years, we have shaped our dog’s behaviors according to the jobs they were bred for.

While the dogs you work with may now be living their lives in pet homes, there is a strong

possibility that what lies beneath problem behaviours is linked in part to the breed’s natural instincts. What you’re really seeing is a dog performing breed-specific traits in a different environment, like a Collie trying to herd kids at the local park.

Border Collie Breed History

Border Collies are, of course, a herding breed. Herding is about stopping and controlling movement. They were bred to work alongside their shepherd to gather a large number of animals together and then control and drive those animal’s movements.


So when working with herding breeds, we need to be mindful of the characteristics that go along with being a successful herder.

Herding breeds are quickly aroused to meet the need to go from zero to 10 in the flick of a switch. If a sheep breaks from a herd, a Border Collie needs to respond immediately and stop and control the movement of the one that’s running away.

The hunt sequence used in working dogs is wired into pet dogs too.

Eye – Stalk – Chase – Grab – Possess – Disect – Chew

For Border Collies, the part of the herding sequence that is most relevant is to eye, stalk, chase, and grab.

It’s intrinsically reinforcing for Border Collies to do these behaviours.

Border Collies need to be environmentally sensitive and aware of all the things that are going on around them so they can work with their handler at a distance while protecting their own safety and security.

When we think about all of these traits that are essential for them to perform their job of controlling the movement of sheep or livestock, we can see how and why behaviour problems can often show up in domestic environments for the breed.

For thousands of years, we’ve been creating a high arousal, easily frustrated animal that likes to be able to control movement and gets very, very easily upset if they can’t do that. When a Border Collie isn’t able to perform the eye – stalk – chase of the hunt sequence, their innate need to fulfil those behaviours is stifled. And this often shows up with lunging, barking, nipping or chasing things that aren’t safe.

They’re hugely environmentally sensitive, have a very close bond with their handler, and have enormous energy to complete the task they were bred to do.

A Collie’s early life experiences were likely to be on a farm, in kennels and spent watching their parent’s work with their shepherd and the sheep. They had little to no exposure to homes, people, streets, cars and all the things they’re confronted with in an urban environment.

It wasn’t important that they were super friendly to everybody that came into the farmyard or that they could cope with traffic. It was imperative that they had the endurance and natural herding ability, and quick action to instantly do everything that the farmer needed.

It’s possible to have an urban domestic Border Collie, who lies down by your fire at night or gets snuggled up on the sofa with you, with the right training and lifestyle considerations. A Border Collie can be perfectly happy, well-nourished, and a beautiful member of the family.

But we need to know what to avoid and what to do to bring out the very best in them.


Are you paying attention?

by Pam Mackinnon TDS

Are you paying attention? What is your dog doing right now? Do you know?

Perhaps she’s in the room with you snoozing by your side just like my terrier girls? Or perhaps she’s taken herself off to bed in another room like my lab? If you have other folks at home with you, she could be with them and so you don’t actually know what she’s doing. Unfortunately, too many people don’t know what their dog is doing, even when they are right there with them. Being attentive is an active choice and to become good at it, you need to practise. Really observing your dog, not just watching her, is one of the most important and transferable skills you’ll learn in scentwork.

Coming up . . .
  1. Stressful reminder
  2. How would it feel?
  3. New pup
  4. Stay out of it!
  5. Not my business
  6. Decide to be attentive
  7. Be mindful
  8. Vital communication
  9. Let’s up our game

1.Stressful reminder

I was reminded of this whilst waiting at the vets. Ettie had a follow up appointment and the poor vet was running late. Our practice is inside a large pet shop. As we sat in the waiting area on the first floor of the store, I could see the whole pet shop laid out before me. I could see the front door and all the customers arriving, browsing and leaving. And I can’t tell you how stressful this was!

Watching non-trainers with their dogs is rarely fun. (TBH, this applies to watching some trainers too, but I’ll leave that for another post!) One of the few upsides to COVID was that veterinary patients had to wait in cars rather than waiting rooms. But today, I was trapped in the biggest waiting room ever. “So why was is stressful” I hear you ask? In a nutshell, it was witnessing the disconnect between dogs and their people.

