Scentwork – A different way to ‘work’ your dog

We’ve been investigating lots of different dog activities during the last year of lockdowns and limited travelling, for things to do with our dogs a bit closer to home. We recently spoke to Sara Seymour of Compass Canine and asked her about her experiences with scentwork and why she finds it so beneficial for her happy, active dog, Ripley.

Sara is the owner of Compass Canine, based in Totnes, South Devon with her primary business being hydrotherapy and canine fitness.  She also offers scentwork training, as well as running scentwork events.  Sara’s dog training background was mainly in agility, but these days her training with Ripley, other than scentwork, focuses on Rally obedience.  This is mostly online, due to the limited number of ‘real life’ competitions currently available. They also enjoy training tricks and a variety of concepts such as mimicry.  Sara is training to become a Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer (CPCFT) and her training philosophy is best described as ‘Do No Harm’, focusing on positive reinforcement-based training that is adapted to each learner.  She aims to apply this to both people and dogs.

Here’s what Sara had to say…

“My current running buddy is Ripley, a six-year-old working cocker spaniel.  We started C25K together back in October 2019, and have run two or three times a week ever since.  I have to be honest, since the first lockdown started in March 2020 he free runs more often than not.  This suits us better, as I don’t run fast enough for him!  He still runs in harness on some routes.  Well, trots – quite famously he never broke out of a trot through the whole C25K program!  Anyway, the main point is that he is a very fit, high energy dog.

So it often comes as a surprise to people that I don’t walk him every day.  Even on the days we do walk, it can just be a quick 20-30 minute bimble.  Most people would then expect that he is running circuits around the house, or destroying anything that he can get his mouth on.  But that’s not the case.  I run my own hydrotherapy centre, and he spends most of his days in the office with me popping my head in between appointments.  Many clients have spotted him through the window, sound asleep with his legs in the air.  Want to know the secret?  Then read on…

Ripley relaxing!

Walking, or running, with your dogs for ever increasing distances is one way to try and tire them out.  However, the chances are you will end up with a very fit adrenaline junkie.  The more you do, the worse it’s going to get.  And let’s not even get started on standing and chucking a ball for them repeatedly.  Seriously, just don’t start it.  The way to tire your dog out, so that they can settle themselves during down time, is by training them.  I may not walk him every day, but we do train every day, even if it’s just for five or ten minutes.  Getting to the specifics, the very best way to tire your dog out is by getting them to use their nose. 

A large part of a dog’s brain is dedicated to processing the information that they take in through their nose.  Much more than in the human brain; our main senses being sight and sound.  Dogs navigate the world with their noses, which is why they often cope surprisingly well when they lose their sight or go deaf (and we often don’t realise for a while).  Given that they are using so much of their brain for sniffing, it’s an activity that will tire them more effectively.  Letting Ripley spend his 30-minute walk sniffing every blade of grass will satiate him far more than the dog that chases a ball for 30 minutes – they’re barely using their brain at all.

There are many ways to get your dog using their nose more, from scattering some of their meal around the garden to training for competitive scentwork.  I use everything in this spectrum.  I got involved in scentwork in 2017, as my springer Vinnie had been retired from agility relatively young and still needed a job.  I trained as a trainer for Scentwork UK, and started teaching classes.  I’ve since trained as a Trial Manager and Judge, and also run Nosework Games events.  I’m a lifelong learner, so there has been plenty of further education in there as well. 

With Scentwork UK, the initial scent that we teach our dogs is cloves.  They are trained to search for this scent in a number of different set ups, and once they find the scent they have to perform a behaviour that tells the handler that they’ve found it – this is known as an indication.  Scentwork classes are available all over the country, as well as online.  I have also recently written and published a book, Scentwork: Step by Step, which is aimed at complete beginners.

Ripley enjoying a scentwork session

However, the most simple way that you can get your dog sniffing is by getting them to search out their meals (admittedly much easier if you feed kibble rather than raw).  Either place a few bits of food in various places around a room or sprinkle some kibble in the grass.  Try to avoid pointing out every bit, stand back and let them get on with it.  You can even do this out on walks to encourage them to get their nose down.  Probably an important point to note here is that I put a lot of these behaviours on cue – quite rightly we don’t want our dogs with their nose down all the time whilst we’re running, but by actually allowing them time to do this elsewhere you may find that they have less need to do so at other times.

Scentwork can be as simple as getting your dog to sniff out their food in your back garden

Find out more

You can find out more about Scentwork UK or Nosework Games on their websites or Facebook pages.  I have a page dedicated to scentwork, Compass Canine Scentwork, as well as some information on my website www.compasscanine.co.uk/scentwork The book is available through Amazon, wherever you are in the world, either on Kindle or in paperback – mybook.to/ScentworkStepbyStep  If you have any questions, then please do get in touch.”

We think scentwork is going to be great fun for the K9 Trail Time team to try and we’re currently working through Sara’s book and looking forward to getting started ourselves. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into scentwork and it gives you some ideas for keeping your dogs happy on rest days.

Happy Trails!

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