9. Scent Detection & Nosework Continued...

Exercise 9.4 - Teaching the Search

You may have noticed that what your dog’s been doing up to this point looks suspiciously like nose work!  Well, that’s the beauty of back chaining – he learnt to identify and indicate your target odour in Exercise 9.3.  He’s able to discriminate between hot and cold items, and he’s having a heck of a lot of fun while he’s doing it. Now all you have to do is put it on a cue.


Adding a verbal cue


Common verbal cues include “search!” or “find it!”, but you can, of course, choose any phrase you like. It’s best to keep it short and sharp, and preferably a word he doesn’t hear too often.


I tend to use ‘Find It!’ for foraging for food and ‘Search’ for a non food scent.


Once you’ve set up your containers, say your chosen cue just before he heads off to sniff.  He’ll make the connection between your verbal cue and the activity very quickly, as the behaviour is now strong and clear.


You can build up excitement and hunt drive by holding him back before you give your command and let him free to search.


Start adding variation to the exercise


Gently you can start adding variations to the exercise to improve your dog’s fluency.

You can:

  • Gradually increase the number of containers
  • Introduce containers at different heights
  • Move to different rooms and settings
  • Add distractions
  • Increase the distance from you
  • Increase the length of time he has to maintain an indication before you mark and reward

Next time we get creative with what we hide the hot tin in – shoes, egg cartons, pizza boxes, suitcases (remember that whichever container you use for your hot tin becomes hot too, so mark them containers for future use to avoid contamination).


You can also ask family or friends to hide or jumble the containers for you, so that neither you nor your dog knows where the hot tin is (known as a blind hide). This will really force you to trust your dog’s ability and read his body language for signs that he’s caught the scent!