How would it feel?

Before I go any further, imagine you had to watch somebody doing your job when they have zero skills or experience of it. I’d bet good money that you would find it uncomfortable and be itching to intervene to show them how to do it properly. Or more efficiently. Maybe just to do it better. Now imagine that you have a whole warehouse full of those people muddling along. Next, imagine knowing how to help and support those people to be better able to do the job – but not being able to help. That is where the stress comes in. 

New pup

One customer arrived at the automatic doors with his very young English Bulldog puppy. Putting aside my instant and ever present question when I see brachy dogs (brachycephalic meaning short nosed or flat faced, commonly used to describe dogs with ‘squashed’ faces such as English and French Bulldogs) of ‘Why did you choose a dog who has deliberately bred to be deformed?’(you can read more on my thoughts on this in a previous post) And further wondering where in his research of the breed he though “Yes, let’s make sure he’s docked too.’ Putting all those judgements aside, I watched this man taking his little pup out for his first trip to the pet shop.

That he was in the pet shop with his puppy made my heart melt. He wanted to care for his little bully, and buy him all he could ever want. Once he’d negotiated the whoosh of the doors, which luckily stayed open most of the time as other customers bustled in and out, he met his first big challenge – another dog. An excited poodle mix bounced onto the pup. Pup tried to back away but was prevented from moving by a stack of shopping baskets and by his person who tightened the lead. Now he was trapped. The boy with the poodle mix kept moving forward, allowing his dog to keep jumping and sniffing and interacting with the puppy. The man with the puppy maintained the tight lead and watched as his pup was subjected to the attentions of the other dog. 

4.Stay out of it!

By now I was positively sweating, almost holding on to my chair in an effort not to run down the stairs to help the puppy. But the situation was none of my business. It had nothing to do with me. Hand on heart, I can’t say that if I’d already been down there beside the pup that I wouldn’t have intervened. But I wasn’t, so I stayed put. 

5. Not my business

Eventually the poodle mix left the shop and the pup could continue on his way. Except that this was a big new place, scary things could happen there, as he’d already discovered, and the floor was slippery. But that was to the man’s advantage as he was able to slide his pup along the floor by pulling on the lead. After a mix of sliding and stumbling along, they eventually made it to their destination – the toy aisle. I watched as the man tried to find a toy that his puppy would like. He took toy after toy off the shelf and squeaked it and/or shook it at his puppy. The pup ignored them all. 

What the man didn’t see was that as he was selecting toys from the upper shelf, the pup had time to investigate those on the lower shelf. Each time the man tried to engage the pup with a toy, he distracted him from choosing his own toy from the accessible offerings. Had he been paying attention to his puppy he’d have been able to see his puppy’s preferences. 

And that’s the crux of this example. The whole trip to the store could have been very different had the man been mindful of his puppy. The pup’s body language was really good, really clear. And you didn’t have to be an expert to understand much of what the pup was saying. Backing away from something means the same for most mammals. It’s a way to increase distance. To make time to assess the situation to decide if it’s safe to move closer, to interact. But folks often don’t notice this even in human-human interactions. If somebody moves into my space, i.e. moves closer to me than I’m comfortable with, I will move back to increase the distance between me and them. But often, the person again decreases the space oblivious to my reason for moving. 

6. Decide to be attentive

Paying attention to body language isn’t difficult, but it must be an active decision. The person might have been distracted and thought the queue was moving forward and that’s why I’d moved. Or they could have been more comfortable than I was when it comes to standing close to strangers. With the pandemic I do think that people are more aware of social distancing than ever before. Is this to do with health or with reading each other’s body language though? I’d guess the former. 

As the puppy backed away from the other other dog, the man could have allowed the pup free movement. He might then have discovered that if given space and time, the pup may well have chosen to move forward to interact with the friendly dog. But he was never given that option. Maybe (almost definitely) the man didn’t know what to do in the the situation. If he had taken a moment to really look at what his puppy was doing and think about why he might have been doing that, he may well have figured out that he should let his puppy back off.

