AYWYP: Week 41 – Scentwork

Scentwork with your dog

Now that your dog is a year old, the fun really begins! You should be able to take them out and about without worrying too much about their behaviour. It’s a great time to consider starting a dog activity – there are so many to choose from. I have a few to write about and I thought I would start with my newest interest – scentwork.

Border Collies scentwork
Ounce doing a wall search

I started scentwork last September, mainly because my lovely agility trainer, Emma from Beancroft Agility, Scentwork and Hoopers, started teaching it! I also decided to do it with Ounce, as I wanted her to stop agility, for a variety of reasons. The main reason was that I just felt she didn’t really love it and with plenty of other dogs doing it, there was no need for her to continue.

The basics

Dogs have an amazing sense of smell, everyone knows that. That sense is used in all sorts of ways, from finding people to sniffing out illnesses, or alerting people with medical conditions. Scentwork is the basic introduction to understanding how dogs use this amazing skill and harnessing it to do something fun.

Border Collies scentwork
Tizzy indicating

Like most dog activities, (and most new skills) getting started is a bit slow and painful. But once you have the basics, it’s amazing how quickly you can progress. It’s lovely to see dogs of different breeds being able to excel at this activity. And of course it doesn’t require much fitness or mobility from the handler.

The objective

Scentwork is all about working with your dog. Of course the dog knows where the scent is, but can you understand that? When you can go into a room, filled with obstacles and find the tiny marker with the scent on it, as indicated to you by your dog, that feels incredible. It’s tricky though!

Border Collies scentwork
Dottie searching bricks

You begin by introducing one scent, which might be a rubber Kong, or a piece of cloth scented with cloves. The dog is shown the scent and then rewarded with food. And again. You keep doing this for a few weeks, until the dog understands that when they smell that scent, they get yummy treats.


Once the dog knows what scent they are searching for, they have to be able to tell you where it is. This is taught slightly separately, but alongside learning what the scent is. You place a coin on the floor, wait for the dog to look at it, or sniff it, or touch it with their nose and say ‘Yes!’ and reward. And again. Keep going. You want the dog to understand that wherever the coin is, they should be looking at it, being still and waiting for you to say ‘Yes!’ (or use a clicker) and then they will get a reward.

Border Collies scentwork
searching a chair

Those are the two key skills that you and your dog need to have. Once your dog knows that they must find the particular scent and then indicate to you that they have found it, you can start to make real progress.

Scentwork in different places

It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s how you get started. Then it’s about how you manage the dog, setting them up and making sure they look in the right places. Searches can be inside, outside, with a huge variety of different objects. Vehicle searches are carried out, along with searches of walls and doors.

Border Collies scentwork
vehicle searching

What I like about this activity is that it’s quite calm and relaxed, but it really challenges your dog. It’s tiring and stimulating for them too! It also ensure that you really pay attention to them and watch their behaviour carefully.

Scentwork competitions

Scentwork UK run Trials around the country, if you wish to compete. These are structured around 8 levels, with each level including more complex and varied searches. So there is plenty to work on! If you fancy giving it a go, why not look for a trainer near you?

Border Collies scentwork
Passing the next level in class

Weekly Focus Challenge

Do you fancy scentwork?  Even if it sounds a bit serious, you might be surprised at how interesting and enjoyable it can be.  If you don’t want to do the formal training, you can still entertain your dog by playing hide and seek with a toy.  If they will go and get a toy if you point at it or tell your dog to ‘find it!’ then you can try hiding a toy and asking your dog to find it.  Listen to them sniffing?  It’s a really stimulating exercise for them.  Make sure that your dog has time to wander and sniff on walks – don’t march them along on lead at your pace, please? 

Please share your thoughts and a photo? You can do this in the AYWYP Facebook group, or buy the workbook to keep your own record. Details below.

Buy the Workbook

The Workbook – A Year With Your Puppy is available to buy. It was written and designed to be a hands-on, interactive book for you. It will help you survive the first year with your puppy, but also act as a memento of that time and the journey you have been on. You can write notes and stick in pictures of your puppy throughout the year. Lovely!


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME, by filling in your email address below?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.


NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.

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