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Some time ago, we talked about the various disciplines you can teach your dog. We went to interview Alice Salionti, a canine educator at the Luckynose canine centre at Isola Vicentina, and today she’s going to show us a really fun activity that involves both the dog and you: Nosework!

Nosework is scent training that aims to strengthen the bond between a dog and its master through scent games. Seeing as a dog’s most keenly developed sense is smell, we think this activity is something for dogs of all breeds.

Nosework: the main games

If you want to get involved in Nosework you can have lots of fun with your dog playing and exercising at the same time. The dog’s job is to sniff out certain hidden items (“find the treat”), follow preset trails (“follow the trail”), choose between one scent and another (“scent discrimination”) and lots of other exercises. Today we will focus on scent discrimination.

THE SQUARE. The trainer (you) “dirties” a sector of the square by walking over it and leaving an object at the centre. The dog will learn to find the object within the square and ignore those areas where you have not walked.

THE TRAIL. The trainer (you) has to mark a trail (beforehand) by dragging a highly desired and scented object (think meat) over it, and then walk along the same trail without the meat. The dog will learn to follow the trail by scent.

LOST-RETRIEVE. In the lost-retrieve portion, the trainer and the dog walk over a trail, one that has intersections and deviations. The trainer then has to lose an object along the way. The dog is then ordered to go back over the trail and retrieve it.

SCENT DISCRIMINATION. The dog learns to distinguish an item touched by the trainer from one touched by someone else.  Or the dog learns to discriminate between different substances.

Nosework: Scent Discrimination exercise

To teach your dog to search and signal a scent of your choice, start by offering it a series of boxes inside of which that scent is hidden.

To do this, you must first carefully follow three important steps:

1. MOTIVATION. To teach the dog what it has to do, start by hiding a simple treat. It works great as a motivator for this exercise!

2. ASSOCIATION. Then add the scent you want it to focus on to the box to create an association.

 3. DISCRIMINATION. After a few repetitions, stop adding the treat and hide only the scent. A teabag is used in the video.

Every time the dog signals it has found the scent, reward it with a treat. Dogs signal in a variety of ways: sniffing more enthusiastically, standing in a particular way (sits or lies down) or freezing, staring.

Nosework is a very stimulating game for both the dog and its trainer. It builds trust and enhances collaboration. It’s especially helpful for owners of shy or insecure dogs as it builds their sense of confidence!

Now let’s watch Alice and Lucky in action!

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