How to Train Your Dog to Search
Ever wonder how to train your dog to search? Some search and rescue dogs started with a simple nose work class. Nose work dog training classes are a great way to spend time with your dog while allowing them to participate in an activity they love.
Dog Behavior When Sniffing
Dogs are meant to sniff; it's what they do. A dog’s sense of smell is about 1,000 to 10,000,000 times more sensitive than a human’s (depending on the breed). Back in the day, dogs spent much of their days sniffing, following tracks, and hunting; often traveling many miles a day.
Today, many dogs spend their lives locked indoors with only access to the outside world when it's time to go potty or for a walk. Even then, lots of owners don't allow their dogs the time to sniff. To a dog, sniffing is like reading the paper, sending an email, or Facebooking (just imagine your life without Facebook these days). It's a method of communicating. Your dog sniffs and says "Hey, Fido from up the street was here this morning". Then, he might just mark that spot to say "I was here also. See you later."
How to Train Your Dog
There are lots of ways to train your dog. An organized nose work class allows your dog to get out of the house, be around other dogs safely, and sniff, sniff, sniff. You also build a stronger bond with your sniffing dog as you learn to observe and understand your dog’s behavior. Dogs with shy or fearful dog behavior will build confidence in a new environment because all dogs are kept separated in their individual crate; overactive dogs will put their energy into fun searches.
The class we attended started off pretty simple with a treat placed in a box on the ground where the dog can easily find it. Here’s a tip - it's best to find a treat they really enjoy so they are even more motivated to find it; turns out the biggest treat motivator for my dog was French Fries. So, if anyone ever loses a French fry, I know the perfect dog to find it!
Eventually, the dogs progress to multiple boxes where they must search a bit harder to find the box with the treat. Progressing even further can lead to treats being hidden outside of boxes, around vehicles, and in higher locations, reachable only by dog ramps. The highest levels of search dog training progress to actual dog training scents (i.e., anise, birch) where the dog gets a reward after finding the actual odor.
Dog Training Games
It's truly amazing to watch your own household pet focus on the job at hand while sniffing out hidden treasures. My dog loved playing the “Find It” game in class and we continued when at home. The best part of the in home dog training was that the game of "Find It" actually became its own treat to her so I could ask for other behaviors (i.e., Sit, Down, Come) and then tell her to "Find It" once she completed the original task. She may not be the next drug sniffing dog (yet!) but it's another great training tool in our repertoire.
Dog behaviorists will tell you that sniffing is both mentally and physically taxing for a dog so a 5 minute game of "Find It" could achieve the same result as playing fetch for twice as long. After 5 minutes of sniffing, your dog will often feel just as satisfied and ready to rest.
I'd definitely recommend checking out your local canine training club to learn how to train your dog in nose work. Nose work is quick and easy, can be done anywhere, and has little preparation time. Whether you are hiding scents on the ground or up the dog ramp, it is fun and your dog will love you for it!