5 reasons why scent work is beneficial for your dog

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Scent work for dogs is growing hugely in popularity amongst pet dog owners like yourself. And it’s no wonder when you look at all the benefits it brings.

What is scent work?

Scent work covers a variety of exercises that you can do with your dog, however they all have a common theme. Your dog using their nose to locate a particular scent and letting you know when they’ve found it. 

You may already be aware of working dogs who are used for scent work, such as sniffer dogs who are trained to detect items including drugs, guns or bombs. Search and rescue dogs who help to locate missing people. Medical detection dogs who can determine whether someone has cancer by the way they smell. Or medical alert dogs who can detect changes in blood sugar levels and warn their diabetic partners before their levels become dangerous. 

The most common type of nose work training amongst pet dogs is scent detection, where the dogs are taught to search an area for a particular scent. Unlike working sniffer dogs, our pet dogs aren’t taught to locate illegal substances! Instead they are usually taught with pieces of KONG, certain types of oil or catnip. 

Benefits of scent work for dogs

1. It's mentally stimulating

Dogs experience the world differently to humans. For most of us, sight is our dominant sense and how we navigate through the world. However, your dog’s dominant sense is their sense of smell. 
Their nostrils can pick up scents independently of each other and their brain puts this information together to produce a 3D scent picture which helps them locate where scents are coming from.
The percentage of a dog’s brain that is used to process scents is 40 times larger than that in humans. So when you put your dog’s brain to use in a scent work task, it really is a mental workout!

2. It’s physically tiring (without the need for lots of physical exercise)

If at rest your dog breathes at a rate of 15 breaths per minute (bpm), this then doubles when they go for a gentle walk to 30 bpm. When running about on an off lead walk it doubles again to 60 bpm.

Amazingly, when your dog is using their nose to search for a scent their respiration rate can be anything from 140 - 200 bpm! So even though they aren’t running around, they’re still getting a real physical workout.

This makes scent detection games a great option for dogs who aren’t able to do a lot of running around. Perhaps they’re recovering from surgery, have an injury or are moving into their senior years and not as mobile as they once were.

3. It makes your dog more optimistic

A study carried out by C. Duranton & A. Horowitz found that dogs who practised regular sniffing activities were more optimistic than those who didn’t. That is, when presented with an ambiguous or unknown scenario, they were more likely to approach the situation with a positive mindset. 

Optimism is a great concept for all dogs to help them cope with the human world, however it’s particularly important for anxious or reactive dogs. If we can help change the emotional states of these dogs through scent work, then it will greatly benefit other aspects of their daily lives in which they might be struggling to cope.

4. It promotes calmness

Dogs generally do more of what they’ve always done. That’s why you’ll hear lots of trainers stressing the importance of stopping your dog rehearsing what you don’t want and getting them to do more of what you do want, so they form new habits. 

If your dog is used to spending lots of their time in a high energy state, you’ll likely find that they’ll do this more and more. I’ve lost count of the times clients have come to me saying they have to give their dog X hours of off lead time each day otherwise they won’t settle at night. And they’re usually very surprised when they hear that my active Vizslas will settle even if we haven’t been out for a walk at all.

The more time your dog spends in a calm state, the easier it will be for them to default to this.

It’s all down to tiring your dogs out with a calmer energy, which scent work is perfect for! It can be done on lead, so no zoomies needed. In fact a 10 minute sniffing session can be just as tiring as a 1 hour walk. 

5. It strengthens the bond between you & your dog

Scent work is an activity that your dog will love. It lets them use their super special nose and it’ll be satisfyingly tiring. The best bit is that you are part of that picture as well! All of the enjoyment that your dog receives from taking part in scent work will be associated with you too.

It’s also really accessible from a human point of view. You don’t need to be able to run or walk for miles and it can be adapted for people with physical disabilities.
Regardless of your dog's age, breed, temperament or physical condition they can take part in scent detection training. And as we’ve seen, it’ll be pretty good for them as well!

If you’d like to give it a go, why not join one of our UK Sniffer Dogs workshops? You can find out more information by clicking on the link below.
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