LEARNING FROM SCENT DETECTION EXPERTS

This past week Deja and I journeyed off to the sunny climes of Crystal River, Florida in search of adventure!  And odor…  By this I mean we attended the Pet Professional Guild’s 3 Day Scent and Scent-ability workshop!

Expert detection dog handlers Karen and Dr. Robert Hewings, retired professional police dog handlers, presented loads of valuable insight. The Robert and Karen now run the UK College of Scent Dogs and are kicking off an international tour. In total they presented 5 days of quality scent detection instruction.  Deja and I attended the first 3 days which centered around a variety of interdisciplinary applications for sniffing.  The research they presented suggests that intentionally utilizing your dog’s nose significantly improves their quality of life.

Dog searches for treats among toys and dog training equipment which forms the foundation for scent detection.
An owner and their dog explore the variety of equipment that was used over the course of the seminar. Treats are scattered around the items for the dog’s to find and forms the basis for scent detection!

SNIFFING IS A BASIC NEED

Dr. Hewing took some time to dispel some myths about the scent-ability of dogs.  One study he presented compared the olfaction capabilities between Pugs and German Shepherd.  The conclusion may surprise you! Study designers found “Pugs outperformed German Shepherd Dogs in acquiring an odor discrimination and detecting lower concentrations of the target odorant.”  Their eye sight was about the same.  This demonstrates that ALL dogs benefit from the incorporation scent activities into their regular routine. You don’t need a dog with a long pointy nose to enjoy from Scent Detection exercises!

Dr. Hewing explored the benefits of sniffing as it relates to the most important instinctual system, the seeking system.  The act of seeking is more pleasurable Dog the act of obtaining. Dogs in search are focused, mindful, and able to process a significant amount of information.  Seeking is a Basic Need as it relates to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and lack thereof is detrimental to your dog. A dog in search of something is likely free of intense states of fear, rage, panic, or grief. 

Items are arranged in a linear fashion to introduce young or green dogs to the wonders of scent detection!
Items are arranged in a linear fashion to introduce young or green dogs to the wonders of scent detection!

SNIFFING MAKES DOGS OPTIMISTIC!

Scent detection is a great tool for mental enrichment! Your dog’s energy is far more effectively spent when you make them search for their treat.   Another study concluded, “That allowing dogs to spend more time using their olfaction… makes them more optimistic.” Scatter feeding is a simple way of providing foraging opportunities for your dog. You can sprinkle their kibble in a small area of grass or hide treats amidst retaining wall bricks!  Snuffle mats for feeding enrichment allow the dog to sniff throughout the toy to find the various treats.

While on the road, we make a game of hiding Deja’s treats around the RV. This keeps her busy when we can’t take her inside a venue such as a restaurant. We also stuff and freeze her raw diet in Kongs for additional enrichment. Behavioral issues are a direct result of an unmet need and scent detection helps fill this void.

Deja is learning to search persistently by finding treats hidden down the row of search equipment.

SNIFFING REDUCES STRESS

Activating your dog’s seeking system proves beneficial in a wide range of applications.  Incorporate the search for treats around the introduction of novel items for puppy socialization! Finding tasty food give puppies confidence and puts dogs at easy in new environments.  Several of the dogs at the workshop visibly calmed while engaged in sniffing activities. These dogs maintained focus while doors opened around them or other dogs barked.

Often at the beginning of an Initial Consultation new dogs require a period of acclimation before they are ready to take treats. We encourage owners to walk with their dog as the dog sniffs explores the space.  As they walk, we ask the owner to place treats ahead of the dog for him to seek and find. Once the dog feels confident enough to eat the food they’ll eagerly return to skipped treats and anticipate future discoveries. In this manner, the dog relaxes and learns that the environment is a splendid place to be and feels safe and happy. 

INCORPORATING SCENT DETECTION INTO YOUR DAY

Plants that dogs enjoy sniffing.  Scent detection.
Here are some common scents that dogs naturally seek out!

Additionally, utilizing the seeking system is great for older dogs or dogs on crate rest.  Present novel odors in familiar toys to refresh old items. Dogs often seek certain herbs for digestive discomfort or skin ailments. A variety of plants are safe for dogs to explore such as lavender, marigold, wheat grass.  Experiment with certain scents and see which your dog likes! If he turns his head or avoids a certain odor simply remove it from the rotation. This gives your dog something to do to keep your dog from going stir crazy.  Use your dog’s regular food ration to ensure they aren’t bulking up on extra training treats while on crate rest.

You can also pair a particular scent with something your dog finds intrinsically motivating like food.  We began teaching Deja that Clove was the target odor by stacking 2 Solo cups with an oiled Q-tip sandwiched in between. The top cup has perforations in the bottom to allow the odor molecules to escape. When Deja holds her nose in the cup she hears a click and the treat is delivered. Now she’s progressing to differentiating between identical cups and indicating which cup has the target odor concealed. Below are ideas for equipment we’re using to condition Deja to clove oil but you can use any odor!

TAKING SCENT DETECTION TO ANOTHER LEVEL

Then, of course, many enjoy scent detection as a sport or hobby.  Many workshop attendees were well versed in the discipline of scent work and stayed for the advanced handling workshop.  Deja, being new to us, and scent work was not quite ready for those final days.  In the U.S. the common scents used in competition are Clove, birch, and anise. The odor is concealed in the search environment and the dog must indicate the source of the odor. In the UK other scents also include gun oil and truffle oil.  One handling team in attendance at the workshop was training their black lab puppy on human scent for search and rescue!

Deja is learning to alert to the presence of the odor by pointing to it with her nose. Feet don’t count!

All in all, Deja and I learned a lot from Dr Hewings and Karen and are excited to begin incorporating this new knowledge for the benefit of our relationship and clientele!  Want to learn more about Scent Detection? We’ll be announcing a monthly Scent Detection Skills class soon with both in person and virtual attendance options.

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