Cute bulldog on lead

Scent Work and Dogs Part 1: What It Is and Why It’s So Great To Do with Your Dog!

Johnna Devereaux C.P.N.

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to scent work you go!

So, maybe you’ve heard about scent work with dogs and think that your four-legged friend is going to be a natural? You’re right! If you haven’t heard about scent work, the concept is simple: we train our dogs to seek out and locate the source of an odor, whether it’s in- or out-of-doors, near or far. Scent work merely focuses on what your dog already does best: smell.

Because the nose knows! A few fun facts about dogs and scent work:

  • Dogs have almost 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose (compare that to humans that have only 6 million olfactory receptors!)
  • Dogs can smell at a rate 10K to 100K times better than humans
  • Dogs detect odor in parts per TRILLION (that’s science-speak for dogs simply detect a LOT of the mass that makes up the odor smell.)

Dog nose close-up

5 great reasons to get started with scent work

Beginner scent work has three main components:

  1. teaching your dog a “find” or “seek” cue
  2. repeating a sit/stay command
  3. and finally, delivering the “find” or “seek” cue as they search for the hidden treat

When a dog uses their nose to find what they are looking for, they are partaking in a natural behavior that allowed them to find a mate, food, offspring, their pack, and also to avoid predators. Essentially, their sense of smell evolved over time to do super important things, and it’s wise, kind, and really fun to give them more opportunities to exercise their brain with their noses.

1. Mental exercise is…exercise. 

Did you know that mental stimulation can tire your dog faster than physical exercise?  In no way are we suggesting you shirk the daily walk—physical exercise is critical for good health. But, if you have a dog with a lot of energy, or if it’s a rainy day—beginner scent work is all you need.

2. A sniffing dog is a confident dog.

Hunting dog sniffing the ground outdoors in the grass

Nose work, as it’s also called, can help build your dog’s confidence. Sadly, many domesticated dogs don't trust that the nose knows. With less opportunities to sniff for something they really need, dogs can lose confidence that their sense of smell is actually an asset. This quickly changes with scent work practice. What’s more, it’s simply really fun to see your dog “get” what their bodies are designed to do naturally. Once this happens, you might see a small (or big) shift in their overall confidence.

3. A better bond between you and your dog.

Puppy smelling man's nose

Scent work gives you a chance to bond regularly. A key component of scent work is observing your dog’s body language and knowing when to give them cues.  As you key into how they search with their sniffer, and what will motivate them, you learn more and more about your dog’s personal sensibility.

4. Dog’s love their J-O-B.

Happy collie sniffing a red poppy

It’s called scent work for a reason. Well, that might be because it’s work for the both of you, but nevertheless, it’s a job and dogs love doing it! Dogs were born to have jobs. In fact, all beings need to feel fulfilled, that their life has purpose. Putting your dog to work with scent work gives their days purpose.

5. A trained dog is a happy dog.

Lastly, scent work sure can come in handy with training your dog, and the more training they receive, the more structure you provide them. Dogs are just like small humans (children) in this way: they tend to thrive on structure. This can also help them with anxiety and desensitizing them to environmental stressors.

This is just the beginning!

Welcome to the world of nose work—and stay tuned for future scent work games you can play with your dog!



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