Scent Training for Dogs Teaches Canines a Competitive Sport While Serving as an Enrichment

Searching for a fun new activity to try with your dog? Scent training or nose work may be just the thing. Considered a competitive sport, it’s an alternative to vigorous canine activities like obstacle courses, catching Frisbees, or dock diving. It’s gotten popular in recent years as a way to challenge pets. Nose work and other exercises that stimulate the brain and muscle movement are forms of enrichment that are good for your dog while providing bonding time. The best part is that regardless of age, breed, size, or available space, any dog can learn it.

Scent Training for Dogs

To break it down, scent training teaches canines to detect various smells and then notify their handler that they’ve identified the odor they were trained to root out. The exercises help fulfill certain breeds’ need for work and can even be a form of play. It can also improve the relationship and teamwork aspects between trainer and animal. Nose work can be done purely for fun, but the American Kennel Club and the National Association of Canine Scent Work have trials where dogs can compete to test their sniffing skills.

Dog sniffing the grount

Competitive Dog Sports

So, how does one go about gaining the bona fides to become a super sniffer? It’s simple. All you need are a few easily found supplies and a little patience. Nose work can be taught pretty much anywhere. Start by gathering up some empty shoeboxes and some odor-rific dog treats. Lay them on the floor and put treats in some boxes but not all. Leave the lids off. It’s important to note that your dog should be outside or in another room as you’re setting everything up.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Once you’re ready for them, call them in and cue them to “Find the treat!” As they’re located, praise the animal and allow them to eat it. You can reward them further by offering another treat by hand. You’ll want to repeat this several times before progressing to ensure they understand the nature of the game. You can also use a muffin tin by hiding a treat in a few holes and then covering each hole up with a tennis ball. Praise your pet as they locate the treats.

Dog picking up scent in snow
Photo: Pixabay/Pezibear

Shell Game

Another variation is similar to a traditional shell game where you’ll hide a treat beneath a cup and shuffle it around among two others. Once the action comes to a halt, they’ll have to discover which of the three it’s hidden under. Let them see you placing the treat under the cup before you begin. If/when they nose the right cup, lift it and allow them to have the treat. Again, praise after each correct move on their part is essential. 

Canine Clubs

Believe it or not, there are scent work clubs/nose work facilities you can enroll your pet in. K9 Nose Work, the education division of the National Association of Canine Scent Work, provides resources for dog owners looking for info on local classes and tools. You can also try Meredith Minkin, Canine Ph.D., who teaches the skill to interested pet owners and advises on the subject. Who knows? This might just turn out to be your and your pet’s favorite new activity.

More from the Animal Rescue Site

Need some treats to get started on scent training? Our Animal Rescue Site Store has everything you’re looking for. With all of these different brands of dog treats, you’re sure to find something Fido will love. And every purchase of these products provides meals to 35 shelter pets!

For more ideas or a visual aid on scent training, check out this video from Nate Schoemer entitled How to Teach Your Dog Scent Detection, Episode 1.

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