Your dog may not have any bloodhound in him but I can assure you that whatever breed or mix he is, his sense of smell is better than yours! But how can we make use of this skill and develop it? Easy. Nose games and activities that reward him for following his olfactory sense.
The finest canine noses around are typically those breeds known as scenthounds as opposed to sighthounds who use their sight to hunt rather than their noses. Beagles, Bassets,Coonhounds, Bloodhounds, Dachshunds and Rhodesian Ridgebacks are the best known scenthounds. Most have long floppy ears and it is speculated that this helps to stir up the scents for their noses. Scenthounds vocalize, or “give tongue” as it is called by those in the know, as they track, letting the handler know where he is. Some breeds are more vocal than others and some are thought to have a sweeter sound. Dachshunds are often “mute” except when they are very hot on the trail or very close. If your dog is not going to persue tracking as a career you may not want to encourage this and if you live in the city or the suburbs you neighbors will thank you for not encouraging vocalization. Now let’s get started on some games that are fun and easy.
Grab a succulent, smelly, little treat while your dog is watching. Let him see which hand you are putting it in. Close your other fist as well and present both closed fists to him. He will most likely either nose or paw the fist with the treat. After all, we have made it very easy for him at this stage since he actually saw which hand it was in. As he shows interest in the correct hand, enthusiastically say “Yes!,” open your hand and let him have the treat.
Repeat with the treat in the other fist. You are still allowing him to see which hand you put in. Do this several times, rewarding with the treat and an enthusiastic “Yes!” when he picks the correct hand. Mix it up a bit as far as which hand you hide it in. You don’t want to become predictable.
Now we want to repeat this same process but this time turn your back so that he cannot see which fist you have it in. If he chooses the wrong hand simply say “wrong” or “whoops” and open that fist so that he can see it is empty. Turn your back to him and wait a short time before proceeding again. Give him 20-30 seconds and try again.
When the lightbulb starts going on and he is reliably choosing the correct fist, you can add your verbal cue or command before you present your closed fists. I use “Find the treat” because at some point you are going to start naming the things you want him to find. For instance, you may want to train “Find the remote” or “Find the keys.”
Make It Harder…
When he is reliably selecting the right fist without seeing where you hide it, you can start to move your hands closer to the ground. We always want our dogs to succeed and it is often easier in the beginning to have your fists nose heighth. But eventually we want him to scent things that are on the ground as well.
Now we want to introduce either plastic cups with a small hole in the bottom or clay pots which already have the hole. Begin with only two and once again begin by letting them seewhich one you hid it under. The next step is to hide it without him seeing you do it. When he is reliably finding it with just two clay pots add a third. If he selects the wrong one, say “wrong” and take a break before asking him to repeat it. Be consistent with your cue. When all is goint smoothly using cups or pots you might want to try using other things in which to hide the treats, possibly boxes or shoes.
The key to success with this is to break it down into tiny steps, make sure he succeeds and don’t rush.
Recruit someone to help you with the next step as we don’t want your dog to see where you have hidden the pot of gold. Have them hold Fido in another room. As he enters the room give him the cue “Find the treat.” Make it easy for him in the beginning. You can help him in the beginning by giving him a visual clue as well, in other words hide it somewhere and in someplace where he is likely to look and can see a bit of it peeking out. When he is succeeding at this, make a bit more difficult by hiding it completely, and then even more difficult by hiding it under things and at different heights.
Now grab your remote and a clay pot that is large enough to cover it. Make it easy by letting him see you hide the remote and the treat together. Have two pots and hide the remote with the treat under each pot a few times. When he selects the correct one let him have the treat beneath. The wrong choice elicits a simple “wrong” and a 20 second break in the game.
When he is doing this well and consistently, hide the remote without the treat but have treats handy for rewards. Do not add the verbal cue “Find the remote” until he is reliably choosing the right one. The next step will be to hide it without the treat but in a place he is likely to look and where he can see a bit of it peeking out. And the final step will be to hide it, perhaps in places you have used when you where hiding the treats alone, in successively more difficult places.
Expand His Repertoire
Before long, your dog will be quite proficient at finding the treat and finding the remote. But we don’t want to stop there! Think of ways to use this everyday. Have someone hide very close by, with a treat handy perhaps, and start to train “Find Jimmy.” Finding the keys can be taught in exactly the same way as “Find the remote.” The next step would be to teach them to bring it to you. More on that later.
More Interactive Games And Toys
Some of my favorite toys are those designed by Nina Ottosson. These are the toys for the brainiacs out there who are also dexterous and. These toys require your dog to use that extraordinary organ to find the hidden treat and then open the container to get it. My description isn’t really doing these toys justice! There are a number of models available and they vary from elementary to complex in design. They are a bit on the pricey side but if you have one of those dogs who is in constant need of mental stimulation then this might be worth considering. They are also quite good for dogs who are convalescing. Enjoy watching a Bouvier figure out the Dog Brick. Clean Run has an excellent selection.
Photo Credits: Contadini on flickr