7. Be mindful

In many situations, all it takes is mindfulness. Observe. Be aware. Be thoughtful. Put yourself in the same situation to see how you’d feel. If the boy with the dog had jumped on the man with the pup I wonder if he’d have stood still and allowed him to paw, push and jostle him? Would he have felt comfortable with this interaction? Would it have been something he’d hope would happen with the next person he saw or would he have avoided similar interactions in future? 

Observing dogs is my passion. And puzzling as it may be to me, I do acknowledge that not everyone shares this fascination. However, if you have charge of an animal, it is your responsibility to care for it. This means putting in some work to learn their language.

It requires effort to stay alert and aware of how different environments and situations could or do impact your charge. The only downside to this is that once you do start paying attention, you see miscommunication and disconnect all around you.

And that is distressing. But it’s the price you pay for working on having a wonderful relationship with your dog. 

8. Vital communication

I see this in scentwork all the time. It’s part of what we do when we work together with our dogs for common cause. The whole search is a two way conversation, played out mostly with body language by both parties. Not paying attention to your search dog is to let her down, to fail to fulfil your side of the partnership. So often it’s that fleeting moment when the handler turns away from the dog that she indicates and the moment, and target, is lost. Failing to respond to an indication can confuse the dog. ‘Maybe my handler doesn’t want to know about the scent after all?’ Or in the worst case ‘Maybe I’m not looking for the correct scent, I’m not sure what I’m doing’

Observation is also about safety. Maintaining safety and security in the search area by getting ready if the dog is about to jump onto something. Maintaining security by letting the dog know you’ve always got her back, will always be there to support her mentally as well as physically.

Being mindful of human body language and communication signals is just as important for the dog as for us. If the dog doesn’t pay attention to what we are saying she might never access part of the search area and so may not locate the find. It might mean that she expends all her energy before the search is complete and so may inadvertently limit the number of finds. Without learning to observe us during searches, and practising that skill, the dog will be a less efficient and successful scentworker. And vice versa.

9. Let’s up our game

So let’s up our game and really pay attention to our dogs, especially when out and about. Let’s help them have wonderfully positive interactions with other people and dogs and places – on their terms. Let her back off. Don’t let her invade other’s spaces. Support her with your voice and with treats and touch to help reinforce great interactions and avoid and/or repair negative ones. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert, you just have to pay attention!

WhatsApp Image 2021-09-27 at 12.23.24 (2)

A Story by Hesme

There are many reasons why you should not get a service dog. They are expensive to train.

They require a lot of work, energy, time and effort. You always must think and be responsible for the dog. You will constantly have to fight for your right to access.

People will stare at you and discriminate against you. You might even have to give up certain things you love.

All that said, I would not exchange my service dog and everything that comes with him for anything in the world.

My name is Hesmé Cronjé and I have autism, multiple mental health conditions, a seizure disorder and fibromyalgia.

I have had my fair share of challenges regrading my health. I struggle to cross a road by myself, go shopping, communicate and generally functions in a neurotypical society that is not made to accept people with my conditions.

There was a time when I would come home from school and cry until I fell asleep.

I thought I would never be able to be independent. But my service dog changed that. My service dog gave me confidence. My service dog gave me a chance at “normal”. My service dog gave my hope for a future.


I went from having a seizure a day and being so overwhelmed with anxiety that I felt like I could barely breathe to someone who is advocating for myself, and others like me.

A service dog opens a world that once seemed so far out of reach to disabled people. We get to truly live!

My dog saved my life and continues to do so, but he also taught me how to live and thrive. I am happy and hopefully. And for that I am eternally grateful.

the smart dog

What must I look for when getting a puppy!


One of the saddest things in private practice is witnessing the joy and delight of a new puppy turn to sorrow when, a few days after its purchase; it succumbs to a horrible disease like parvo virus or distemper. What makes it especially sad is that these diseases are preventable with correct vaccination.

