Last month we looked at the importance of scent and its role in pet housetraining issues. This time I want to address how our recognition of the dog’s ‘smelloverse’ can be a window not only into canine motivations but also a means to address welfare and behaviour issues. 

It might be said that a dog ‘sees’ through its nose. Humans are primarily a sound and vision species; we rationalise our environment using eyes and ears. Dogs recognise each other primarily via a signature scent and use smell to both signpost and interpret the world around them. Dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors to our 6 million. They have a specialist scent analysis organ in the roof of the mouth and use tail wags to broadcast personal scent information from their anal glands. This is why dogs that go blind or deaf often adjust quite well, because they can still make sense of the world through smell. 

Our forefathers used dogs to hunt, using that incredible scenting ability to find anything from truffles to an escaped convict. Today we still use dogs to locate missing people, for customs and excise work and for bomb detection. At Medical Detection Dogs in Milton Keynes, dogs are employed to sniff out human cancers and to train as diabetes and allergen alert dogs. They can discern minute odour traces created by disease or changes in the environment, down to around one part per trillion (the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools).  

While a small population of working dogs are encouraged to use their sense of smell many pet dogs are actively discouraged, often to their detriment. Understandably owners do not want their pet shoving a nose into the crotch of a visitor or lingering too long at the pile of fox poo in the park. However, harnessing the dog’s nose in the right way can really add value to walks and general quality of life. A simple way to begin is to teach your dog a basic ‘find’ exercise. 

Here is how: 

1. Start with a handful of tasty, smelly, treats. Toss one to your left, point and say “find”! Then toss one to your other side and cue. Repeat six times. 

2. Get your dog to sit and wait or have someone hold his lead or tether him. Walk 6 to 10 feet away and let him see you place a treat on the floor. Walk back to his side, pause, and point saying “find” and release him to go and get the treat. Repeat 6 times, unhooking the lead each time to let him go to the treat. 

3. Next, have your dog sit and wait, or tether him and place the treat further away. Walk back to his side, pause, and cue him to find the treat. Repeat 6 times. 

4. Again, have your dog sit and wait. This time hide several treats in easy places while he is watching. Return to his side, pause, and cue him to find.  Do not help if he does not find them right away. You can move closer to the treats and point, but do not show him exactly where they are; you want him to do the work. Repeat 6 times. 

5. Now hide the treats one at a time further away and in more difficult places: behind a chair leg or surfaces off the ground. Help your dog by pointing or moving closer to the hiding place, if necessary. 

6. Finally, put him in another room while you hide treats. Bring him back in and cue him.  

Now you can begin to use ‘find’ to exercise your dog inside or outside. You will be amazed how tired your dog is after some nose work. 

Leonie St Clair |www.londondogstraining