Training with varying odor concentrations: implications for odor detection thresholds in canines

Mallory T. DeChant, Nathaniel J. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Detection dogs are required to detect trace quantities of substances, many times in the parts per billion or parts per trillion concentration range. Frequently, detection of trace quantities is not explicitly trained but rather assumed when dogs show proficiency at higher concentrations to which they are trained. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of the odor concentration of the training sample on the minimum concentration dogs will subsequently detect. We expected that dogs may not spontaneously generalize to trace odor concentration when trained with higher concentrations, but when trained to a range of lower concentrations, dogs will show superior detection to lower untrained concentrations. A total of 11 dogs were randomly assigned to 2 groups and were trained to alert to isoamyl acetate at 0.01% odor dilution (v/v with mineral oil) using a 3-alternative forced choice test. Once reaching proficiency, odor detection threshold was assessed using a 2-down 1-up descending staircase procedure. Next, experimental dogs received training with systematically lower concentrations of isoamyl acetate and threshold re-assessed. Control dogs were yoked to experimental dogs in terms of training time, but only received training to the 0.01% dilution between threshold assessments. Experimental dogs showed significantly improved detection thresholds, outperforming control dogs by detecting an average dilution about 100-fold lower. Results suggest that explicitly training for lower concentrations is critical for generalization for trace odor detection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)889-896
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Detection dog
  • Generalization
  • High and low concentrations
  • Isoamyl acetate
  • Odor discrimination


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