The canine nose is truly a wonderful and fascinating thing. From the heat seeking capability it possesses when a puppy is born, allowing them to wriggle their way back to their mum and littermates if separated, to the amazing design that lets them gather in scent particles and lose none of that scent while breathing out. We can harness that superb ability to smell to help enrich and introduce variety to our canine friends’ lives by introducing the idea of scentwork for fun.
Dogs live primarily in a world of scent. It is the main mechanism through which they process their world, gather information about their environment and the others who have been there before them. Sniffing when out on a walk, ‘reading their pee-mail’ as it has been called, means that the dog can find out all about the other dogs who have been that way, right down to their health status. If we watch our dogs when they go somewhere new or somewhere they haven’t been in a little while, we will always see those noses going down and to work. Given this ability, the idea of utilising scentwork for fun and enrichment makes perfect sense.
Bringing this concept to our dogs is incredibly simple. The easiest way to start – and one of the most rewarding to watch as a canine guardian – is scatter feeding. Taking a portion of your dog’s daily food allowance and scatter it for them to hunt out, exercising all of those natural instincts for foraging that have been within them for millennia. Providing opportunities to exhibit normal behaviours is important to giving our dogs the best lives we can for them, and using scentwork for fun is an easy way to do this.
Scatter little pieces of their food throughout the garden or around the house. Use a forage mat where the dog needs to get their nose right in among strips of fabric to find and extract the food. Repurpose some of the safe household recycling. Cardboard boxes, cereal boxes, paper packaging – all of these are generally safe to hide food in and provide quick (and free) opportunities to create problems for your dog to solve and earn themselves rewards. Cardboard tubes like the ones from the centre of toilet rolls or kitchen towel rolls are great for hiding food in. Fold the ends over, scatter a few of them around an area and release your dog to find and destroy them, gaining the tasty rewards hidden inside. Fast and easy ways to introduce scentwork for fun, and almost as rewarding for us to watch as it is for them.