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Could your pet become a dog detective

31/01/2019 - Welcome to Best Behaviour Dog Training

Help your pet to make the most of his talented nose and become a dog detective.

Your dog’s sense of smell is remarkable. Dogs’ noses tell them where the food is, where you are, what you are doing and where there’s fun to be had. It also acts like a news bulletin. With one sniff a dog will know who has walked along the road yesterday and who’s coming towards you right now. So how can you harness your dog’s amazing nasal talents and have fun at the same time?

What is scent work?
Scent work is a fabulous way to allow your dog to develop his natural instincts, focus his mind and improve his wellbeing. For naughty dogs, it can be a way to redirect their energy, help them settle and improve their general behaviour.

For owners, scent work reveals things about your dog that you could never have imagined. And seeing your dog is such a positive light builds an incredibly strong bond between the two of you.

I’m not suggesting that your pet pooch should suddenly become an explosives expert, but you can build a really strong relationship with your dog through scent work.

What is scent work for?
There are all sorts of applications for scent work.  In a dog’s experience scent work is all about being rewarded for using his talents.  So in the dog’s mind, this is a job and it makes him feel as though he has a purpose.

  • Gundogs use scent work to find and flush out game.
  • Truffle dogs find very valuable lumps of fungus that make their owners rich
  • Medical assistance dogs use their noses to anticipate problems and warn their human partners.
  • Tracker dogs can help find missing people.
  • Detection dogs are tasked with finding drugs or explosives.
  • Cadaver dogs find human remains that may be months or even years old
What does scent work involve?
Scent work is like scientific study for dogs. We ask them to find a specific object and then either tell you where it is or bring it back to you. You may have seen it being done in the obedience competition at Crufts. Just for a moment though, let’s break scent work down into its component parts.
  1. Show the dog which scent you want him to find
  2. Teach him to find that scent in any circumstances. Eventually he’ll be able to search systematically with you to prompt him
  3. Next the dog needs to tell you that he has found the scent. Perhaps by sitting down.
  4. Finally, he receives a great big reward and goes home tired but happy.
The owner’s role in scent work training is pretty intense too. You will need to:
  • Read your dog’s body language, which is a great way to understand more about his character.
  • Teach him a series of cues so that you can guide his detective work
  • Channel his energy,
  • Keep him focused and motivated
  • Give him direction when he needs it

You will also go home happy. Personally, a good scent work session leaves me more energised than tired and it’s a great feeling. There’s a lot to learn but it’s so worth it.

How to start scent work training
There are a few great games you can play at home to help your dog really tune into his nose.

Start with something simple like a snuffle mat. It’s simply a small but robust rag rug that you can bury treats in for your dog to find.

Advance to hiding treats around the room so that he has to search for them. Introduce things like waiting for your cue before starting to search. Help your dog with touch, voice and/or hand signals. Then move the game into the garden where there is more space and extra distractions.

The very best way to learn about scent work is to sign up for a class. Not least because your dog will have the extra challenge of working with distractions. Both of you will get more out of a class than you ever could at home.

Find out more about scent work and tracking classes here
Further Reading
What the dog knows by Cat Warren 

This is an excellent book. It’s set in America and tells how an unruly GSD is turned into a spectacularly successful working dog by channelling his energy into scent work. Very inspirational.

Buy it on Amazon

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