Activities For A Detection Dog

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Introduction

A detection dog, otherwise known as a sniffer dog, is a canine that is specially trained to use sense, particularly scent, to detect a variety of items and substances such as illegal drugs, contraband electronics, explosives, blood, wildlife scat and currency, among others. Search and rescue and police dogs are considered detection dogs in some instances, specifically when they are being used for activities such as locating hidden currency, finding missing people and carrying out drug raids. While detection dogs are mainly used for law enforcement, they also serve other purposes. At present, these canines have become significant in the medical industry. Studies revealed that detection dogs are able to identify certain scents that are associated with a number of conditions, such as diabetes and cancer. They have also become key research instruments in wildlife biology because of their ability to locate a certain number of animal species.

Which Hand

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Any Day
Free
Easy
10 - 30 min
Items needed
Treats
Activity description

Detection dogs are purposely trained to use their senses to find or locate items. Therefore, when thinking of activities for a detection dog, you automatically think of games that will stimulate and put your dog’s sense of smell to the test. Perhaps the simplest of all nose work games that you can play with your detection dog is the “Which hand?” game. This game is an easy but effective way to get your pooch to use their scent instead of their sight. Another advantage of playing this game is that you do not need any special items or toys; all you need are your hands and a couple of your dog’s favorite treats and you are good to go. 

Step
1
Treat in hand
To start the game, choose your dog’s favorite treats or one that has a particularly strong scent. Then, get your dog’s attention. While your pooch looks on, place the treat in one of your hands and close both hands. Ask your dog “which hand?” and wait for them to respond. Chances are your dog will place their paw or bump their nose onto your hand.
Step
2
More difficulty
Reveal your hand to show if your dog got the right answer. If yes, give the treat to your dog. Otherwise, simply show the treat but do not give it. Close your hands again and see if your dog gets it right this time around. Over time, you can start to make the game more difficult by hiding your hands behind you while you shuffle the treat. By doing so, you also prevent your dog from relying on their visuals.
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Shell Game

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Any Day
Free
Easy
15 - 30 min
Items needed
Plastic cups
Treats
Activity description

There are lots of easy nose work games that you can play with your detection dog. What makes things better is that most of these games are free, simple to play and require little effort on your part. Another easy nose work game that helps test your dog’s sense of smell is the “shell game”. Building upon the “which hand?” game, the shell game makes use of cups instead of your hands. The objective is to determine which cups have treats hidden underneath them. The more cups you use in the game, the more it gets difficult because your dog suddenly has more options to choose from. 

Step
1
Prepare the materials
To play the shell game, all you need are a couple of plastic cups and your dog’s favorite treats. Avoid using paper or glass cups; paper cups are too flimsy while glass ones could break easily. Poke small holes on top of the cups to allow your dog to detect the scent of the treats. This step, however, is optional; you can do this when your dog starts out but you can change cups as you make the game more difficult.
Step
2
Place a treat underneath the cup
To start, obtain your dog’s attention and ask them to stay in place. Then, take two of the cups and place a treat underneath one. Shuffle the cups while your dog is watching. Ask your dog to “find” the treat. If they get it correctly, lift the cup up and reward them with the treat. If they don’t, replace the cup back on top of the treat and try again. Do this repeatedly until your dog gets the right cup and understands the mechanics of the game.
Step
3
Add more cups
When your dog fully understands how the game works, you can start to add more cups to increase the difficulty of the game. After adding a cup, hide a treat underneath a single cup. Then, shuffle all of these cups as your dog looks on. Each round, add one more cup into the mix. At this point, your dog should be able to choose the correct cup on the first try. This is a clear indication your pooch is using their scent to detect the correct cup and that their choice is not a random one.
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Lights Out

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Any Day
Free
Normal
30 - 45 min
Items needed
Treats
Activity description

Although some nose work games are simple, there are some that require more effort and can be more thought-provoking for your detection dog. An example of a more challenging game that your pooch can play is “lights out”. This game is very similar to the traditional scavenger hunt or “find the treat” game but with the added factor of playing in the dark. This activity will truly put your dog’s scent-tracking abilities to the test, particularly since they will not be able to use their sight for assistance. Not only is it fun, but it can also help sharpen your dog’s overall search and detection skills. 

Step
1
Treats in a dark room
Distract your dog with a toy or some food to start the game. Then, while your dog is occupied, go to a dark room in your house where you can hide the treats. Use just two or three pieces of treats to start. Choose a hiding place that is out of sight but can be easily accessed and located in the dark, such as on top of the bed.
Step
2
Find the treats
After you have hidden the treats, call your dog to attention and command them to find the treats. After they find and consume the hidden treats, you can give them more treats or give them praise as a reward. Repeat the process but this time, use more treats and choose more difficult hiding spots, such as inside a shoe or under the bed. By choosing more inconspicuous hiding spots and using more treats, you push your dog to become more persistent and their sense of smell gets more stimulated. It also helps develop trust between you and your detection dog.
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More Fun Ideas...

Hide and Seek

Another game that tests your dog’s senses, hide and seek is a classic game that your dog will truly enjoy. While your pooch is distracted, hide somewhere that your dog would not expect you to be in, such as under your bed or inside the closet. While hiding, simply wait until your dog starts looking for you. In case they take too long, you may call out their name lightly or make a sound such as a whistle. Don’t make too loud of a noise because you want your detection dog to use their scent to find you. Once your pooch finds you, give a treat as a reward. 

Scent Trails

This game is a simple way to test out your detection dog’s ability to track scent. To play, simply hide a treat or toy somewhere in your home. Then, while your dog is outside the room or playing outdoors, simply lay a scent trail leading to the hiding place you chose. In the beginning, make the trail short to help your pooch understand the mechanics of the game. As you progress, you can make the trail longer and more challenging

Conclusion

Because of the value they bring in different industries and their potential to perform a number of purposes, detection dogs are extremely cherished and cared for. For owners of such sniffer canines, it is imperative to keep their dog’s senses sharp, especially their scent. By constantly engaging in nose work and similar activities, detection dogs are able to stimulate their mind and retain their scent skills.