How to scent train your dog

How to scent train your dog

How to scent train your dog

One thing we all know about dogs is their incredible sniffing ability. The University of Adelaide conducted a study with the outcome that dogs can smell as far as 20km away (under perfect conditions) due to having more smell receptors that far surpass those of humans. That’s the distance from the London Eye to Wembley Arena. Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors, whilst humans have around 400, meaning their sense of smell is 750,000 times better than ours. 

Our expert behaviourist, Adem Fehmi, shares his tips for scent training your dog. This activity can be enriching for your dog and a fun new way to train them to hone their sense of smell.

Why should you scent-train your dog?

Scent training can be an incredibly rewarding experience for you and your dog. Your dog’s nose is an incredible sense for your dog and can even help them to avoid ingesting dangerous food items that might cause them harm - think chocolate, grapes, alcohol as a start!

However, most dogs are not born with the intrinsic knowledge that such poisonous food items are likely to do them more harm than good if they choose to take a bite. It is always recommended that you keep any food that may be toxic to your dog well out of reach, however, should the occasion arise where your dog is unexpectedly faced with such food, your dog knowing the ‘leave it’ command can be useful for keeping them safe, as can having spent time positively developing good food ‘manners’ from your dog through your training.

How to scent train your dog

Scent training can be rewarding for both you and your dog, allowing you to bond, have fun, and enrich your dog's day.

Some easy starter activities that you can try at home include scatter feeding them their dinner or favourite treats in long grass or in a snuffle mat or even playing hide and seek with food or their favourite toy and asking them to hunt this out using their nose.

As their skills develop, you can start to introduce a command word such as 'find it' so that, over time, this becomes a cue for them and when they hear this they come to know that you are asking them to use their nose to hunt something out. Just make sure to only say this command word when they are doing the action -  'the action' here being sniffing and using their nose rather than their eyes. Typically, their head should be down and their nose should be at floor level for this! 

This type of training should always be undertaken positively using rewards such as treats they are allowed, their favourite toy, or even affection. A reputable trainer or behaviourist should be able to assist with helping you to teach your dog this command and helping you to instil good food manners should you be unsure where to start.

Some other useful tips are to make it easy for your dog to succeed initially and build on this over time. Some dogs, due to their breed and physiology, will find this easier than others whilst some may require more patience and coaching. If you are training outside, it can also be helpful to work with the elements, for example the wind. Place items where the wind blows the scent in their direction, towards them, rather than away from them. 

You must, however, remember to never punish your dog for taking something that does not belong to them as this can cause negative associations and may even unintentionally promote the act of ‘gobbling’ up food quickly so that it cannot be taken from them, and, in some cases, may even cause behaviour issues around food.

If you feel like your dog would really love to develop these skills further then make sure to seek out a reputable trainer who specialises in this discipline. There are a range of classes and courses that can be taken UK wide

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