Ep. 21: Rehab a Dog with Scent Work

Jul 28, 2019

Our dogs at some point in their lives will become injured. Maybe they have to undergo a surgical procedure or are coming off an illness. In any case, your dog will be laid up and your options of what to do with them may be limited. This is where Scent Work, or simply allowing our dogs to sniff, can take center stage and shine.

In this podcast episode, Dianna discusses how she used Scent Work to rehab her own personal dog and the importance of organizing searches and celebrations thoughtfully and carefully. At the very least, this episode should get everyone thinking about how they can apply Scent Work outside of simply getting their dogs ready to trial.


  • Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things Scent Work. That can include training tips, a behind the scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through, and much more.

In this episode, I want to talk about using Scent Work while rehabbing your dog. Before we start diving into the episode itself, let me just do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the owner and lead instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University, and Family Dog University. These are online dog training platforms. They're designed to provide high quality dog training instruction to as many people as possible and we're very fortunate to have a client base that's quite literally worldwide.

For Scent Work University in particular, we offer online courses, seminars, webinars, our regularly updated blog, and podcasts like what you're listening to today. We can help you get started in Scent Work, perfect some skills, or get ready for trial, but now you know a little bit more about me. Let's dive into to the podcast.

So, in this episode, I want to talk about how it is that we can use Scent Work when we are physically rehabbing our dogs from an injury or maybe a medical procedure. As with most things, this is all due to the fact that I've had to do this with my dog. So, for those who may follow me on social media personally, you know that my dog was injured- Sorry, was injured at a cut test where he tore up his pads pretty badly. Then after that we also needed to do a previously scheduled surgical procedure where he had to have some lumps removed to make sure that there was nothing gnarly going on. We're still waiting on pathology, but he's been laid up for basically a month where he can't do the things that he would normally do. We can't do a lot of the running and the jumping and leaping and all the other crazy Doberman parkour things that he likes to do, normally speaking.

So, when you have a very high energy, high drive, I must do something at all hours of the day dog, and suddenly they can't do anything physically really, pretty much, particularly when his feet were injured, he really had a very hard time even walking. What do you do? Those desires to do stuff didn't just magically go away overnight.

So, one of the things that I did and I'm continuing to do is we're doing Scent Work. I had to be careful when his feet were wrapped because it was all four pads that were injured. So, it really was very painful for him to walk and the more walking he did, the longer it was going to take for him to get better. He really just needed to just rest and sleep. Once he was comfortable enough moving around, I started doing some really simple, straightforward searches where, again, I'm not doing this in the mind of, "Okay. Well, now we have to prepare for trial or anything". It's the least thing from my mind. All I'm trying to do is to give him an ounce of fun and to help him use his mind a little bit because he can't use his body the way that he wants to.

If I can at least give him some filament from actually working out some odor puzzles, that can make him feel a lot better. It's worked really, really well. So, we do maybe at most, one or two searches a day. These are really, really, really simplistic and more often than not there's a lot more breaks in there, meaning that we do a search maybe on like a Monday and then we'll do another one on Wednesday or something. These are not crazy by any stretch. We're talking at most, maybe two or three hides. There are times when we don't do formal quote unquote Scent Work where he's just finding treats. So, I'll do snorkeling games, what I call snorkeling games, which is just putting some kibble out in the yard or I'll hide it in the house and just let him find that. I'll put it underneath things like the table so he has to work his way to it.

So, there's different ways of doing this, but I found that has helped him tremendously. Then just making sure that I organize what it is that he's doing to try to promote him to be more in tune to be restful. What I mean by that is I'm very much into you give lots of rewards, and you're really high octane, and everything is awesome. Well, I couldn't do our normal party and celebration because I can't have him jumping, and leaping, and spinning, and doing all this stuff. So, we did more of just catching treats or more stationary sorts of tricks where he could do chin, where he places his chin on on my hand or cheek where he pushes his head on one side to one hand in his head on other side of my other hand. Doing things such as just weight or doing nose touch where he still really enjoys those games. I can still stress to him that this is a good thing, but I'm not getting him so over the top that he's throwing his body every which way and that could cause him to further injure himself.

So, that's been one of the biggest adjustments I've had to make with what is that we normally do for our Scent Work is making sure that I don't have search areas that are encouraging him to be running like a maniac, number one, and number two, that our celebration and our party afterward is not more muted, but I'm just more mindful of what it is that we're doing during that time so there's not all the high nose touching, and the spinning, and the twirling, and the running, and the leaping, and all that stuff that we normally do, and I cannot wait to get back to it, but I have to say that by doing these sorts of things with him, it's really taken the edge off as far as allowing him to still do Scent Work and ensuring the way that I'm setting up the search areas where he can come in, he can sort it out, there may be one, two, maybe three hides, and then we do our more contained celebration.

