What is scent work? For some dogs, scent work is a job...they detect drugs, explosives, money, cancer cells, other animals and changes in human hormonal states which indicate the presence or imminent occurrence of a medical condition. Dogs working in these specialist areas are specially trained, however, ALL dogs have what it takes to sniff and search out scents.
Why do I use scent work in training and behaviour modification? Dogs brains are pretty much the same as ours except that the part of the brain that deals with smelling is much bigger in dogs, in fact 1/8th of the dogs brain is dedicated to smell. Dogs use smell to interpret and make sense of the world around them. As they sniff, the dogs smelling (olfactory) centre is processing the smell and then their emotional centre in the brain (limbic system) is interpreting the smells. When a scent becomes familiar and is associated with good feelings, it is perceived by the dog as something reassuring and 'nice' and therefore calming.
I use herb scented toys or tiny pieces of soft food for the dogs to search for. The chosen scent is considered for each individual dog and carefully introduced. Dogs are always worked in a calm, comfortable environment so that they always feel safe and make good associations with searching. The dog and their handler work together to find the chosen scent, the emphasis is on building your dogs confidence as well as your bond as you work as a team.
Sniffing is something that the dog is already an accomplished expert in, it engages the brain, encourages physical activity and ultimately induces a sense of calm. It is a joyful experience watching your dog working in this way, especially if they struggle in some social situations.
Having seen first hand the benefits of scent work for dogs with issues such as anxiety, dog-dog reactivity and lack of confidence, I completed two years Talking Dogs Scentwork Accredited Handler training, this kick started my use of scent work in my training and behaviour work. Scent work is now also included as part of Tellington Ttouch Training.
Look out for special Skills and Strategies workshops which incorporate sniffing, searching and Ttouch in 2018