If you’re looking to help your dog to get more experience with Scent Work, consider practicing on walks. Bringing your scents with you while away from home can help your pet gain a deeper understanding of Scent Work and build their search skills.
Make Sure Your Dog Is Ready for Scent Work
Before starting to incorporate scent searches into your walks, make sure that your dog is ready for more advanced searches. Your dog should be confidently identifying the location of hidden scents on searches at your house, yard, training classes, or other familiar areas of low distraction. We want our pets to be consistently successful with alerting to odors in these less distracting environments before moving on to identifying scents in more distracting areas. By moving slowly at your dog’s pace and skill level, you increase the likelihood of your dog understanding the search criteria and successfully alerting you to the location of the hidden scent.
Select Scent Work Search Locations
When bringing a scent on the road, pick locations that provide an appropriate amount of distraction for your dog’s skill level. If your dog is newer to Scent Work, try to pick locations that are quieter (or times of day when your park or neighborhood is quieter). The more people, dogs, sounds, and other distractions that are nearby, the more difficult it will be for your dog to find the hidden scent.
Your hide locations should be determined by your dog’s overall level of skill and experience with Scent Work. You’ll also want to consider the difficulty of where you hide the scent. Hides that are buried, located above the level of your dog’s head, or in obstructed locations will be more difficult for dogs to find. As your dog improves at finding hides, you can work up to more challenging hide locations.
Be intentional about where you hide scents. Make sure that you’re in a park or other area that is dog-friendly. Select an area where your dog will be able to search without physical interference from other dogs or people. For this reason, don’t place hides in off-leash dog parks or busy areas with a lot of foot traffic. It’s also best to avoid placing hides in playgrounds; you don’t want any of your hides to accidentally be removed by kids as they are playing. If you’re going to hide a scent anywhere on private property, make sure you have permission from your neighbors or the property owner.
Supplies Needed for Scent Work Walks
The type of scent you place depends on your training goals and what (if any) your Scent Work competition goals you may have. If you are working towards your dog’s Virtual Scent Work Tests, you will want to be hiding toys, food, and balls. If you’re working towards other AKC Scent Work titles, you’ll most likely be hiding Q-tips scented with essential oils; these swabs should be placed in safe containers, like small, metal boxes with holes punched through the top or empty lip balm tubes.
Magnets in the metal boxes allow you to stick the hides in great places, like on the legs of metal picnic tables or under metal playground equipment. You’ll also want to bring the harness and leash your dog is using for Scent Work training and treats for rewarding them when they find the hidden scent.
If you’re going to practice scent work games on your walk, there are two approaches for hiding scents for your dog to find. You can either put out your own scent or have a friend or helper hide a scent for you and your dog.
Setting Solo Hides
If you don’t have anyone to train with, you can still play Scent Work games with your dog while out on walks. To do this, you can go for a walk without your dog and place your scent or scents near your house. Then, get your dog, bring them to the search area, and ask them to search for the hidden scents.
Another option is to drive to a location where you’re going to train. Leave your dog securely crated in the car; for your dog’s safety, remain in sight of your vehicle. Place hides for your dog to find. Then, give your dog the search cue and let them find the hidden scent location(s).
Setting Group Hides
If you have a companion to help you train your dog, you may ask them to hold your dog while you hide a scent. Only ask someone to hold your dog if it is safe or appropriate to do so; if not, make sure the second dog is in a crate or another secure area. Alternatively, if you have a training buddy who is also training in Scent Work, you can walk together and take turns hiding scents for each other.
To do this, one person can hold the dogs away from the search area while the other hides the scent. After your dog finds the hidden scent, then you can trade places and hide the scent for your friend and their dog to find. Not only will the hide be a blind search for your dog (meaning they won’t know where the scent is hidden), but it will also be a blind search for you. This means you won’t unconsciously hint to your dog about where the scent is hidden.
Assessing Your Dog’s Distraction Levels
If your pet struggles to find the odor or gets distracted, that is an indicator that the hides or environment are a bit too challenging for them at this time. Take this as a sign your dog could benefit from you decreasing the difficulty of the search. One option in this situation is to set up a very easy search for your dog and offer lots of praise and rewards when your dog indicates they found the odor.
If even that is too distracting, bring your Scent Work games back home or a quieter environment, and try again. When your dog is more confident and successful with searching in that low-distraction environment, you can resume trying Scent Work games on walks. Alternatively, consider pairing the scent with food. This will help the dog locate the scent more easily and creates motivation for them to try even harder to find more difficult hides.
Pick Up Scents Before You Go
If you are incorporating Scent Work work games into your outings, make sure to keep track of where your scents are hidden. Before leaving the area, make sure to pick up all Q-tips, containers, or other hides. It’s important not to litter or leave behind objects that could be considered trash by the general public.
In addition, you never know who else in your area is training their dog in Scent Work. If someone were to go work with their dog in the same area and didn’t know there were scents laid from your practice session, dogs might be confused; the owner wouldn’t realize their dog is alerting to an actual scent versus the ones they laid for practice.