A growing trend appears to be for breeders to vaccinate their puppies before selling them – presumably to save on veterinary fees. This “saving” may be very short-sighted. Breeders are not adequately trained in the proper handling and administration of vaccines, nor are they trained to diagnose disease in its early stages. Vaccinating a puppy that is not completely healthy renders the vaccine ineffective and may actually exacerbate illness. There is also the dilemma that the veterinarian faces with the rest of the vaccination programme for the puppy viz. to ignore the first vaccine done by the breeder and start again, or to trust and hope that the first vaccine was done properly. Over vaccinating can also be harmful.

Furthermore any person performing a veterinary act for financial gain (e.g. vaccinating puppies and charging for it) and who is not registered with the South African Veterinary Council is in contravention of the Veterinary and Para-veterinary Act No 19 of 1982 and as such is liable for prosecution.

A puppy that has been vaccinated by a veterinarian will have a legitimate vaccine book or certificate showing proof of vaccination. This book or certificate will be a printed document with the veterinary practice details on the front cover and the veterinarian’s signature and practice stamp in the appropriate place inside. It will NOT be a photocopied or type written document on cheap paper or card.

Puppies from pet stores are especially prone to developing disease a few days after being purchased. These puppies have often been sourced from all over the country and transported under great stress to the pet store. Here they are grouped together increasing their exposure to infectious diseases. Legitimate pet stores will offer to cover the costs of any illness which may develop within the first two weeks of purchase.

In summary the following points may be helpful when purchasing a new puppy:

  1. If the first vaccinations have already been done, ensure that they were done by a veterinarian. Make sure there is a legitimate vaccine book with the veterinary practice details on it. Do not fall for any excuses like the vaccine books are still coming. The books are issued immediately with the first vaccine.
  2. If you are paying for a pedigreed puppy make sure you receive the papers with the puppy. Do not fall for any excuses like the papers are still coming. Also ask to see the pedigree papers of the parents.
  3. Legitimate breeders work closely with their veterinarian – ask for the veterinarian’s details in case your puppy has problems and your veterinarian needs to contact the breeder’s vet.
Computer keyboard with symbol of people showing Virtual Classroom

Virtual Training

Virtual training has increased since the Covid 19 lockdowns as an option for some types of training.

Virtual training is where the course is delivered online through platforms like Zoom and The Smart Dog Training Platform   You can take the course at home or work and interact and learn through a virtual platform whether on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Virtual training is not for everyone and you need to have a good internet connection but it does allow you to learn without travel and you still have the advantage of the course being taught by an instructor so you can ask questions.  The instructor can break the group up into smaller groups using break-out rooms so you can still have group discussions, feedback can be done individually without others hearing.  At The Smart Dog we have a virtual training platform and digital test system to make virtual training work really well.

The advantages of virtual training are:

  • You can be anywhere in the world when you take the course
  • No travelling to the course
  • Still benefit from training with a live instructor and other students
  • Access to course downloads
  • Fully accredited training
  • Ask questions when you want
  • Still have the benefit of a structured lesson rather than self-study

For more information on any format of training to suit your needs, please contact us by phoning 081 270 4672, or  email:

search setting solutions printables

Toilet roll tubes three ways – how to make searches for all skill levels

Toilet roll tubes can be used is lots of unexpected ways. One of the most useful hacks I discovered many years ago was to use them to store plugs and chargers. You pop the chargers inside the tubes and then sit the filled tubes in a drawer or box. This stops them getting tangled up, making it easy to lift one out without having to wrestle with the others. And if you write on the tube what the charger is for then you can put an end to rummaging blindly as you try charger after charger into your device. Simple, cheap, practical. 

