Offer our dogs the opportunity of using their nose to find a scented object among other objects (visually identical or different).
- An scented object appreciated by our dog,
- Other objects with a neutral smell,
- Spaghetti tongs or any other tool to move objects without leaving our smell on it,
- Treats appreciated by our dog.
Description and evolution
For the game described below, let’s assume that we have 4 identical socks, which we have washed (let’s use the most neutral products possible and avoid fragrance). We will then imprint our scent on one of them, the other 3 will remain as neutral as possible.
Step 1: Let’s choose a quiet room in the house (where our dog feels comfortable). Let’s start by interesting our dog in the sock that carries our scent. After holding the sock in our hands for 4 to 5 seconds (if it is too long, our dog may become impatient and leave the game), we put it on the floor, in front of our dog. As soon as he shows an interest in the sock (looks at it, approaches it, sniffs it, touches it with his muzzle or his paw, picks it up, …), we reward him. We do this until our dog is interested in the sock in the most committed way (each dog will naturally give a marking: by touching with his paw, by staring at the object, by barking or taking it in his mouth for example).If we want our dog to mark in a specific way (for example by barking), we will teach him this behaviour during specific game sessions.
Step 2: In the same room of the house, let’s introduce a second sock. To prevent the “neutral” sock from absorbing our smell, we can use spaghetti tongs or put on a rubber glove, for example. We place it in full view of the dog on the floor about twenty centimetres from the first sock. We can also refresh the smell of the first sock by taking it in our hands for 1 to 2 seconds. Our dog is rewarded for every sign of interest in the “good” sock, the one that carries our scent. If our dog chooses the wrong sock, we do not react (we do not sigh, laugh, move, …). We do not react to his « mistakes » .
Step 3: In the same room of the house, let’s introduce a third sock (“neutral”), about twenty centimetres from the other 2 socks. Our dog is rewarded for every sign of interest in the “good” sock. We do not react to his « mistakes ». We will randomly move the 3 socks around , thanks to the spaghetti tongs. If we systematically put the “good” sock first or systematically last, our dog will quickly learn that he has to select the first or the last item, without linking his choice to the scent (or lack of smell) of the item.
Only one single parameter changes between two stages of the exercise: either the number of objects, or the environment.
Step 4: Let’s change where we play the game, let’s go into the garden for example. Our dog is rewarded every time he shows an interest in the “good” sock, we keep ignoring his « mistakes »
When a new parameter creates too much difficulty (change of environment for example), we can decrease the level of difficulty of one of the other parameters (back to only two socks, one with our smell, one neutral).
Vidéo: 2 chaussettes dans le jardin
Step 5 : Let’s increase the number of socks gradually.
Vidéo: 3 chaussettes
Vidéo: 4 chaussettes
Next steps: Let’s start all over again … with new objects and with other smells.
What if our dogs were able to find a handkerchief scented with paprika, among other handkerchiefs scented with salt, cinnamon or thyme? Or find a piece of clothing with our smell on it in the middle of other clothes also marked with our smell, but where the scent is older? Well, they can!
Learning without pressure
It is possible that our dog will need a pause: he just leaves the search area to do something else or rest. It is pointless to insist and force him to continue, as if we force him, it is no longer a game, it becomes an obligation that will not leave him with a fun memory.Nose work requires a lot of focus. Beginners need time to develop their skills as they go. And let’s not forget that learning takes place optimally when the dog is not stressed and therefore not put under pressure.
In the same vein, it is useless to “motivate” our dog by repeating the request (“search” for example). While our dog is focused on the treat search, he mainly uses his eyesight and his nose. Repeating “search”, “search”, “search” distracts him and floods his ears and his brain with useless information. It’s just distraction, not motivation.
Let’s be aware of “false” olfactory cues! For example, for a game where it is a question of finding an object which we marked with our own scent, it is important that the other objects DO NOT CARRY our scent. If we take the objects in our hands, even with our fingertips, we put olfactory marks that may lead to confusion.
Let’s be aware of what we do ! For example, let’s not systematically place the “scented” object last. Our dog will quickly understand that the last object is the right object, and he will no longer use his nose.
You do not need to help him, for example by pointing to the object. Staring at the object and turn our body towards it are already important cues. The purpose of the game is that our dog develops his nose skills, this is not a game of speed or performance. When our dog stops searching, the game is over either temporarily because he just needs a break, or definitely depending on our dog. It is important to respect his learning rhythm.
Let’s also respect his rhythm of recovery:after a busy weekend, our dog needs more rest. The ideal is to offer our dog an easier search game: some treats scattered at home or in the lawn will do the job.
Ceux qui ne gèrent pas
If our dog is not interested in the game, it raises the question: does he like the treats we are offering? It’s up to us to offer him treats that live up to his expectations.
If our dog is not interested in the object, we need to make it more interesting. We can use a new object (novelty attraction) or put some treats inside the socks. We can also offer him an exceptional treat (a tasty reward to chew for example). It’s up to us to offer him an interesting and attractive item.
If our dog likes the treats and the object but is not interested in this search, it may be because it’s too difficult for him (physically if our dog is old, sick or hurt / emotionally if our dog is not comfortable in the environment for example / if we have skipped steps in the progression of learning / if the container is challenging or scary). It’s up to us to offer him a game that lives up to his physical and / or emotional abilities.
Some dogs could also accept the game with some items but not with others: metal keys for example are not very pleasant to have in the mouth.
On the other hand, if our dog is too appreciative of the objects, he might keep it for himself and will not give it back. Let’s use objects less appreciated by our dog. We can also teach our dog to give back the object during specific sessions.
If our dog is making a lot of mistakes, let’s check that we did not contaminate the object(s). If the game consists of selecting an object that carries our scent, have we not inadvertently contaminated other objects with our smell or the smell of the reward? Let’s take a pile of clothes with the smell of one person, and ask our dog to find a sock with the freshest smell. An experienced dog will be able to solve this game, but not a beginner.
LET’S KEEP IN MIND that :
- we should offer treats that are enjoyed by our dog;
- we should choose an object appreciated by our dog;
- we should only increase the difficulty, one step at a time
- we should offer a learning environment without pressure;
- Sessions must be short;
- We should offer a game which is adapted to the needs, expectations and abilities of our dog.