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Teaching your dog to track by scent and find something can be crucial in training a service dog or a working dog. However, if you're teaching your dog to track by scent and don't plan on having a working dog who specializes in search and rescue, he can still be quite useful around the house. Dogs have a sense of smell that is hundreds of times stronger than humans have. Teaching dogs to train by scent can be the beginning process of teaching your dog to hunt or help you search for lucrative items to sell such as truffles, mushrooms, or even potentially find gold and silver. Teaching your dog to find items by scent could help you find a missing pet. You can also turn scent searching into fun and games by just hiding things in your backyard and rewarding your dog when he finds them. Search and rescue dogs use their sense of smell to find missing people or people lost in tragedies and horrific events or natural disasters. Utilizing a dog’s sense of smell makes the job of search and rescue faster, saving lives.
To teach your dog to search by scent you can start with easy objects to search and find. You will want your dog to be well-versed in basic obedience commands. All dogs like to sniff with their nose. However, there are certainly some dogs who are incessant ground sniffers who might be better than others at searching and finding by scent. Because your dog wants to please you, giving him a job to do will build his confidence and strengthen the bond between you two. You can work with puppies or adult dogs on this task. Rescue dogs who have had a tougher life before coming into yours might be good at searching and finding simply because it is rewarding for them.
You're going to need some reward treats as well as some treats or foods your dog can sniff to find. Be sure to make these separate, so your dog is not searching for his own reward while doing his task. You may also want to use some toys to entice and encourage your dog, a large grassy area, and some patience.
The Hot Dog Method
To get your dog to track a scent you are going to need to hide a scent for him to find. Cut up a hot dog into little pieces and hide in a trail in the grass for your dog to find.
Before allowing your dog to go outside to search for the cut up bits of hot dog, give him a small piece of hot dog while still inside and the command, ‘find it.’
Release your dog
Take your dog outside and walk with him for the first few steps, encouraging him to sniff the ground. Repeat the command ‘find it.’ If your dog is distracted, let him sniff another small piece of hot dog while repeating the ‘find it’ command.
Continue to tell your dog to ‘find it’ as he tracks your yard. If he needs some assistance getting going, you may show him the first piece. For the second piece, if he doesn't continue to track you may want to point out the second piece showing him that there is a trail of hot dogs in your yard. Be sure to let him sniff it out even if you have to show where it is located.
Once your dog has found the entire trail of hot dogs, offer him verbal praise and excitement with lots of love and affection. You could offer him a different treat as a reward, but there's not much better than a hot dog and your love, affection, and attention!
Repeat and practice these steps, so your dog begins to connect the command ‘find it’ with the search of a certain scent. As your dog becomes more advanced in the skill, you can use fewer pieces and different treats.
The Guess the Hand Method
Hide a strong smelling treat such as dried liver in one hand and hold both hands behind your back. Ask your dog the question, “Where is it?”
Because your dog will choose the hand with something in it over the hand that has nothing, she should automatically find the treat hidden in your hand.
Be sure to reward her when she touches your hand.
After doing this several times, play a search game using the same smelling treat. Hide the treat in an obvious place and ask your dog, ‘where is it?’ Reward when she finds it.
As your dog gets used to the this game and can find the treat in easy spots, take the game outside to play.
Practice this every day for a few weeks, making her search more challenging. Once she can find your treat in simple places such as on your couch, let her sniff it and then hide it within your yard challenging her to find it.
Always reward your dog for a job well done.
The Treat Toys Method
Cut open a tennis ball or use a treat puzzle toy and place a strong smelling treat inside.
Using the word ‘find,’ let your dog sniff the ball and then toss it. Your dog should go directly to it, sniffing the treat inside.
Offer your dog a reward when he brings it back. Show excitement and enthusiasm and continue to let him sniff the ball without getting the treat out.
Continue to practice this using different scents and showing excitement each time your dog finds the ball or puzzle toy.
Cut the ball
Open the ball even more so your dog can dig out the treat. Continue to play toss and fetch, encouraging your dog to pull the treat out of the ball once he finds it.
Without using the ball, plant a few of the same treat in harder to find places. Let your dog sniff the treat and ask him to find it. You may have to help the first time.
When he finds the hidden treat after sniffing the same kind of treat before searching, offer him both treats as a reward.
Repeat these steps until your can search and find just by sniffing an object after you give the command ‘find.’
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 11/18/2017, edited: 01/08/2021