Coming up
  • Invest wisely
  • Search 1 – Beginners
    • Search goal
    • Tips
    • Goals
    • What I learned from these searches
    • What I hope Ettie learned
  • Search 2 – Intermediate
    • Edible finds
    • Search goals
    • Tips
    • What I learned from these searches
    • What I hope Ella learned
  • Search 3 – Experienced 
    • Search goal
    • Tips
    • What I learned from these searches
    • Build confidence
    • What I hoped Cherry learned

Invest wisely

And those are three words that I live by when it comes to scentwork equipment. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs about making up scentwork tins or using boxes in searches, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of using whatever is around is rather than spending money on fancy equipment. I believe that it’s better to invest in excellent training rather than throwing money away on ‘special’ boxes. Quality training and the correct harness are essential purchases. Everything else is gravy!

I thought you might find it useful if I detailed three ways to use the cardboard innards of toilet rolls in scentwork searches. Each search can be adapted to your dog, your target scent, your style of working (e.g. passive or active indications) and your team’s skill level. Never forget, that scentwork is a team activity. That means that you need to pay attention to the skill levels of both the handler and the dog. I’m going to showcase searches at three levels: beginner, intermediate and experienced. You can vary every factor so that it fits with your search goals, but here are the basic set-ups for each search. 

search setting solutions printables
Click here to order your Search Setting Solutions Printables Pack

Search 1 – Beginners

I really like this cute search. And so did Ettie! This search uses only the toilet roll tubes and a scented article. I set it up indoors because it’s quite a windy day today. But if you’ve a sheltered outside area you could do it there too. All I did was scatter the toilet rolls on the floor. Then I picked one and inserted a scented article. (Ettie searches for catnip scent.) I pushed it right in so that there was no visual clue to it’s contents. Then I placed it back amongst the empty unscented rolls. 

Search goal

The goal of this search was for Ettie to distinguish the target tube from the others using her nose. By using identical objects for her to search I could confirm that she could successfully find the target scent. The only thing distinguishing the target tube from the others is the scent. When Ettie found the target she was free to rip up the tube to get to the scented toy, play with the toy still in the tube or bring it to me to release the toy from the tube. The choice was hers.


Toss the tubes into the area. Then if any are too close to the others I can move them to increase the distance. I want each tube to have it’s own little area so that Ettie has space to move around them. I also don’t want the target tube to be touching, and so contaminating, it’s neighbours. Finding the scent without the article can easily cause confusion and disappointment for beginner dogs.

Once you’ve inserted the scented article into the tube, do not touch any of the other tubes. Again, this could contaminate them with the target odour. 


Place the target tube according to your search goal. Do you want to build confidence? Place it close to the entrance to the search area facing onto the dog. By placing the tube so that the open ends point towards the dog as she enters, there is more air flow in her direction and so she is more likely to hit the scent quickly. Placing the tube so that the cardboard acts as a barrier between dog and scent can make it trickier. We are talking small amounts of difficulty changes, but in scentwork, small changes can have big results. And don’t worry if the dog moves the tubes as she’s searching, you can only do so much!

Once the dog finds the target, always play outside of the search area. If you want to reuse this area for more searches, you want to keep contamination to a minimum. By playing outside the area you can be free to enjoy the game without worrying about the toy or the tube touching ‘clean’ tubes or flooring that remain in the area. 

Do NOT reuse tubes. Once an article has been placed in a tube, throw the tube away in your outside bin (you don’t want your dog indicating on your indoor bins!) These tubes are free so you can afford to chuck them straight into the recycling after each search.    

What I learned from these searches

That Ettie is no longer a beginner when it comes to free searching. Her indication is strong and confident. Next step, increase duration and directed searching.

The first search reminded me why it’s useful to record searches. Ettie exuberantly shook the mouse. You can see this if you pop over to my Instagram account. So much that the toilet tube that contained it flew off into the search area. I had no idea which one was the contaminated tube. But I was able to review the footage and remove the correct tube before the next search. Had I not been recording, I’d have had to remove multiple tubes in order to ensure I’d not left the contaminated one in the search area.  

What I hope Ettie learned

That when she hits the scent not to doubt herself. And to be fearless when it comes to accessing the scented article from whatever it’s been hidden in. 

