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Adventures in Scenting

A snapshot into the life of Dave the Dug

- by Andy Morton

Dave is a Border Collie with a strong herding instinct and scent work wasn't top of the 'activities to do together' list.

A course designed to build confidence through scentwork, taught by Lindsay McLaughlin (supported by Clare), piqued my interest and Dave began his new learning adventure.

It wasn't just a learning adventure for Dave though, I found myself learning some new skills and brushing up my existing skills, from other classes, with this course.

Starting Point

We began by learning how to search for food hidden in cardboard boxes. As Dave wasn't a natural search dog, we learned to work as a team. Lindsay coached me to ensure that Dave's confidence remained high whilst his skills developed. She also made sure that I wasn't tempted to do all the work for him. I didn't need to teach Dave to find food by scent, he could already do that, he just needed to learn how to do it under these new conditions.

Once Dave realised how much fun this new game was, he was happy to practice at home and made swift progress in class.

We had started by using a long line to help Dave remain focused but now that he understood the activity, he was able to work free. We quickly progressed to adding verbal cues to the search activity, shaping indication cues and building distance. I felt proud as Dave demonstrated he had developed the confidence to go out alone and search an area for his tub of food. Dave likes to be an individual and unlike the other dogs who selected a more traditional paw tap, sit or down as an indication signal, he chose a two step shuffle with his front paws.

Dave and I left the course with a new set of skills and I had the question 'what do I do to keep Dave (and I) learning'?

Learning Together

Playing scenting games together is now a regular activity for Dave and I. During the summer I can use my garden to hide food. Putting the food at different heights and in different locations keeps Dave busy - don't ask what the neighbours think!

Scotland isn't always dry and sunny, so indoor games are essential. I have six old saucers upon which I place different food. Dave then waits in the kitchen whilst I hide the food around the house. To keep the indication behaviour strong, some of the saucers are placed out of reach. This means that sometimes he is successful on his own and other times we achieve success together.

I usually set up 2 or 3 rounds of the game, which take just a few minutes, so even if you are really busy you can fit it in.

The benefits to Dave are visible. I can honestly say he loves these games. I look at him on a long dark winter night or rainy day and he's just lying on his bed; as the saucers appear he comes to life.

The scent games are an opportunity to strengthen cues, build concentration, teach problem solving whilst keeping Dave's confidence levels high.

Our bond and connection are strengthened; we do this together, which is highly motivating for me.

Dave uses so much brain power searching, processing scents and cues that after a short session he will sleep soundly.

What next

Dave and I love to learn and we are going to challenge ourselves with the Match to Sample learning. Dave will be given a scent (sample) and then sent off to locate the match. We may succeed, we may not but we will learn lots along the way and enjoy our time together.

Clare adds:

Lindsay and I both teach dogs who have been labelled reactive or aggressive. We both believe in the power of scent work to help these dogs relax and learn. Owners have reported that their dogs appear to cope better with stressful events such as fireworks or Christmas when scent work has been built into their routine.

Building confidence in dogs and owners underpins everything we do.

Keep an eye on the home page for upcoming scent work courses and events or drop me a line:

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