Sunday, June 19, 2022

Understanding Scentwork

Understanding Scentwork

Dogs naturally know how to use their nose for things that come natural to dogs. They figure out pretty quickly which scents are appealing to them, which scents mean danger, and definitely which scents come from desirable mates. But with a bit of training we can teach them which scents are important to us and which scents they should ignore.

Dogs easily learn that most people's food smells delicious without much training. And if we completely ignore that, our dogs would gladly enjoy any food they can reach. Through training we can teach them that greater rewards are available when they control themselves and ignore people's food. My dogs don't raid the trash can because with reinforcement, I've taught them that the treats I give them from my hand is much greater than any treat they find on their own.

Dogs that work in scent related fields need to learn to ignore many people's scents. Service Dogs learn to ignore other people, focusing on their person. Police dogs learn to ignore environmental smells like people, other pets, and various other common household scents and search for chemicals or scents such as drugs, bombs, even gun powder. Dogs are being trained to detect new smells all the time!

My Service Dogs are trained to smell chemical changes that happen before I have a migraine. I always start teaching my dogs to interpret scents at a very young age. My life depends on their ability to process smells. This makes it even more important to me that I allow them to have fun with their nose too. 

Basic scent training for fun or recreation is simple and fun! This is where I got started with scent work 30+ years ago.  Some people do more formal scent work training designed to help you teach your dog to win competitions.  But for me, it's not about competition or being able to find better or faster then other dogs.  It's more about improving the day to day life of my dog and myself in a fun, engaging way.  So if you're looking for a formal competition class, this won't be what your looking for.  But if you want fun scent work with practically endless ways to apply the skills to your day to day life, keep reading!

I start with easy games such as Find It, Pick One & Hide-n-Seek.  The instructions for a simple version of Find It & Pick One can be found in previous blogs. Hopefully by the end of the month I can give some more advanced examples of these games for those who are looking to extend the basic training to the next level.  I've discussed Hide-n-Seek before, but never gone into great details so I'll explain that one a bit here.


Instead of always having to call my dog to come back to me when they are on following their nose, I build in value for this game so that they want to come find me and keep an eye on me.

Here are the basic instructions to train the game.

  • One person stays with the pup, keeping him in a certain room while another person hides.
  • In the beginning, the hiding person should pick simple spots like on the couch, sitting in the middle of a room, etc.
  • The hiding person calls out the dog's name prompting the dog's helper to release the pup to start the hunt. 
  • When the pup finds the person, they get a reward of treats, toys or praise to help teach them that they did a good job. 
  • As your pup gains experience, you can gradually pick harder hiding spots such as in the shower, behind the shower curtain, upstairs or downstairs.
Have some fun with it and your dog will too!

Often in Hide-n-Seek in the house, dogs will use sight, sound, and scent to find their person. But when you move the game to outdoors or larger environments the dog will most generally choose to use their sense of smell because it is their strongest sense.

Here is a video of a Hide-n-Seek Recall

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