Scentwork for pet dogs has massively increased in popularity in the last few years and here's why....Not only is it super fun for both dogs and owners but also because it is an all inclusive sport/activity. It doesn't matter if you have a Great Dane or a Chihuahua, a puppy or a golden oldie, super fit or physically impaired in some way...Every dog can take part!
This is slowly but surely filtering through to all pet dogs owners as I personally have had a lot of comments about 'Oh my dog wouldn't be any good, isn't that only for police dog type breeds?' This is a common misconception and there are many police/military/customs forces across the world are now using a larger variety of breeds for their sniffer dogs. There are even a few UK police forces that have Staffordshire Bull Terriers now....how amazing is that! I have had several staffies take part in scent classes and they have all been amazing ( I know I'm a little bias as I have two staffies myself but this doesn't make it any less true :-D ). I have had a variety of breeds that you wouldn't normally associate with the role join our classes and workshops; Italian Spinones, Pomeranians, Whippets, Bull breeds, Poodles and many more! If your dog can sniff than they can take part in scentwork, its all about finding the right motivation and reward for your dog.
Companies such as UK Sniffer Dogs offer classes and workshops for pet dogs and their owners all across the country (and even in Cyprus now!). This sport is something that can be done just for fun or there are Trials for each level for those that want to compete.
When I first started looking into a different sport (and I shall say no names) for my dogs to take part in I found it all very clicky and waaaaay to competitive. Not only was I sneered at for suggesting my bull breed learn this sport, I was even more ridiculed for saying I just wanted to do it for fun as my dog had an injury so it wouldn't be fast paced. I had to say this put me off quite a bit but sometimes you just have to keep looking. I wondered when and why did the dog world become so clicky and stuffy? Surely we all had the same reason for wanting to take part and that was for our dogs to learn something new and have fun doing it. I managed to find a 'just for fun' course (with a waiting list) but by then I had found UK Sniffer Dogs and something my dog loves to do too.
I also found that a lot of pet dog owners, although saying they had no experience with any form of scentwork, had been doing it without realising it by playing games like 'hide and seek' and 'find the treat/toy'. When I explained that scentwork is anything to do with their dogs noses they get really happy and excited that their dog may actually do well in the class (and they usually do).
Sniffing is a natural behaviour for dogs and they enjoy it! So much so that scenting actually releases Serotonin (the happy hormone), which helps to keep them calm and engaged in their surroundings.
Scentwork has a great many benefits for all types of dogs too! It can help build confidence in anxious or reactive dogs. By learning a fun new game it can then be introduced (slowly) into areas where they aren't so confident (such as around people/other dogs on walks/ in built up areas) because they enjoy it so much the scary things fade to the background. I have even had clients say it has helped get their dogs through firework season with less upset than before learning scentwork. Of course this isn't a cure but a management tool to help lessen stress and anxiety in these types of dogs.
For young and excitable dogs it can help teach them a focus and slow them down a bit. We try and encourage dogs and owners to become methodical searchers, checking out every part of their search area rather than the usual 'spaniel whirlwind' (sorry spangles) of running around like crazy for a few minutes before understanding that if they slow down they will find the scent quicker and therefore get their reward quicker.
This is a great form of mental stimulation as well! Ideal for older dogs or those with less physical ability, both of my own dogs have leg injures and are getting to their golden years now (10.5 & 12.5 yrs, see Right for pic),
so this helps to keep them fit and stimulated enough that they aren't climbing my walls. Unfortunately they don't realise they are getting older and cant do as much as before but they still try! Did you know that 10-15 minutes of mental stimulation can be the equivalent to an hours physical exercise? Perfect for all involved! young, old, energetic or injured...scentwork can be catered for individual requirements.
It is also a great bond building exercise as both dogs and owners have to learn to work together! The dogs learn a new game and how to tell the hoooman end that they have found the specific scent and where it is. The dog also has to learn how to search methodically, identify where the scent is and then clearly indicate to the owner to get the reward. The whole family can get involved and children love to jump in and get creative with hiding places. This is the kind of activity you can take anywhere! even indoors if the glorious British weather turns grey and wet (which rarely happens in the UK.....right??)
Once its been tried and tested I'm sure you will all be as hooked as I am with scentwork!