I find myself using this training more often in my lessons. Not only do the owners appreciate it, but the dogs certainly do. It is also an increasingly useful tool for dealing with dogs that are easily distracted.
There are four types of scent work for the companion dog (apart from tracking);
- The first is the kind recently seen in a number of magazine articles, where you drop pieces of cheese in the undergrowth and get the dog to find it. To my mind this is NOT scent work, it is scavenging and I don’t know about you but I don’t want to encourage my dog to eat anything it finds!
- Next is scent discrimination, where the dog is trained to identify a judge’s scent from a number of others. Good trick and demonstrates very good training, but not terribly useful for us or the companion dog.
- The third type is where you train the dog to identify a specific scent, such as cat nip or I use vanilla essence. I use this to train a dog to find the t.v. remote. However, you could also train your dog to find something specific such as, dry or wet rot, mould or bed bugs. Then you also have a new business venture!!
- I like to train the dog to find and indicate anything with fresh human scent on, now this can be useful as well as a great game with your dog. Not only does it increase the owner – dog bond, but it improves impulse control and gives the owner an extra appreciation of their dog’s capabilities. I will also use this exercise to get a dog to work around another searching for a purse, when minutes earlier all they wanted to do was play.
To teach a dog any new skill, you first must have a firm grasp on what you expect your end product to be, in this case;
- The dog sitting at the heel next to you.
- You give a verbal command.
- The dog goes to search an area, the size of which can be indicated by verbal and hand commands.
- On finding the object, the dog indicates by sitting or laying down.
- You reward the dog with praise, a treat, toy (or all three).
So to start, with the dog on a lead (preferably 2 metre loopless) you throw an old purse out in front of you. Make the dog sit, then tell him/her to ‘find it’ and run to the purse, as soon as the dog puts their nose on the purse you reward with a treat directly on top of the purse.
Remember when we start the dog has no idea what is going on and ‘find it’ means absolutely nothing to the dog yet! As the training progresses we will engineer situations to reinforce the sits, impulse control and the verbal cues.
The next session we can then progress to throwing the purse a little further, and dropping the lead. When getting to reward the successful dog, it is useful to just stand on the lead first. This way we have control to stop the dog picking it up and running off, in which case we just use the treat to encourage the dog to drop the purse. It also makes sure that the dog isn’t put off by you grabbing hold of it, at the end of each search. Again reward on top of the purse, otherwise the dog will learn to leave the object and run to you for the reward. As the dog’s confidence grows reward on the purse, then ask for a sit/down and reward again.
Now we can drop the purse whilst on our walk without any fanfare, carry on for 10 -12 yards turn about, sit the dog and tell them to ‘find it’. The dog may be slow to understand, but if you walk forward 2 or 3 steps and encourage them, they soon catch on. Once the dog gets the hang of this, their understanding of the verbal cue improves immensely.
From here on it is a matter of extending the length of the search, the types of objects to look for and the variety of terrain. You can also put out 1/2/3 objects at the start of your walk, and search for them on your return leg.
A client of mine was out walking her lab, and turned around to see the dog sitting on the path. She called it but it stayed where it was, when she joined it she saw that she had accidentally dropped her glove and the dog was waiting next to it for her reward!
This is a vast subject, but this article provides a good start. If you want more information just drop me a line.