Then I allow him to just do some chewing. So, it could be a bully stick, it could be a stuffed Kong... A friend of mine actually got this really cool, I think it's a Kong bone, but I'm not exactly... I'm almost certain it is, but basically it's a shape of a bone, like what you normally see for dog toys, but it's got holes on the ends of the bony parts of the little knuckle parts. So, you can stick food and things in there. He loves that thing. He absolutely adores him. So, he'll have one of those sorts of chew things to allow him to really be invested in that. Then he takes a nap and we need lots of naps because the more that he sleeps, the faster he'll heal.

It's not that I don't want him doing anything at all, but I need to be mindful of what it is he's doing. In thinking about what we've had to really put up with over the last month or so, I don't know how well he would have done if we hadn't built in all these other things in our routine. If it had always just been, we're doing running, and leaping, and we're doing agility, and we're doing healing, and we're doing all this really active stuff, which he does a lot of... If I didn't also have something like Scent Work and I didn't also spend the time to work on these other tricks and behaviors like the nose touch, and the chin, and the cheek, and attention work, and getting him to where he can just think, I think he'd be bouncing off the fricking walls at this point.

He would just be beside himself, but he is such a wonderful little patient where he doesn't bother any of his wounds, which is fantastic. He doesn't lick any of them. He doesn't zoom around the house. He loves to roll and right now he can't roll because he has stitches on his elbow and his hind leg. So, he'll be like, "Can I please?", I was like, "No, I'm sorry honey. Let's do this instead". So, he's been absolutely fantastic. He has been superb. I cannot really stress just how awesome he has really been, but I do think that doing the Scent Work exercises with him has really, really, really helped. I'm hoping that anyone who is on the fence about doing Scent Work, maybe you've listened to our podcast, maybe you've seen videos, and you're like, "Eh, I don't know if it's really worth it for me".

Even if you have no intention of ever competing, I have to really stress just how beneficial this activity really is to the dog. Just me placing his kibbles out, and it used to just be right near his bed for when he really could not move much at all, and now we're stretching out to where it's now more area, that is plenty and he loves it. He loves it so very much when we play the mama's just going to toss kibbles and I'm going to find them game. He thinks it's the best thing ever and it really helps take the edge off. So, I can do that a couple of times a day. I do it without even thinking. He then does that. He'll usually suck on his bed afterwards. That's a Doberman thing to do. Then he'll sleep and that's exactly what I need him to do.

I need him to do lots and lots of sleeping. By allowing him to do that sniffing it helps him do that. So, if you haven't played the Scent Work game, I really urge you to look into it. If you're like, "Ugh. All this formal stuff, I don't want to do any of that. I don't want to have to go out and buy, I don't know what you'd call them, odors and I have to store them. I have to, you know, get putty and... I don't want to do any of that". I get it. You don't have to. You really, really don't. All you need is some food that your dog likes and then just hiding it places. Don't go crazy to begin with. Don't place your hotdog on the ceiling. Don't have it spread out all throughout the house with tiny, minuscule little pieces that your dog is never going to be able to find very easily.

Start off easy. Have it in one room. Have it in the room your dog's even in. Use something that's high value, like hotdogs or any little piece of meat, such as chicken or ham. Could you use kibble? You can if your dog likes their couple. My guy thinks lint is delicious. So, I'm very, very fortunate with what he likes, but just do that. Even if your dog is not hurt, which is when you should be doing these things as far as introducing it the very first time, I think you'll see just how much they enjoy playing the game. Then if your dog is injured or they're coming off of an illness or if there's something else that you just need to kind of keep them somewhat contained, you then have this to fall back on, which is really, really, really beneficial.

I cannot stress enough just how much allowing him to sniff, whether it be for food or for target odors, has helped him over this month of just thing after thing, after thing, after thing. He's doing great. He's not depressed. He's not listless. He's not off his food. He's drinking, he's peeing, he's pooping, he's active, he hasn't lost... He lost some muscle in the beginning, but now we're stable, which is great. There aren't any of the signs that you normally see what happens when a dog is injured for this long? He's not showing any of that. He's actually fine. He's okay, which is wonderful and I really do think that him being allowed to do the sniffy stuff has really helped him with that because he can't do all the other things that really likes to do. Even playing with his toys really is off limits and he was just starting to get to the point with his feet that he's be able to do that and then we had to have the surgery.

