No longer limited to professional tracking hounds, scent work has gained popularity among everyday dog owners and requires very few materials or formal training methods. Besides the obvious benefits of being able to track, scent work has the additional bonus of boosting confidence among shy dogs and burning off excess energy.
The best part is, scent training can be done almost anywhere! It involves a gradual progression of ‘games’ that make it easy and fun for Fido, and for you! All you both need is to trust each other and commit some time—ideally several 2-3 minute sessions each day.
This fun game comes to us from our friend, Certified Nose Work Trainer, Jo Ferraris. To get started, you’ll need a few supplies: soft treats, a small bowl, and some socks (yes, socks) – plain, old white cotton socks work best.
Game 1: The Hot Sock
Place several treats in the bowl and pick one sock to be your ‘hot’ sock. This ‘hot sock’ will have your scent on it, which will always be the ‘hot’ one and never mixed with the other ‘cold’ socks.
- Rub the ‘hot’ sock between your hands, giving it the handler scent to be found
- If your pup has a solid sit-stay, have them do so as you grab a few treats
- If no solid sit-stay, toss a few treats to be ‘hunted’
- While Fido sits or hunts, place the hot sock in front of you, then let him or her come investigate
- As soon as the hot sock is ‘discovered,’ reward, placing treats NEXT to sock ONE AT A TIME!
Game 2: Food or Sock
With the same beginning as Game 1, place the ‘hot’ sock and bowl of treats on the ground or cushion, about 18 inches apart. Grab some treats in your hand closest to the ‘hot’ sock and cover the treat bowl with your other hand.
- Let your pup come and investigate
- Any time the ‘hot’ sock is sniffed, reward handsomely and always with one treat at time, and always next to the sock. Don’t be stingy with the treats!
- Pick up the sock and for the next round change the location of both sock and bowl, repeating the process
There is a good chance your slobbery sleuth will want the food that you are covering in the bowl, but wait him out; don’t say or do anything, just be patient! Practice Game 2 several times a day for a few days before progressing to Game 3.
Game 3: Hot or Cold
Ready to raise the stakes? You’ll both like this one! Repeat all the same set-up, grabbing again your same ‘hot’ sock and rubbing it between your hands.
- Have your dog sit-stay or ‘hunt’ a few tossed treats
- Place the ‘hot’ sock next to a ‘cold’ sock (that has not been rubbed), about 18 inches apart
- Do nothing if the ‘cold’ sock gets investigated, and generously reward for the ‘hot’ sock
- Swap the socks, repeat the process, and try out several different areas in your home
Game 4: Three’s Company
By now your pup should understand the concept of the ‘hot’ sock. It’s time to increase the challenge!
- Add in a 3rd sock (1 ‘hot’ + now 2 ‘cold’) and be sure to swap their places. Once he or she’s consistently investigating the ‘hot’ sock among 3, start adding in more!
- Remember to reward generously with treats, but always one at a time
Game 5: To infinity…and beyond!
Now you can move your socks around a bit in the environment: Nothing too hard to start, but perhaps under a chair or semi-hidden behind an object. You can gradually make the challenges harder at this point! Don’t forget to reward their efforts every time!
No doubt you’ll soon (if not already) be moving outside. Take your good work on the road, practice often, and you’ll never let the trail go cold!
Jo Ferraris, CNWI
Jo Ferraris has her BS in Animal Science from the University of Rhode Island and is also a CNWI, Certified Nose Work Instructor. She is the owner of Mischief Managed Mayhem to Manners. Jo and her husband also have 6 dogs which they actively compete in K9 Nose Work®. She is also mom to 4 young children, two sets of twins!
Johnna Devereaux, CPN
Johnna Devereaux is Bow Wow Lab’s resident certified pet nutritionist. Johnna’s unique perspective and wealth of knowledge about dog nutrition and wellness empowers people to make educated decisions about their pet’s overall nutrition. She brings years of experience in holistic animal health to our Wellness Center. Since 2014, she has owned and operated Fetch RI, a holistic pet store in Rhode Island where she delivers animal nutrition and wellness expertise to her customers daily.
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