Dog scent training may not be something that you had considered as a standard dog owner, but there is no reason why you and your dog can't have fun while helping to develop his natural ability to track scents. It's not just for police dogs or drug tracking dogs, scent training can be employed by just about any dog, whether for a specific purpose or just for fun.
The important thing to remember about scent training for dogs is that this is something that comes naturally. All dogs have a highly developed sense of smell and will employ that sense on a regular basis, whether they are looking for the ideal place to do their business or zeroing in on the scent of a possible treat. The fun comes in when you combine that natural inclination with structured nosework to take it to the next level.
The basic goal of dog scent training is encouraging your dog to find a hidden treat or toy by using the sense of smell. You might be wondering why training would be necessary at all if this is indeed a natural inclination. Well the answer is simple: while all dogs instinctively use their noses, not all dogs will automatically connect that ability with achieving a specific goal. That's where training comes in and it works similarly to other kinds of obedience or agility training.
In scent training for dogs, the whole idea is to hide the goal object within a set of identical containers. You can use anything you want for this purpose, as long as the goal can be smelled but not seen. The least expensive and generally most effective method for successful nosework is using a simple set of cardboard boxes.
You just hide the treat or toy in one of the boxes and then encourage your dog to thoroughly search them, using his nose to lead the way. Of course, there will be some precautions necessary for this type of dog scent training, the primary one being to ensure that the dog can't watch you hide the treat, otherwise that will ruin the entire purpose of the training. To achieve this you'll either need to have a second person available to hold the dog back or someplace to contain the dog until you have prepared the training course.
Once you've hidden the goal, then just turn the dog loose and let him start his search. As simple as this may sound, one of the biggest problems with scent training for dogs, especially dogs who have already undergone general obedience training, is accepting that they can actually veer from their training. Many dogs may be reluctant to break from obedience rules in order to participate in nosework so you'll need to provide positive encouragement until the dog gets the hang of it.
If your dog shows reluctance in nosework you can help him out by wandering casually through the course, which should encourage him to follow you and start to explore. It is extremely important to remember to reward your dog as soon as he finds the goal. This reinforces the idea that this is the behavior you were looking for and will encourage him to repeat it each time.
Once you and your dog discover the exciting world of nosework there will be no going back. The limits to training are almost as endless as your dog's olfactory abilities. So why not add a little spice to your routine with dog scent training? Because when it comes to obedience, the nose knows exactly what to do!