Now, that's all off the table again. So, kind of a rambly podcast, but I just wanted to share the experience that I'm having with my dog because he's not the only dog on the planet that's ever going to have a surgery, or get hurt, or be sick, or anything like that. This activity of allowing our dogs the opportunity to sniff is a powerful thing and it's very powerful for them. It's very empowering. They love doing it and it is such a huge benefit that when I think about how there are lots and lots and lots of dogs out there, so many dogs, and maybe you know 20% of them, 30% of them, I think that's way too high, is playing the sniffy game, that makes me sad because it should be 100%. Every single dog should be playing the sniffy game with their person even if that's just finding food.

Particularly, because the dog sport community is actually a very small subset of the dog owning community. What makes me sad is thinking that anyone who's involved in the dog sport community then kind of portrays to the broader community, "Well, don't have your dog find food because that's not what they're going to see in competition". First of all, I don't think it matters personally. I have not seen in my guy that he hits on distractors more because we play the food finding game as well as finding odors, and second of all, we just have to recognize those of us in the dog sport community, not everybody is going to be in that community. The vast majority of people who own dogs don't even know there is such a thing as dog sports. So, if you do have family members or friends who just have dogs and they say, "Oh, well I saw maybe a thing on the news", because actually Scent Work is picking up a lot of popularity, which is good, or maybe, "I read something in a magazine or online or I saw a video or whatever and the dog is out and they're finding stuff. I wonder if I could do that. Could my dog maybe find food?"

Please, please, please don't discourage them from doing that. If they want to move on to having their dog find burnt [inaudible 00:14:12] or clove or whatever the case may be, that's great, but let them allow their dogs to find food because if the choice is finding food or finding nothing, the food is the much better option. For our general pet owning public, which is the majority of us, if they have to deal with a dog who's already hurt, where the dog either has an injury, maybe they tore something, maybe there's something else more serious, maybe they had a medical procedure, who knows? But the dog is laid up... For people who are the general pet owning public that is a big enough deal on its own. They may not be to all the other things that people in the dog sport world are like, "Oh. Well, you do this, that, and the other thing".

If you just own a dog and now you have this four legged thing that cannot really take care of itself and you have all this other stuff you have to worry about, it's really stressful. So, if you could help that person by saying, "Okay. I know you're a little stressed about this and I totally get it. We don't like it when our dogs are hurt, but if you do this one little activity with them, it can make them feel a bit better because they can't do the running, and the leaping, and the chasing of the ball, and going for your walks, and going for your hikes, but this will help work them out mentally, which is almost more important at this point because they physically can't do this stuff anyway".

I'm hoping that all of us can understand that Scent Work has a lot of different components to it. The formal Scent Work, quote unquote, where we're having our dog's trained on a novel odor to go find within a space so that we maybe could compete, that is a very small subset of the activity of Scent Work as I see it. I see Scent Work as an opportunity to allow a dog to be a dog, and to allow the person to appreciate how amazing their dogs are, and to give them the ability to hunt, which means that they should be able to hunt for food.

If we can see it through that lens, we can see just how much broader that net can be so that everyone who owns a dog could play Scent Work. That doesn't mean everyone who owns a dog is going to go out and buy burnt [inaudible 00:16:23] and clove and do everything that we may do, and that's okay. They don't have to, but if they were just to have some kibbles or some treats, whatever else throughout their house, once a week, I would be thrilled. I would be so happy.

If they did that, particularly when their dog was injured, or laid up, or coming off of an illness, or something else where they quite literally can't do the things they normally do with their dog, play ball, go for a walk, go for a hike, that would be fantastic. It would help their dogs. It would help them because a dog is going to be bouncing off the wall going crazy and it can also help spark some interest and be like, "Oh wow. Look, how amazing they are. That's incredible", which is one of the biggest gifts of Scent Work. It can really help shift the perspective that you have about your dog because you can see just how amazing they are with how they work these things out.

To the very least, I hope that this podcast episode got everybody thinking about how we could use Scent Work to help our dogs recover from injury, as far as it being an activity that may not be as taxing on their bodies, and also because it's something that I'm always stressing about. I think all of us within the dog sport community have to be careful with how we talk about Scent Work and that our goal should be to have every dog sniffing however we can get them sniffing. If they do want to move into more formal Scent Work where they're finding harder odors, fantastic. If they want to stay with food because they don't want this to be their life, which is completely fine, then we should be promoting that too.

Let's get all the dogs sniffing and then if some of them want to play the actual sport of Scent Work, then fantastic. If they just want to stick with the food, that's okay too. I'm hoping that just as a community, we can have a better appreciation for just the value of the activity of sniffing, and not ostracize anyone because they may not be doing the type of sniffing that we want them to do.

So, the very least, I hope this podcast episode got you thinking. Thanks so much for listening. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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