How to Train Your Dog to Find by Scent

How to Train Your Dog to Find by Scent
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon2-6 Months
Work training category iconWork

Introduction

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.

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Defining Tasks

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.

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Getting Started

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.

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The Hot Dog Method

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1

Hide scent

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.

2

Command

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.’

3

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.

4

Encourage

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.

5

Reward

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!

6

Repeat

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

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Hide

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?”

2

Find

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.

3

Reward

Be sure to reward her when she touches your hand.

4

Search game

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.

5

Challenge

As your dog gets used to the this game and can find the treat in easy spots, take the game outside to play.

6

Practice

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.

7

Reward

Always reward your dog for a job well done.

The Treat Toys Method

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1

Tennis ball

Cut open a tennis ball or use a treat puzzle toy and place a strong smelling treat inside.

2

Fetch

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.

3

Reward

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.

4

Practice

Continue to practice this using different scents and showing excitement each time your dog finds the ball or puzzle toy.

5

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.

6

Search

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.

7

Reward

When he finds the hidden treat after sniffing the same kind of treat before searching, offer him both treats as a reward.

8

Repeat

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Betty White

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Beagle Jack

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8 Weeks

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Question

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I have congenital anosmia and get food posioning often. What scents represent rotten food, gas leak odor that I can get her to sniff and alert me when there is a potential FP threat? She will be my service dog.

Feb. 3, 2021

Betty White's Owner

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Alisha Smith - Alisha S., Dog Trainer

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257 Dog owners recommended

Hello! I can send you basic information on scent training. For advanced training, you will want to work with a trainer in person. Start Early in the Morning To teach scenting a track, you need some treats and a grassy area, such as a baseball field or park. Although hot dogs are not the most nutritious food, I find they work best, and you won’t over stuff your dog’s belly. Begin early; many people start by 6 a.m. before anyone has walked on the grass. Create a Treat Track Have your dog sit or lie down and stay. Take a couple of inch-long pieces of hot dog and use your shoe to mash them into the grass. Make sure to crush the grass under the hot dogs, which will release a grass scent. Then, with the hot dog residue on the bottom of your shoe, walk a straight line away from your dog. Every six or ten feet, drop a piece of hot dog. Stop after about 20 feet and drop one of your gloves or one of your dog’s toys; your dog needs to find something at the end of the track. Drop another piece of hot dog on top of the item. Command Your Dog to Find the Treats Go back to your dog and release him from his stay, encouraging him to smell the ground where the hot dogs were. Tell your dog “Find it!” and let him sniff. If he begins to follow the track, praise him quietly by saying, “Good dog!” and let him lead the way. Don’t be too enthusiastic or you may distract the dog from his sniffing. Also, don’t try to lead him; let your dog figure it out. At this point, your dog is following several scents: the trail of hot dogs, which helps motivate him, the crushed grass where you mashed the hot dogs and the crushed grass where you later stepped. Your dog is also following your individual scent, which he knows well because he smells your scent every day. But now your dog is learning to combine the scents, to follow them and to find the item at the end of the track. Start Increasing the Length of the Track When your dog successfully completes this trick, make another one by taking 10 steps to the side. If your dog is excited and having fun, you can do three or four short tracks per training session. As your dog improves over several sessions, make the track longer, add curves and corners, and drop several items along the way, but put the hot dog only on the one you want him to find. When making tracks longer or adding curves, use small pegs, stakes or flags to mark the track so you can tell if your dog is off track. Air scenting requires your dog to find someone by sniffing the scents wafting through the air instead of following a track. Most search-and-rescue dogs have both skills; they can follow a track, but if people walking over the track spoil it, they can also use their air-scenting skills. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you for writing in.

Feb. 6, 2021

Have you figured anything out with the dog? I'm interested in getting one to do the same.

June 29, 2021

Amy P.

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Syd

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Labrador Retriever

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2 Years

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We are trying to teach him the trick "roll over" but he runs away when we try to gently roll him on his side as the websites we've visited have instructed. Do you have any suggestions?

Jan. 17, 2021

Syd's Owner

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Alisha Smith - Alisha S., Dog Trainer

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257 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Have you tried luring him over with a treat? Sometimes you have to use a super meaty treat and give your dog nibbles of it as a distraction while you roll them over. From a laying down position, you take the treat to their side and around the back of their neck, while encouraging their nose to follow. I advise people that sometimes some dogs can not roll over. They just won't do it due to physical reasons or they are uncomfortable being in a vulnerable position.

Jan. 17, 2021


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