There are so many reasons why you need to get rid of the idea that your dog can’t be a detector dog. I’ve not met a dog yet who couldn’t use her wonderful sense of smell to find a specific scent. All dogs can participate in this activity which is why I love it so much. I thought I’d go through some of the most common reasons that people have for thinking their dog can’t be a detector dog.
I happen to have a Labrador. This breed is commonly used by agencies all round the world to search for everything from people to drugs to money and more. But I didn’t choose a labrador so that I could do scentwork. I chose her because she fitted in with my lifestyle. I could give her what she needed in terms of mental and physical activity. And she came from a fantastic family, bred by one of my dearest friends.
I also have two terriers, a Jack Russell Terrier and a terrier mix. I didn’t choose them so that I could do scentwork either. As with Cherry my lab, they were chosen due to personality, what I could offer, what I liked, what they needed and where they came from.
And I do scentwork with all three. They are all avid sniffers and each gets as excited as the other when they see the scentwork tin coming out.
All dogs are scentwork dogs
My method of teaching and scentwork allows all dogs to get involved. I don’t pre-select dogs, I take all comers. And have never found a single one, out of well over a thousand dogs, who couldn’t be a detector dog. Here is just a small sample of the very varied breed types who have succeed in Talking Dogs Scentwork workshops:
- Japanese Chin
- Grand Bassett Griffon Vendeen
- Miniature Pinscher
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Deer Hound
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Border Collie
- Afghan Hound
- Caine Corso
- Boston Terrier
- Spanish Water Dog
- Cocker Spaniel
- Plus many crosses and mixed breeds.
Now that you know you don’t have to have a Malinois, a Labrador or a Spaniel, let’s move on to the next common reason: age.
Age is absolutely no barrier to scentwork. From 8 week old pups to 18 year old terriers, all can get involved. In fact, due to being able to tailor searches specifically for individual dogs, we can keep the physical and mental loads to a minimum. This means that young pups aren’t overwhelmed by being asked to work for long periods or conduct complicated searches. And senior scentworkers don’t have to work for long periods or jump or climb in search areas if they are unable to do so.
At both ends of the age spectrum, handlers can set out short searches with frequent rewards to help motivate and inspire the dogs to engage in this fulfilling activity. It can help bring out confidence and curiosity in youngsters. And challenge for older dogs who may still be very mentally active even when their body isn’t quite what it was in their prime.
There are no worries or concerns about scentworking with a dog of any age, so that’s another myth busted.
Health can be a limiting factor in many canine activities. Whether the dog is recovering from an injury or illness, coping with long term conditions or living with ‘limitations’ that she was born with, she can still enjoy and even excel at scentwork.
So called ‘limitations’, such as blindness, deafness, limb deformities or even amputations, needn’t be a concern when it comes to scentwork. As you would tailor the searches for every dog, you would devise searches according to what they dog can do. For example, I worked with a dog who was deaf and blind from birth. I set up a wall search when he had to locate his cheesy finds along a stretch of wall. By placing the finds at different levels and distances along the bricks, he was able to work at his own pace, gaining frequent rewards to help prevent any frustration.
I’ve had clients use scentwork in order to facilitate physio. One dog needed to do exercises using a bungy cord to strengthen her rear leg muscles. But the tension and sensation of the cord stopped her from wanting to move and so prevented her from building the muscle needed to support the leg again. But when faces with a search area she forgot all about the cord and happily trotted around searching for her target scent.
Another dog had suffered a back injury which limited her exercise. Over time this resulted in her behaviour deteriorating to the point that she had bitten family members. But when given the opportunity to use her nose, her frustration evaporated, and she was once again able to settle and be a safe member of the family. The mental challenge and satisfaction of scentwork can be a real boon to dogs who no longer have the physical outlets that once kept them levelled.
I’ve written before about dogs not needing any prior training to do scentwork. People often worry about their dog’s behaviour and this prevents them from attending workshops and classes that could actually help. In fact, scentwork can be the gateway activity to other workshops. Many times dog has come to TDS workshops and following from their success has then been able to attend weekly training classes or one of workshops.
If you have a dog who you’ve recently rescued or bought, scentwork is a wonderful introduction to training for you both. Supportive scentwork allows relationships to form quickly. By working together for a common goal, partnership is key and trust quickly follows. If you can help your dog to understand that working with you is pleasurable, you have taken a crucial step that can influence all your future training.
And if you have done some training with your dog, it will neither hinder your scentwork nor prevent you from continuing on with that training. With active indications you don’t need to worry about training your dog a specific response to the target scent. Your dog will develop her own signals to let you know she’s hit the scent. This means that while it’s a bonus if your dog will come back when called or drop her toy when asked, these skills are not prerequisites to becoming successful scentworkers.
Now I’m not going to kid you and say that you don’t need to take some time to work with your dog. The more time you can spend learning together the better. But scentwork is perfect for training in small chunks of time. You can teach your dog what target scent you’d like her to locate in around 10 minutes. Yep, just 10 minutes! And then you can set up searches that last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. This activity is ideally suited to dip in and out of. It’s intense and satisfying even in small doses. And in fact if you train too often or for too long it can actually impede your progress. So if you are time poor, scentwork is the perfect activity for you and your dog.
And finally, one of the most common reasons for assuming your dog can’t be a detector dog is that you don’t think you have the skills or knowledge to teach her. And that’s where I come in. Right from the outset, I have designed this TDS to be extremely simple to start. In fact, whether you attend a workshop with me, a class with one of my Elite Trainers or sign up to my online courses, you’ll discover that the dog learns scentwork before you do. With her skills in place, you have time to practise and learn how to move, what to say, how to set up searches etc. all while your dog is having a great time finding her scent.
You don’t need great timing. Or fine motor skills. Or a deep knowledge of learning theory. All you need to succeed is my training system and you’re away! Simple, straightforward, effective and easy. So that by the time your skills have grown, you will be ready to increase the challenge for your dog.
So don’t be put off thinking that you can’t do it. I know you can. I’ve seen many hundreds of people just like you experience the joy of discovering that their dog can be a detector dog.
And there it is. All myths busted. Time to join my Detector Dog School and get started on your scentwork journey. Nothing is stopping you. Go for it!