Scent Work in Dogs - Can My Dog Do it

Scent Work in Dogs - Can My Dog Do it

Author WDF Staff


Dogs have delicate noses. Their sense of smell can be anywhere from 10.000 to 100.000 times more sensitive than ours. Of course, not all dog breeds have an equally sensitive nose. Different breeds were developed for different purposes. Those that were selectively bred for tracking prey have the most sensitive nose. The best example is the Bloodhound.

It doesn’t really matter what breed the dog is; one of their favorite activity will be sniffing. There are simply too many exciting scents, and our dogs seem to want to sniff them all. If you have a nosey dog, getting them involved in Scent Work is a good idea. You will make their favorite activity into a fun, rewarding game. If you think this might be a great thing for your dog, but you have no idea where to start, stay with us a bit. Here’s what you need to know about Scent Work and how to get involved.

What is Scent Work?

Like dog obedience or agility, Scent Work is a dog sport. However, unlike those sports, the dog is completely in charge, and the handler is there as support. This is a sport that is very close to what detection dogs do. Dogs that compete in Scent Work have to detect different scents. After they locate the specific scent, the dog has to tell the handler they have found it. Communication is important, but the most important thing is to allow the dogs to get as nosey as they want.

dog nose closeup

TRAINER TIP: Scent Work can play different roles. It can be a competitive sport, but it can also be a fantastic way to build confidence in shy or scared dogs.

How does the sport work?

This dog sport has a pretty straightforward premise. The dog needs to find a hidden scent swab. After they locate the scent, the dog needs to notify the handler they have located it. Other dog sports rely on the coordination between the handler and the dog, but in Scent Work, the handler needs to rely entirely on the dog. Our furry friends are the stars of the show.

The judges will hide the scent in the designated search area. The handler doesn’t know where the scent is hidden, so there is no chance of leading the dog towards the scent. By doing that, all dogs have an equal chance of winning, and the handler merely has a supportive role.

Why should you try Scent Work?

Dogs love sniffing, and Scent Work might be a great way to include some regular exercise in their daily routine. Dogs have a natural instinct to hunt, and if those natural instincts are ignored, the dog can develop behavioral problems out of sheer frustration. Different breeds were selectively bred for hundreds of years to sniff and detect various scents; from potential prey to explosives and narcotics. These breeds love having a job to do, and this can be a great way to provide them with precisely that.

dog sniffing a tree

Do dogs get any benefits from Scent Work?

The best thing about Scent Work is that it provides different physical and mental benefits for dogs and their owners. You don’t have to have a hunting breed at home. This is a sport that all dogs, regardless of their heritage or breed, can participate in. Here are some of the best benefits your dog can get from joining Scent Work;

Confidence boost

One of the most important things dogs need to be well-behaved is confidence. That can be problematic for some dogs, but Scent Work can help. If you decide to train your dog in Scent Work, you will surely notice how their confidence grows each day. They will become more open, stable, and feel like they have a purpose. You can ask any dog owners that tried scent work how their dogs act when they’re on a trail. The dogs are completely engaged and focused on the task at hand. After they locate the scent, dog owners say they can feel the dog’s happiness and see a sparkle in its eye.


Dog owners should take every chance they can to bond with their dogs. If a dog and its owner trust each other, the dog will become more receptive to the owner’s commands, training, and schedule. Their overall behavior is a lot better. One owner said he can clearly sense the trust between him and his dog grew, and he attributes that to training and working together.

Scent Work

Gives the dog a job

If you have an active dog at home, like a Border Collie, Poodle, or German Shepherd, you probably know how intense and energetic they can be. These dogs need something they can do. They are working dogs, and sitting at home trying to only be a good pet doesn’t come too naturally to them. To truly be happy, these kinds of dogs need a job. Scent Work can do that for your dog. Training and fulfilling tasks will fill your dog with joy and happiness.

All dogs can participate in Scent Work

We already mentioned this benefit of Scent Work, but it needs to be repeated - all dogs can participate. Crossbreeds and mutts will have the desire to follow interesting scents, and this dog sport can become very interesting to them. Mind you, pureblooded dogs have some advantages when it comes to this sport. Specific breeds like Beagles, Bloodhounds, or other scenthounds were carefully bred through centuries. Owners and breeders wanted to promote genetic material that includes a delicate nose, so these types of pureblooded dogs have a genetic advantage over mutts made of unknown breeds and heritage. Nevertheless, this sport is open for all dogs, and they can all become fantastic competitors.

World Dog Finder team

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