Search 2 – Intermediate

This time I’m using the toilet rolls as an additional layer for the finds. The more layers, the smaller the scent picture. Scent moves in air. If that scented air has to travel through several layers the target odour takes longer to reach the surface and escape the hide. It can also be a little weaker as it loses scent particles as it moves through each layer. 

The amount of loss and the delay in emerging depends on the material of the layers. Thick plastic will hold scent inside. But it can move easily through fabric. The fabric will also absorb lots of scent making the picture bigger. While the plastic will absorb hardly any and so will continue to make the scent picture small. However, once the dog hits the scent in the plastic and accesses the article, the scent will be strong and reinforcing. This really helps dogs understand that tiny amounts of scent can lead to bigger pictures and the scented article itself. In the small amounts of catnip we are using, experienced dogs are not generally influenced by the volume or density of scent. But for dogs learning to work with varying amounts, this can be a real confidence boost.  

Edible finds

This search was for Ella. I thought I’d use cheese as my target scent so that you could see that these searches can accommodate whatever scent you like. Plus while Ella will happily search for catnip articles, she prefers to hunt for edible finds!

To make a layered hide, I squished some cheese into a couple of the toilet roll tubes. Then I placed the tubes inside other boxes I’d been saving. (If you wanted to make this a little trickier you could close the ends of one of the tubes over.) Then I placed it inside a single box making a two layered find. This should be quite a simple find as there is lots of air circulating both in the box and in the tube. 

target scent in tube which is placed into a box
Simple two layered find. I closed the box over but didn’t seal it

With the other one, I squashed the tube flat. Then I placed it inside a box that already had multiple layers with in, making a two – five layered find depending on where Ella hit the scent. If she turned the box over and hit the scent from the underside of the box, it would be a two layer: box bottom + one side of the tube. But if she hit it from the top of the box it would be five layers: box lid + thin plastic + cardboard + thin plastic + toilet tube. If I folded the tube over I could increase the layers even more. 

All the boxes were placed at floor level. I wanted to give Ella every opportunity to access the finds with minimal help from me. Note: locate v access: I will always work with the dog to support her as she searches for the finds. But once she’s located them, whenever possible, I encourage the dog to dig in and get the finds, i.e. access them, herself. This can add to the pleasure of the reward, builds confidence and prevents the dog from stepping back expecting me to provide waitress service. However, I am always ready to step in to assist if she can’t quite reach the finds. 

Search goals

This search aimed to help Ella sniff deeply through layers in order to locate the finds. I wanted to give her multiple opportunities hence setting up a multi-find search. I also wanted to encourage her to dig into the hides to access the cheese. This action reinforces the pleasure of finding the cheese by giving confirmation that small amounts of scent still result in strong rewards. 


Soften the cheese in your hands before placing it inside the tube This will warm it and make it stickier so that it doesn’t simply fall out of the tube if the hide is moved. 

Use a small amount of cheese, 1cm cubes are ideal for Ella. If your dog is less experienced, use bigger cubes, or more experienced, use less. 

Try not to use your thumb as you place the cheese into the tube. It will likely be greasy and cheesy after picking up and softening the cheese. It’s an easy mistake to press your thumb onto the outside of the tube as you press the cheese to the inside. If you do you contaminate the outside of the tube.  

Make sure you wash your hands after squishing the cheese in place. In a perfect world this would be after you’ve placed it into the tube and before you put the cheesy tube into the box. But whatever your circumstances, try to keep contamination to a minimum. 

As before, do NOT reuse tubes. Or contaminated boxes. For each search, use fresh equipment. Cardboard is cheap and plentiful, so no need to risk confusion by reusing them. 

What I learned from these searches

That since having her upper front teeth taken out, she finds it tricky to eat the cheese from the tubes. She tried but without those teeth to scrape it out she struggled. Therefore I happily stepped in to rip the tubes and give her access. 

On the first search she quickly located the hide but was confused not to find the cheese directly inside the box, but inside the tube too. It was clear that when I helped her to get into the box to get the find, that her issue was not in fact accessing the box, but locating the find within the box. With some assistance she figured it out. 

