Teaching scentwork and search dog training to pet dogs and their owners I often hear that a lot of people think that only 'high drive' or 'working breeds' can take part....This is simply not true! Scentwork can be enjoyed by everyone! From Chihuahuas and Yorkies to Great Danes and mastiffs...and all the breeds in between!
While it is true that some breeds that have been selectively bread for their scenting abilities over hundreds of years and therefore have an edge, scenting is a natural ability of all dogs! When teaching scentwork to pet dogs its all about finding the right motivation for the individual dog. Positive reinforcement training uses something the dogs finds rewarding/motivating to complete the task, most people think of food but it can also be a squeaky toy, ball, game of tug or even just attention! AND before anyone even thinks of saying that food is just bribery (ugh, yawn) and the dog should want to do it to please us....well I don't work for free, my dogs just like to be paid in food and play rather than money :-)
Back to all dogs having the natural instinct to use their scent ability.... Dogs view the world through olfaction, it is their predominant sense, like for humans our sight is the predominant sense. Scenting is a hard wired instinct in all breeds of dogs, going back to the days when they had to sniff out primary reinforcers - food and water. They also used it to check an area for potential dangers like other predators, very handy when considering a fight or flight response.
All of these instincts are still prevalent in all breeds in modern time, collies like to stalk, greyhounds chase, terriers to bite and shake and some even guard their food or toys after they have won it. But with positive reinforcement we can turn this into one big game of teamwork! The dog that goes out and searches, then when they find the scent they let the owner know and bam! fun reward of food or toys and a game....best fun ever!
Even brachycephalic breeds like Boxers, Frenchies and Pugs can enjoy scentwork, but due to the short stubby muzzles they need regular breaks so they dont overheat.
I have had a wide variety of breeds take part in scentwork classes
and Mantrailing (dogs finding people/human scent) and only a small percentage I would have considered to be 'high drive'. I mean if you wanted an operational dog then sometimes having a high drive can help, but in the pet dog world this is less important. I actually find it quite upsetting when owners have told me they have been either turned away or told that their dog wont be good enough to do scentwork because they dont have the right breed or they are considered low drive dogs. Sometimes the lower drive dogs are actually more methodical in their searches and can find the scent quicker than the high drive dogs that are doing crazy zoomies around the search area first. It can also be harder (sometimes) for a pet dog owner to teach a high drive dog to slow down and perform a methodical and slower search pattern. Its also like giving a child a high sugary drink then asking them to still still and quietly for tem minutes...nye on impossible right? Ha!
Another myth is that showdogs cant do this either, they can only walk beautifully around the ring and look pretty....utter tosh! I have several show dogs (Poodles, Swedish Valhunds and more) that do both scentwork and Mantrailing...and they are epic at it! When will we humans realise the multi-talentness of dogs?! They are simply amazing!