Nose Work 1 an Introduction to Nose Games
Dogs can’t read books, they don’t watch television, (well at least not for very long), they don’t scrap book, or build things but they still need hobbies! If a dog’s mind is not entertained, he will find his own hobby to engage in, but often dogs choose inappropriate behavior such as; barking, digging, chewing, ripping up carpeting, eating drywall, chasing children, stealing, and other general naughtiness.
Most often when I hear my clients complain about these behaviors I wonder if the dog is truly mentally and physically stimulated at home. If I was locked in a room with 4 white walls and one sofa with nothing to do for days on end, sooner or later I would shred the sofa too! You must find ways to entertain your dog’s mind to help him stay well behaved.
A dog’s sense of smell is 2000 greater than that of a human. I often liken reading a book or watching a movie to a dog following a scent or even digging through layers of ground scents (although we consider this naughty, each layer of ground has a new and different story for your dog’s nose)
A Dog’s Nose Can Find
- Missing Persons
- Disease like cancer cells
- Insects like termites
- Fruits and Veggies at customs
It is instinctual for dog’s to use their noses, so I like to teach my dog’s how to use them appropriately and how to play games with their noses. This is also appropriate to do with multiple dogs, as long as it doesn’t get too competitive.
In Nose Work 1, we will discuss the basics of teaching you dog to use his sense of smell at home, and later I will discuss different ways to teach your dog to use his nose in his outside world and how to teach him scent discrimination.
How To Get Started
- Air pop some popcorn, do not use microwave popcorn with butter or salt; this is too hard on your dog’s kidneys. Use plain popcorn for this training because it is easy to see, nonfattening, and easy to smell
- First I toss some pieces of popcorn on the floor in front of my dogs and say “Find It” . “Find It” means to use your eyes, nose and ears (if appropriate).
- Once your dog is adept at looking around and eating the popcorn, hold his collar or avert his eyes as you toss the popcorn so that he will not see it fall, you can use a helper if you need to, then give him the “Find It” command.If he is having trouble finding it, calmly walk toward the popcorn without leaning over or showing him and wait till he finds it, or back up a step in training. When your dog is clearly looking around and you can hear him sniffing he is ready to move on to the next step.
- Next toss a piece of popcorn clearly out of his range of sight but within easy reach if he wanders around; like behind your chair or sofa or around a corner and give him the command. Again, he should be clearly using his eyes and his nose to search for the popcorn.
- Then start hiding the popcorn under things like the table or the edge of the sofa, be careful that he is able to get to the popcorn or he may become frustrated bite the furniture or scratch the carpet.
- Next hide things at table or sofa level like on the sofa, a chair, or a book shelf (avoid the kitchen table this time ha ha)
- Now begin hiding things on a higher level above his nose level. He must be taught that things can be found on all levels of his environment or he will give up if he can’t find it easily
Play this game for several days or even weeks until you are sure your dog has grasped the concept and is actively searching, now using mostly his nose to seek his treat.
The next step is to find a unique smell and attach it to an object that can easily be hidden. I often chose a large rag and salt. Salt is very easily detected by the canine nose so I soak a large rag (so that it cannot be swallowed) in water and lightly sprinkle with salt. Do not use too much salt, only a very light sprinkle is needed, remember your dog’s nose is 2000 times stronger than yours! Now allow the rag to fully dry.
Let your dog sniff the rag then go back to step one by tossing the rag to the floor and saying “Find It”. Praise him wildly when he races toward the rag, you can also give him a treat. Go back to the list and work your way down the steps hiding the rag on all levels of your room.
When he becomes adept at finding the rag, I like to teach my dog to lay down as a passive sign that he has found his scent. As soon as he finds it, have him lay down and reward him so that he realizes that this is a behavior chain: find the rag, then lay down to alert that the rag has been found, and then wait patiently for the treat.
As you are training, move from room to room and never use a particular pattern of which level it can be found on, when he finds it don’t let him grab it, have him lay down and reward him for a passive alert. This keeps him from ever snatching things that could possibly be dangerous.
As he learns this game, I begin to change the scent. Much later we can teach him scent discrimination but in the beginning using a few different scents to hide is enough.
I keep my rags in Ziploc bags in the freezer to keep their smell fresh and to keep him from playing this game without me, becoming bored, or associating where I keep these rags with the game. You need the scent to be as fresh as possible in the beginning.
Have a good time and as he learns and becomes adept at this game make the hiding places more difficult for him to find, this challenges his mind! This is a great game that can be utilized even when the weather is cold or rainy or you don’t feel like taking him out for physical exercise. Basic nose games are some of my favorite ways to entertain an active, bored dog that needs a job!