To help clarify that the tubes could be hides too, for the next search I went back a step with the tubes. I hid the find just as I had for Ettie. By sticking the cheese inside the tube and placing it on the floor amongst the other tubes and boxes, Ella was able to reinforce her discovery from the previous search. After she found the cheesy tube she continued the search and quickly located the third find through all the layers. I’ll post the third find on Instagram.  

What I hope Ella learned

That the target scent might be inside something that she would dismiss if she relied on visual confirmation. That I will always support her to access the find but that she is capable to digging into boxes, etc. more than she first thought. And that even without her front teeth, she can still eat the cheese! 

Search 3 – Experienced 

This time I’m using the tubes themselves as the scented articles. I cut the tubes into strips and hoops. Scenting up whole tubes would be way too easy for an experienced dog. But if this is your dog’s first time searching for scented cardboard, then start with whole tube and make the pieces smaller as her skill and confidence grows. Then I popped them into the scentwork tin to soak up the catnip scent. 

I also cut up some of the other tubes. Those pieces I would leave unscented. 

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a windy day here. Cherry is experienced and loves to work outdoors, so setting up some outside searches would be perfect for her. I placed multiple finds in each search. I also placed multiple unscented pieces in each search. Some of each were placed in plain sight, and some were hidden out of sight. I hid them at various heights, high and low. As with Ettie and Ella’s searches, there were no high or slippery surfaces in the search areas so I conducted all three searches without the girls wearing their harnesses.   

Search goal

My goal for Cherry, my experienced dog, was to test to ensure she was indicating on the target scent and not just assuming because she found something incongruous to the area that it was automatically the article. I wanted to check that she was indicating on the scent rather than the tube pieces   


Cut the tubes up before opening the tin. You don’t want to let too much catnip scent into the air while you prepare the tubes. So keep the lid on until you’re ready to add the tube pieces. 

Prepare these articles the day before you want to do the searches. This will give the tubes lots of time to soak the scent.

scent tin containing toilet roll tubes
I placed the pieces of toilet roll tubes into the scent tin the night before our searches

Cut up more tubes that you intend to use. That way you’ll have some in the tin for next time too. 

Mark the unscented tubes so that you can double check which ones your dog is indicating on. 

If this is the first time you’ve done searches with this goal it’s useful for the search to be known. That means you know which ones are scented and which are not. This helps ensure that you don’t reinforce the dog for retrieving or showing on the unscented items. 

What I learned from these searches

That we need to practise this more! Cherry spotted one of the unscented cardboard rings early on in the search. She half heartedly mouthed at it but when I simply responded by asking her to ‘Find it’ she moved on. She quickly picked up the scent of one of the finds and was able to happily search on to locate the scented cardboard. It is clear to see the difference between her interest in the unscented and scented cardboard when comparing both behaviours so close together. Another advantage to recording searches. I’ll post a quick video of this on Instagram.

Later in the search she hit the target scent and when tracing it to source she saw the unscented cardboard again. She moved to pull it off the branch (both scented and unscented tube rings were hidden in a couple of shrubs that stood side by side.) As I knew it wasn’t scented I was able to give a quick ‘ah,ah’, repeated the ‘find it’ cue and she continued on to find the target, ignoring the unscented ring. 

Build confidence

At another point in the search she almost casually lifted an unscented piece of the tube off the fence. No indication, no usual behaviour when she finds the target. It was almost as if she thought she should take it just in case. With more practise on the skill she will be able to ignore unscented dummies like these with much more confidence. 

So there it is. Three very different uses for something that you’d most likely just toss into the recycling. The lowly toilet roll tube can now take a new status in your scentwork world. Simple, cheap and practical. And look at what me and the girls learned from these searches. So valuable and so much fun! These resources are super versatile. You are only limited by your imagination. So start collecting your toilet tubes today. 

What I hoped Cherry learned

Not to people please. To have the confidence to move on from something that looks like a find even if it doesn’t smell like one. 

Now it’s your turn

If you do any of these searches with your dog, I’d love to see them.Send pics/videos directly to me at