"Only people who do that competing stuff would do Scent Work."
"Why would I spend money to teach my dog to sniff...that sounds stupid, I just want them to be well-behaved!"
"That looks boring, I like exciting stuff like agility!"
These are all real statements that I have heard from clients over the years. Every single one of them humored me to give Scent Work a try. Every single one of them never looked back.
Scent Work: Only For People Who Want to Compete
The vast majority of my clients early in my career never competed. Let me say that again: for the first 4 years I taught Scent Work, not one of my clients competed in the sport. Not one.
Yet they all came to class every week. They all practiced every week. And their dogs loved the activity.
"Why weren't they competing?"
Different reasons for different people. Some were simply not interested in competing in any dog sports. Others were playing this game for fun. Most of them were using Scent Work as a part of their behavior modification program and/or enrichment program with their dogs. In other words, the mental well-being of their dog far outweighed any need to compete.
"...But could they compete?"
Absolutely! A few of my clients from those years have recently started to compete and are doing extremely well! But they are so well grounded in how valuable the activity of Scent Work is, they don't get caught up in the ribbon craze. They are proud of their accomplishments and have fun when they are trialing, but they recognize the true value is in simply playing the game.
Scent Work: Not For People Looking for Well-Behaved Dogs
This is what is really happening in Scent Work, all of which are incredibly valuable for every-single-dog.
Want your dog to be better behaved? Help them develop more confidence so they are not startled by every noise where they need to alert bark. Being more confident will also help them make better decisions day-to-day.
Have a dog who is destructive in the house due to boredom? Give them an activity that will work them out mentally and physically, one that will not put them over the edge threshold-wise and will instead tap into an essential instinct.
Adding Scent Work to your routine, even once a week, can truly improve the quality of life of your dog and can help them behaviorally as well. Ask anyone who has a reactive or fearful dog who has used Scent Work in their behavior modification program. They will tell you adding Scent Work to the formula was a game-changer. Shouldn't you reap those benefits as well?
Scent Work: It's The Boring Sport
Most definitely not.
Now, I will grant you on the outside it doesn't look as flashy as agility, disc dog or even competition obedience, but it is an impressive illustration of a dog and handler working together all the same.
There is one big twist with this activity: in Scent Work, the dog is the lead dancer and the handler is playing a supporting role.
"WHAT?! That sounds awful!"
It is true that switching roles like this can be uncomfortable for some people, but the magic happens when you take off your "I must be in control of everything" hat, and allow yourself to listen to your dog. Truly listen.
That is when you start noticing the small little things. Things you never noticed before in all of your years of dogdom. This new insight will allow you to have a greater appreciation of just how impressive your dog truly is.
It is freeing for a dog handler to finally have a two-way conversation with their dog. To be able to hear what their dog is saying.
It is also exhilarating to the dog to finally be heard.
While there may not be as much running, leaping and jumping, there is still plenty of activity in Scent Work that will get your blood pumping! Getting to the line and scoping the search area out. Being quiet enough mentally to be able to tell which direction the wind is going, and then watching your dog for when they get a whiff of the odor.
Releasing them to search and watching in awe as they follow the invisible odor trails only they can see. Seeing them work out a complicated problem, deducing, "that is where odor has been, that is where odor is going..aha, that is where the odor is coming from!" Witnessing them make a final determination of, "THERE IT IS!" and confidently calling, "Alert". That entire time the outside world had faded away and for few moments, it was just you two, dancing in this space, a pair of connected beings involved in a lovely two-way conversation. How wonderful is that?
Here's The Secret: Scent Work is For Everyone
If you have a dog, you should be doing some iteration of Scent Work.
Using a snuffle mat? That is a form of Scent Work.
Play hide-and-seek with food or toys? That is a form of Scent Work.
Hide food in boxes in short training sessions? That is Scent Work.
Hide target odors in Interiors, Exteriors, Vehicles or Containers? That is Scent Work.
Practice for Scent Work trials, go on sniffing field trips, go to classes, seminars, camps and workshops? That is Scent Work.
You can choose one of the above options, maybe a few of them, or maybe all of them!
The key point being that Scent Work is for every-single-dog AND every-single-dog-owner.
So, if you've been sitting on the sidelines thinking Scent Work was not for you, now is the time to give it a try. Trust me, your dog will thank you for playing a game they will love, and you will step into higher plane of doggie understanding, thus allowing you to better appreciate and love your dog. What more could you ask for?
Ready to get started? Check out our Introduction to Scent Work online course and get your sniffing on today!
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!