Your dog instinctively uses its nose to smell. But that doesn’t mean its scenting abilities can’t be improved. Dog Nosework Training.
Dog Nosework Training
You can teach your dog to follow a track or trail on the ground, to air scent and to identify scented objects. All three can be taught simultaneously because they employ similar scenting skills.
To teach scenting a track, you need some treats and a grassy area, such as a baseball field or park. Although hot dogs are not the most nutritious food, I find they work best, and you will not be stuffing your dog with them. Begin early; many people start by 6 a.m. before anyone has walked on the grass.
Have your dog sit or lay down and stay. Take a couple of inch-long pieces of hot dog and use your shoe to mash them into the grass. Make sure to crush the grass under the hot dogs, which releases a grass scent. Then, with the hot dog residue on the bottom of your shoe, walk a straight line away from your dog. Every six or ten feet, drop a piece of hot dog. Stop after about 20 feet and drop one of your gloves or one of your dog’s toys; the dog needs to find something at the end of the track. Drop another piece of hot dog on top of the item.
Go back to your dog and release it from its stay, encouraging it to smell the ground where the hot dogs were. Tell it “Find it!” and let the dog sniff. If it begins to follow the track, praise it quietly, “Good dog!” and let your dog lead the way. Don’t be too enthusiastic or you may distract the dog from its sniffing. Also, don’t try to lead it; let your dog figure it out.
At this point, the dog is following several scents: the trail of hot dogs, which helps motivate it, the crushed grass where you mashed the hot dogs and the crushed grass where you later stepped. Your dog is also following your individual scent, which it knows well because it smells your scent every day. But now your dog is learning to combine the scents, to follow them and to find the item at the end of the track.
When your dog successfully completes this track, make another one by taking 10 steps to the side. If your dog is excited and having fun, you can do three or four short tracks per training session. As the dog improves over several sessions, make the track longer, add curves and corners, and drop several items along the way, but put the hot dog only on the one you want the dog to find. When making tracks longer or adding curves, use small pegs, stakes or flags to mark the track so you can tell if your dog is off track.
Air scenting requires the dog to find someone by sniffing the scents wafting through the air instead of following a track. Most search-and-rescue dogs have both skills; they can follow a track, but if people walking over the track spoil it, they can also use their air-scenting skills.
You will need another person to help find a spot with room to run and places for a person to hide, such as a field with trees. Hold your dog while the other person shows him a treat or toy.
The person should playfully tease the dog to get him excited and then run away from the dog for a short distance. The person should then hide behind bushes or tall grass. Wait a few seconds, letting your dog watch and think, and then let him go as you tell your dog, “Find him!” When your dog finds the person, he or she should give your dog the treat or toy and praise him enthusiastically.
When your dog begins to understand the game, you can make him more difficult. Have the other person run into the wind once and then with the wind so your dog has to use his nose and think through the problem. The person can run a zigzag pattern away from the dog or change hiding places once out of the dog’s sight. Increase the difficulty of the challenges gradually so your dog doesn’t get discouraged.
When your dog becomes good at finding the other person, turn him away or cover his eyes so he can’t watch the person run away. Then your dog really has to use his nose.
Identifying scented objects can be taught much like tracking. Use a piece of hot dog to scent a particular object, such as a glove. Place the object on the floor or ground and send your dog to it. Praise your dog when he sniffs the object. Easy game, huh?
When your dog consistently goes to the object, scent it with a piece of hot dog and place it on the floor with several other different objects. But use tongs when placing the other objects so your scent is not on them. Send your dog, telling him “Find mine!” Don’t say anything if he sniffs the wrong objects, but praise him when he finds the right one.
Make training fun for your dog. Remember, you are trying to control a skill your dog has naturally. Use lots of praise, be enthusiastic and vary the training. If your dog has a good time, he will try harder and concentrate more.