Scent Detection

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains. 
- Diane Ackerman

Porter, ready to do some Work! Brittany Graham Photography

Fun fact for the day: While humans have about 5 million scent glands, it’s nothing compared to your pup, who has anywhere from 125 million to 300 million scent glands.

We see the world predominately through sight, whereas dogs come to understand the world through smells. Think of it this way, if you were to make a crockpot meal and have it on low for the full 8 hours your dog wouldn’t just smell the stew for 8 hours. Your dog would smell the carrots, the onions, the beef and the broth all separately as their own entity… for 8 hours. Now, this post isn’t about making you feel guilty about crock pot meals, it’s about finding a fun way for you to bond with your dog as well as give him some mental work outlined in the PAW method while using his Super Smeller.

I’m sure you’ve seen dogs that do scent detection work. They look for missing persons, contraband in airports and even prey (i.e. fox, rabbits). But you can do scent detection in your own home with your pup. He may never find Timmy in the well 5 miles away, but he can find objects you have around the house.

Scent Detection Fun

To start working with your dog on scent detection, you need a trigger object (what your dog is trying to find).  When first teaching a job scent detection, I favor strongly scented objects, such as lemons and limes. Place your dog in a sit-stay command. Hold the object in front of his nose (if you need to lightly cup your hand around the bridge of the nose to make your pup focus more that’s fine). Repeat the word “Scent” at least 5 or 6 times. Give the stay command, and in a very short distance in plain sight place the trigger object down.

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Brittany Graham Photography

Move your attention to your dog, point at the treat/toy and say “Find it”. Your dog should go straight to the toy/treat. Once he engages with the object by touching the object he was searching for, praise him like crazy. You can praise him by using the Touch, Talk, Treat method. Give your pup a light touch while saying a phrase , such as “good dog” and then pop a treat in their mouth. Soon they’ll start to align getting the Touch and Talk with the Treat and you don’t have to use the treat every time.

Do this a few times with the toy/treat in plain sight. When you feel your dog has a handle on it, go ahead and hide the object around a corner or behind another object, but somewhere we he can see you put it down. Repeat the word “find it” and always praise him when he does.

Soon, you can have him in a sit/stay command and hide an object in the other room. Always make sure you give him the scent of the object before you hide it. If he needs help, stand near the object you have hidden to give him a hint as to where to look.

Feel free to have fun with it and change up the object. Once your dog has a handle on it, switch up the objects he’s looking for. It doesn’t have to be one of his own – it can be a shirt of yours or a towel. Anything you can think of! The key is to always reward him when he does find it, even if it takes him a while. Remember, positive reinforcement is a must for this situation.

Let’s say your dog is having some trouble finding the object. If he’s looking around for the object frantically or doesn’t seem to understand what you’re asking him to do, gently direct him to the object while repeating the phrase “find it”. You can do this by gentle tugs on the collar until he gets to the object. Once he engages (i.e. picks it up, touches with his nose or makes even eye contact with it) then praise again.

So to break it down in some easy steps:

1. Sit/Stay command

2. “Scent, Scent, Scent, Scent, Scent” while letting your dog sniff the object

3. Hide Item

4. “Find it” command

5. Praise like crazy when your dog finds the object

This is a great way to bond with your dog and get some more mental activity in. I highly recommend taking advantage of it now when it’s hard to go on long walks with your pup. My Porter personally likes finding limes,and I have a great time working as a team with him.That’s what bonding is all about!

Brittany Graham Photography


Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore

Darwin Dogs, LLC

Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

2 thoughts on “Scent Detection

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