Why scent work for companion dogs and their owners ?
Domestic dogs are human made and made for fulfilling a purpose. This one fact is probably the greatest reason for behaviour issues concerning domestic pet dogs and their owners. In short a dog needs a job. Anything fun that we get involved in with our dogs is great. It causes the dog to look to it's owner and see them as fun. Therefore the dog wants to be with them and listens to them more. Whatever outlet we provide our dogs with for fun and activity, the dog will still crave to make use of its olfactory system, its sense of smell. This to most dogs is as important as our ability to see with our eyes. Where we may smell something we will then look to see how it appears visually. A dog may see something but will then look with its nose to see how it smells. This is why we at David Davies Dog Training – In partnership with Pack Leader Dog Adventures believe that teaching owners of dogs to make use of their olfactory system with fun activities is so relevant.
Consider a dog that keeps running off. There are many reasons why this might be, one being the dog probably picked up the scent of a rabbit or squirrel and instinct took over. Particularly if a breed such as a Beagle whose main purpose in life is scent and odours, but any dog will do this. By the owner giving the dog the opportunity to use its nose in a fun way, where the activity is within the influence of the owner means this is within the owners’ control. The dog is happy because it gets to use it's instincts. The activity is physical so the dog gets a release for energy.
The problem with activities such as scent work is where to go to learn the skills. There are amazingly talented trainers that will teach people to track and search for working trials. If this is what the owner intends to do then there is no better place to start. The problem is, this is quite technical and the average pet dog owner probably doesn’t want to learn all the complexities of this sport and the science behind how and why the dog does it. Although David Davies comes from a service dog background and has handled and taught dogs to do this kind of work for real to obtain evidence and apprehend felons, David has condensed the methods used and formed them uniquely into a fun, relaxed, enjoyable activity for owners to share with their dogs. Dom Hodgson of Pack Leader has capitalised on this and is now using these same methods to help pet dog owners enjoy fun activity days with their dogs and the human family.
The first thing we notice on a typical activity day is on arrival most of the dogs want to be with each other, not listening to their human owners. By the time half of the first day is reached one noticeable thing is - the dogs have now started to be less interested in each other and are focusing on their human friends. Why? – Because the dogs have realised it’s the humans that are fun, the humans instigate the activity that they love. Probably the normal fun provider is another dog!
At the end of the first day all humans are pleasantly tired and mellow, and the dogs are wanting more! Once they relax at the end of the day they settle down and sleep. By the time they arrive home with their family and have their supper they sleep soundly. This is because they are mentally and physically satisfied.
There are many aspects to scent work (scent detection), but the main two are tracking or trailing (sometimes referred to as Clean Boot Tracking). This is following the scent left behind as a human walks off across open countryside. Tremendous fun for humans and dogs and quite physical. This is referred to as Ground Scent. The other aspect is searching, the dog finding the scent hovering or blowing in the air emanating directly from the article or object being sought. This may be a human (lost casualty), or an item recently handled bearing the scent of the human or humans that last touched it. This can be conducted on or off leash, whereas trailing is normally conducted with the dog in a harness and attached to a 10 meter line.
There is another aspect to searching and this is substance detection. Consider an explosives or narcotics detection dog working for the services. We see them at airports and various other places ensuring our safety as we travel. Watch how happy these dogs are going about their work. Their pay – no more than a loving fuss, a bit of meat or a game with their handler using a toy. This is easy to teach and fun to do. The advantage of this (substance detection) is we can have the dog perform this indoors, in our home, anywhere. Its fun. We can teach the dog to find a scent, let us say lavender oil but could be anything. We place a drop of this substance onto a cloth and can hide it about the garden, the home; if we make a special effort we can have the dog locate this when carried by a human. This is an entertaining trick when we have friends around and get them to carry or hide the scented cloth. Our dog is brought in and it sits wagging it's tail looking at the location where the scented cloth has been hidden.
The entire family can become involved in this fun, stimulating activity. It brings a new meaning to dog ownership where previously the dog was taken for one main walk at a weekend, the family now go into the country and organise scent work activities with their dog, often including friends. Often where one member of the family haven’t really enjoyed the dog, seeing it as something that has to be walked whatever the weather, they suddenly see the dog as fun and become involved with it's training. The dog of course benefits the most because its human family are doing such great things with it. No longer does the dog get into trouble by running off, chasing rabbits, being more interested in other dogs that it is in it's owners. Now the dog wants to be with this fun mum or dad that may just be about to create a new and exciting activity with it with the whole human family involved.
Check out this short video where Dave shows how you can develop a 'find it' game using his dog Jack!
If you are interested in any of this then contact Dom or David for further information concerning one of our Wild Tracks tracking days or scent work days then keep an eye on our events page on Facebook.
Keep safe and have fun with your dogs,
Dave will be assisited by Dom when they teach their next Scent Workshop in Sunderland on September 28th, for more details ring Dom on 07794053084