We all know that a dog’s nose is powerful – it is his number one sense to interpret his world. Dogs can smell up to 100,000 times better than a human – they have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, versus our measly 6 million. And the part of the dog’s brain that is dedicated to interpreting scent is 40 times larger than ours. Everyday, we use dogs’ abilities for scent to help us in everyday work, from drug and bomb detection, to search and rescue, to hunting out vermin on farms. But what can we learn about our companion dogs by tapping into this?
In trained detection dogs, their body language changes when they find the target odour, and it is up
to their handlers to recognize this (whether it is a trained final response or not). But what happens when your dog finds something she/he likes – for Shorty, it’s a rat in barn hunt and for Mulder, it is wintergreen in sport detection? What does your dog do if he finds a rabbit hole? Or a pizza crust? His behavior changes, and by recognizing that and paying attention to it, you will learn to better read your dog’s body language in general.
Watch your dog while he is out sniffing – what happens if you throw food down for him? Does his sniffing change? Do his ears move forward? Does his forehead wrinkle? Does his tail wag? What other situations do you see this body language in? Watching your dog while sniffing will open your eyes to reading him.
Whether you are enrolling your dog in a sport detection class, barn hunt, or just putting out treats in your backyard for him to find, you are using your dog’s brain. Dogs love to sniff – why not harness that power? I am pretty sure our searches are the only way I maintain any type of sanity in the winter months with Mulder. We search once a day (sometimes twice). Barn hunt has put pep back into Shorty’s stride. Plus, these activities are fun to do with my dogs, and it builds our relationship.
This type of relationship building can also be useful for shelter dogs. Scatter a few pieces of kibbles or treats around the exercise yard and take a dog out to look for them. You can even help the dog look by pointing to areas where she may want to check.
My challenge to you this week is to try this – go for a walk with your dog and for a period of your walk, let him sniff. Interact with him while sniffing – praise, encourage, watch what he is doing and where he stops. Listen to how his breathing changes. It will teach you a lot about your dog and his world.
Thank you to Kathleen Wee for the use of her image of Miah searching.