Owners can find recall difficult due to their dog being distracted by the environment. The distractions could be people, other dogs, birds, or just following a natural scent. This is despite the fact that the dog may have a good relationship with their owner and be happy to take treats.
Scent work / nose work involves your dog searching for a scent which they are rewarded for finding. The scent may be food with the reward being the food found. The scent could alternatively be something novel (e.g. catnip or specific essential oils) which is rewarded with food once the scent is found.
Scent work is a great activity since the dog uses its nose which is linked to the olfactory bulb in their brain. Using their brain will tire a dog out much more than just using their legs.
Recall using scent work
It would seem intuitive that coming back for a treat is rewarding, however for a highly motivated dog having to work for that treat can be even more rewarding.
Case study: Mabel the Cockapoo
Mable can get very distracted by everything in her environment including other dogs and birds. She can also get distracted following a natural scent.
This groundwork training session aimed to get Mabel more focused around her handler by utilising her interest in following a scent.
Getting her to use her nose (and therefore her brain) makes recall more interesting and makes being around her handler more rewarding.
This is the first time Mabel has done scent work so was learning the process as she went along.
Exercise one: Recall and follow the treat
In this exercise the treat is thrown out when the dog comes back so that she has to use her nose to find it. Working for the treat in this way is more rewarding than just being given it.
Exercise two: Recall and find the treat
In this exercise when the dog comes back, she is sent out to search for the treat. The treat is hidden when the dog is not looking. The dog is asked to sit when she comes back to give the exercise some structure, so she is ready to look for the treat when the cue ‘find it’ is given.
Note how easily Mabel gets distracted even once she has come back. She becomes more focused as the session progresses.
Exercise three: Recall and follow the treat toy to release the treat
In this exercise when the dog comes back, the Clam toy, which contains a treat, is thrown out. The dog must therefore follow the toy and then work at getting the treat from the toy.
Note how Mabel becomes distracted by a dog in the distance but then goes back to trying to get the treat from the Clam toy.
- Coming back for a treat is rewarding. Mabel using her nose to find the treat can be even more rewarding.
- Scent work exercises are focused around the handler. This helps strengthen the dog-handler bond.
- Mabel using her nose will tire her out much more than just using her legs.
Groundwork training is where I help train your dog for you. This can be the perfect solution if you are stuck on a specific behavioural problem and don't know how to move on.
Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist in Brighton & Hove in Sussex.
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