Scent Work Training | How to Start

Scent Work Training | How to Start

Author WDF Staff


Scent work is a dog sport. However, your dog doesn’t have to compete to enjoy this sport and reap the benefits it has to offer. Many dog owners heard about this sport, but they are unsure how to include their dogs or where to start. The good news is that dogs naturally want to sniff exciting scents, and you actually don’t need that much effort to focus that instinct into something productive.

Before we go into detail about scent work training, you should know that you can start training them at home. This is one of those things that dogs should be naturally interested in. Plus, if you include tasty treats your dog doesn’t usually eat, the training will go smoothly. Here’s what you should know about scent work training;

What is scent work?

Scent work is a dog sport that works the same as detection dogs. Detection dogs need to detect scents of narcotics, currency, or explosives, and scent dogs need to find a specific scent. In most cases, it is essential oils like clove, birch, or anise. The idea is to let your dog develop the skill of identifying specific scents and teaching them how to communicate their find to the owner or handler.

WORLD DOG FINDER TIP: Unlike other dog sports that require handlers to navigate and direct dogs, scent work is all about the dog and its ability to smell. The dog is the star of the show, and the handler only has a supporting role.

Can all dogs participate?

One of the best things about scent work is that it is open for all breeds and crossbreeds. All dogs love sniffing, and scent work will focus their natural abilities. It is true some pureblooded dogs, like Bloodhounds or Beagles, have a natural advantage over mutts when it comes to detecting scents, but that doesn’t mean mutts can’t be taught to detect smells.

What do I need for scent work training?

Like any other type of dog training, there are a few things you will need to train your dog to do some scent work. Here’s what you’ll need for scent work training;

  • Essential oil
  • Cotton swabs cut in half
  • Glass jar with a lid
  • A cleaned, mint tin with small holes drilled in it (Scent vessel)
  • Tweezers
  • Plastic container with lid and holes drilled in it
  • Disposable gloves
  • High-value, motivational treats

Here’s how you train your dog for scent work at home;

1. Preparations

The preparations for scent work are entirely on you. The dog should not be present in the room where you will prepare the essential oils. Here are a few things you have to do to make sure preparations are done correctly;

  • Wear disposable gloves and make sure you’re in a room where your dog isn’t present. Apply two drops to each cotton swab and place them in the glass jar.
  • Take the gloves off by turning them inside out. Place them in newspapers and take them outside immediately.

WORLD DOG FINDER TIP: If you don’t want to go through the preparation process each time you train your dog for scent work, you can reuse the old cotton swabs. Just make sure your dog doesn’t drool on them or that soil, food, or water ruins the swab during training.

2. Scent introduction

The scent introduction is a step where your dog will smell the tin that contains the scent swab. This is a crucial step because you will have to teach your dog that locating the scent gets them rewards. It would really help if you used treats like cooked chicken or ham, something you wouldn’t necessarily give to your dog, so they are extra motivated. Here are the steps;

  • Place the tin in one hand and the treat in your other hand. Show them to your dog and make sure your hands are at least one foot apart.
  • The dog should go for the hand with the treat. As soon as the dog stops smelling the “treat hand” and goes to smell the tin, say yes, and reward them.
  • Make sure you change the hands in which you’re holding your treat and tin so the dog doesn’t rely on memory rather than their sense of smell.
  • You can progress to the next step when the dog successfully identifies the scent three times in a row.

TRAINER TIP: This step is crucial, especially the treat-giving part. You need to make sure you give your dog the treat at the source of the scent. You can move the “treat hand” next to the scent tin and give the dog the treat next to the tin.

3. Teaching the dog to locate the scent

This can be a bit tricky and might require a few more reps until the dog understands the game’s premise. This is the part where you will actually place the tin in the plastic container and let your dog search the room where the container is hidden. Some dogs lack focus and start to lose interest after a few seconds. Make sure you are patient, and you can always retrace your steps if the dog loses focus. Here are the steps;

  • Place the tin in the plastic container.
  • Repeat the same step by holding the container and treats in different hands. When the dog goes for the scent, you give the reward. Make sure you give the treat at the source of the smell.
  • Start placing the container on the floor, and as soon as your dog reaches it, you praise and reward them.
  • Lead your dog out of the room and place the container somewhere on the floor in the room. Let your dog into the room and allow them to search for the source of the smell.

Helpful scent work training tips from a dog trainer

These are the three basic steps you need to take to introduce your dog to scent work. You can also use a command word like “Search” or “Find” when the dog starts sniffing. They will start connecting the command to the action and will develop their skills even further. Make sure the scent remains “fresh” and interesting. Don’t let it contaminate other items in your home. If they do, get rid of the item or the scent left on that item. Make sure your set-up area is away from the searching area. You don’t want anything interfering with your dog’s searching.

World Dog Finder team

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