A treat for the senses

I was out training my dogs the other day and it suddenly occurred to me that we don’t encourage the dog’s primary sense (smell) anywhere near enough. Now for people that train gun dogs or detection dogs, this won’t be news to them; in fact all of us know that dogs have an amazing sense of smell. But as pet dog owners do we really do enough to encourage this? And are we really part of the dogs thought process when they are on a scent?

I think in the majority cases the answers are no. In fact most of the games we play with the dogs include visual marks, such as throwing toys or playing tug with rope etc.

Often when I watch people walking their dogs on the lead the dog is being discouraged from sniffing the hedges and walls etc, otherwise the handler would never get anywhere. And then when dogs are off lead we are often keeping them up with what we are doing and where we are walking. So they don’t have much time to indulge in using this sense.

A few simple games actually encouraging this behavior can be highly rewarding for both dog and owner. Using its nose for 10 minutes is quite exhausting for a dog not used to doing it, so it can be a great way to tire a dog out in a small space or time or when time is limited. Just like any training, build it up from small, easy to understand chunks so the dog is successful.

In the house, throw the dog’s toy around a door way into a room and tell it to “find”, all it has to do is run in and there it is. Once you have done that a couple of times, hide the toy under something (but not too difficult so it is roughly where it has found it before), if your dog is not toy motivated, try it with a treat.

The toy or treat can then be gradually hid in more difficult places once the dog realises the game.

Outside the same tactic can be used, or you can drag the toy along the grass and into longer grass, this will lay a scent trail for the dog to find. Scent can be added to the toy to help the dog if you wish. Be aware once out on the grass, other scents might take the dogs fancy – so keep it easy at first and build up slowly.

There are some great scent work courses and books available to buy now, so why not check them out for other ideas.

Happy training.

Springer Spaniel

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