Scent Training for fun and enrichment

Roger Abrantes: “Change what you want to change and can change; and don’t waste time and energy thinking about what you don’t want to, don’t need to or can’t change….do whatever you and your dog enjoy, however you like, so that both you and your dog are happy. It’s as simple as that! ” 

Scent work does not have to be complicated for a fun enrichment activity, and all dogs can enjoy it at some level. From simple food games to scent discrimination and advanced searching skills, you can make scent training as easy or as complex as you like. My first introduction to scent work was a few decades ago in the obedience ring, where we trained the handler scent discrimination/retrieve exercise. Much more recently, Scentwork, or Nosework, has exploded into it’s own sport with many facets, versions and titling programs worldwide.

There are many options for training scent work (or nosework) and you never need to go beyond using food if it is strictly a casual fun game. But of you want to explore the skills of scent discrimination and identification, then you can use any scent that is safe, including your own human scent. Titling organizations require very specific scents, usually in the form of essential oils if you compete in the U.S.

There are many articles, books and online courses and webinars that provide all kinds of information on the benefits of even the most basic scent work so I will not be going in depth on that aspect here. What I will be doing is sharing some of the enrichment scent training that I do with my current dogs, both sighthounds. I choose to use dried herbs for our scents due to ease of handling compared to oils. Since I do not plan to formally compete, oils are not necessary for my training program. If I do decide to try for some titles in nosework, I will do the Fenzi TEAM Nosework program, which is all by video and you can use any scent you like, except food. I highly recommend this program as a training structure for fun and enrichment, or to prepare for live competition if that is your goal.

I will be sharing some fun exercises and tips for this great enrichment activity as I travel this journey with my 8 year old whippet Flash, and 6 year old whippet/cirneco dell’etna mix, Wilkie. We are already well on our way with 3 odors, and increasing skills as we go by taking classes, many through Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, and some other resources as well. Being sighthounds, both of my boys are natural hunters and scent training is proving to be a wonderful and safe outlet for their desire to hunt, providing mental challenge as well.