There are lots of different approaches to teaching scent work. While all of them will bring you and your dog to a place where you can work as a team to find anything (using the unique odour of that thing), I believe that the initial introduction to the ‘game’ is crucial if you are interested in using scent work as a tool for dogs that suffer from anxiety related behaviours. This methodology is widely known as “K9 Nose Work®.” You can find more information about this methodology on the page K9 Nose Work® methodology – Sniff Therapy, bar none.
It’s hard to believe we are only just realising the need dogs have to be given time, everyday, to use their noses. Just like humans spend time collecting information and exploring our world predominantly by way of our sight, dogs are built to evaluate their world via olfaction.
In fact, the need for nosing goes way beyond simply stopping and smelling the roses for our dogs. Their olfactory system is the corner stone of their world. The 3 day old pup above has no sensory input other than through touch and smell. Vision and hearing are still weeks away from coming on line and right now all this baby dog is programmed for is to seek the smell of Mum (especially those milk giving nipples) and warmth and closeness from both Mum and siblings. Odour is how dogs perceive the world and that perception is very, very deep.
Consider the… let’s say “standard” or maybe “level” at which they can identify odour. While lots of books and articles will tell us a dog’s sense of smell is “10,000 Times or 100,000 times” better than ours, it is actually impossible to compare. It’s not just better, it’s completely different. They can smell the past, they can smell direction, in the right condition they can smell things that are far, far away. They can smell “healthy” and “unheathy”.
We could go on, but there are lots of articles and books out there where you can learn more about how we understand our dogs experience the world through their nose. What we want to make sure you understand is that this means engaging a dog’s olfactory system in some way is the best canine enrichment around. Here are some ways we know of that dog owners around the world are doing just that:
- Find it games. Find what? ANYTHING! Start off with anything your dog wants to find naturally. Other than food we have options like favourite toys and favourite people. Here’s an example.
- Scatter feeding or hide and seek feeding. Throw away the food bowl! By making your dog use it’s nose to find it’s food you are allowing it to exhibit the most natural canine behaviour around – scavenging for food. Start easy and build up the difficulty. We have clients who’s dog will hunt for an hour for a few bits of kibble! Here’s my dogs being let out for a search of lots of tiny bits of chicken. An hour later and they were back in the office with me, sound asleep.
- Let your dog lead the way on a walk. Thank goodness the days of misunderstanding dog behaviour and our need to dominate our dogs have largely left us. When you take your dog out on a walk, let their nose lead the way! For many dogs this is weird at first – most dogs are not used to being allowed to make decisions about where they venture on a walk, but it is an awesome way to build up confidence and a sense of agency. And if they want to spend 5 minutes sniffing at the base only one tree, what’s your problem? How long have you stared at the tv, your computer or your phone today? Consider it a great opportunity to do some focused breathing exercises and chill out.