How to Teach your Dog to Distinguish Scents


Getting a dog to distinguish scents is probably one of the most difficult training exercises. Dogs normally do this as a matter of course, but on an instinctive level only. It will be difficult to pass on to the dog what you require it to do, because the action you want it to learn is not a visible one that you can demonstrate.

For example, if you give a reprimand when a dog picks up the wrong article instead of the one you wanted it to, this could easily be misconstrued by the dog: it may think that it should not pick up any article at all. You will therefore have to be very careful indeed with this exercise.

Follow these steps, and you will be able to communicate quickly to your dog exactly what you want it to do-without causing any confusion.

The method

Find a pair of socks that you have worn recently, and roll them into a ball. Don’t be concerned about the fact that they have been on your feet— your dog will love them!

Sit your dog beside you, and throw the socks on the ground about 6 feet (2 m) away. Tell the dog to “Find,” or give any other relevant command you feel comfortable with; whatever you choose, keep it brief.

If your dog is reliable about fetching objects, it should have no hesitation about picking up the socks and bringing them straight to you. If it refuses, to pick up the socks, pick them up and throw them a bit further away, or attempt to excite the dog by shaking them and then throwing them on the ground again, commanding “Find,” or using another command you have chosen.

Once your dog is freely picking the socks up and bringing them back, place some clean or new socks on the ground, and now put the dirty socks in the middle of the pile.

Then send the dog in again, commanding “Find,” and praising it as soon as it sniffs at the right pair of socks. Don’t say anything if it sniffs the wrong one. If you reprimand the dog while it is sniffing and searching, this could put it off the exercise altogether.

Some exuberant breeds will just dash out and grab the first thing they see. If your dog brings back the wrong socks, do not reprimand it. Just remove the pair it has brought you and try again, only praising the dog when it picks up the right pair of socks.

The idea behind using the socks is to remove all doubts from the dog’s mind as to what the exercise is all about. The strong smell from the dirty socks will help your dog to learn your objective very quickly!

Once your dog is regularly doing this exercise correctly, use some pieces of wood instead of socks.

Keep one piece of wood for your own personal use, and place it either in your belt close to your skin or in another position such as up your sleeve, in order to make sure it has a lot of your scent on it. Once it has been there for a while, throw your “scented” piece of wood onto the ground and have your dog fetch it.

Repeat the exercise a few times before placing another unscented piece of wood on the ground in front of the dog. Then add another unscented piece, and later yet another. Use tongs to place the unscented sticks on the ground. Only add each subsequent piece of wood once your dog gets the right piece of wood—the scented one—each time. Initially it is preferable that no one else apart from you touches the wood—both the scented and the unscented pieces—but later on, once your dog is doing the exercise correctly, this will not matter.

Keep adding pieces of wood until you have about six pieces on the ground, and your dog is selecting the right piece each time it does the exercise.

Repeat this exercise regularly over the next few days. Vary the types of objects you use—for example, you may use some pieces of leather, or some small pieces of metal pipe.

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Filed Under: Pets & Animals

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About the Author: Fred Goodson has a passion for pets and animals. He has 4 dogs and is planning to have another one. He is also a blogger who writes about pets and animals. Currently, he is living in New Jersey.

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