Scentwork involves teaching your dog to search for a distinct scent. Once your dog understands the game you can begin to hide articles that smell of your chosen scent in different locations for your dog to find. The better your dog gets, the more challenging you can make the hides.
Warning – this pastime is highly addictive!
ALL BREEDS WELCOME
Did you know that a dog’s sense of smell is thought to be 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours? Scent is important to ALL breeds of dog, not just Spaniels and Beagles as some might think.
Scentwork activities do not teach a dog to use their nose – they already know how to do that. Instead the focus is on giving them an appropriate outlet for a very natural behaviour.
Got an active dog that gets into everything? Scentwork gives them a job to do, tires them quickly and with minimal effort from you. Bonus!
A GREAT INDOOR ACTIVITY
There are plenty of reasons why a dog may not be able to (or may not want to) go out for long walks. Elderly dogs, dogs recovering from illness/injury and young puppies may need restricted walks. However, these dogs still require opportunities to expend energy to keep them happy and content.
Scentwork is a great way to provide additional mental stimulation – all from the comfort of your own home. A particular benefit for older dogs is that mental stimulation activities protect against cognitive decline. A little like us regularly solving Sudoku puzzles!
BUILDS TRUST AND IMPROVES CONFIDENCE
Probably the most beneficial outcome is the mutual trust this activity builds between dog and owner. Many trainers and behaviourists use scentwork in their treatment programmes to help alleviate canine anxiety and reduce behavioural problems. Scentwork is the perfect activity for shy puppies or new rescue dogs lacking in confidence.
BUT DOESN’T MY DOG HAVE TO BE WELL TRAINED?
You may be used to seeing what is called a ‘passive indication’, where the dog sits and stares (or barks) when they find their ‘scent’. When a sniffer dog sniffs out the scent of drugs, the last thing we want is for them to get too close. Instead, they are taught to remain at a small distance from the scent, ‘indicate’ where the drugs are hidden and wait for a reward from their handler. This takes a lot of precision training to get right but is very important for these operational working dogs.
But for pet dogs and owners who just want to have fun, ‘active indications’ are far easier to use and reduce confusion for both dog and handler. The dog is encouraged to search for a non-toxic scent (e.g. catnip or cheese) and when they find the scent associated with their reward they simply work to retrieve the hidden article.
HOW TO GET STARTED
The only special equipment you need for this activity is your dog’s nose and some food they enjoy e.g. cheese.
- Begin by throwing a piece of food away from you (let them see where it lands) and ask your dog to ‘find it’.
- After several repetitions, start to place the piece of food slightly out of sight before asking your dog to ‘find it.’
- Once they begin to understand that the cue ‘find it’ means there will ALWAYS be something to find, you can begin to increase the difficulty of the search.
For dogs that prefer to play with toys a few additional steps are required to help the dog learn that the specific scent means their favourite toy is in the area and available for a good game.
- Place the toy in an airtight container (for 24 hours) with a non-toxic scent e.g. catnip or oregano
- Play a fun game with the toy so your dog takes in the scent as they play.
- Continue as above and be sure to have a good game with your dog each time they find their toy
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
And that’s just the beginning! Nicole is an Accredited Talking Dogs Scentwork trainer and highly recommends this Scentwork system to help pet dog owners progress their skills and get creative with their searches.