Add FUN to Your Scent Work Training...While Preparing for Trial

Updated: Aug 14, 2020



I truly believe that no matter what kind of dog training you're doing, it should always be FUN for both you and your dog. I'm not a fan of "training for trial." Of course, there's a time and a place for that, but it shouldn't be the norm. My schedule doesn't always cooperate, but I'm really trying to make my in-person classes more fun and game driven and offering more "Mock Trials" or "Sniff n' Gos" for students to get that "trial-like" feeling. 


But here's the key, no matter how much fun you're having while training, there's ALWAYS something that helps with your trial preparation. Sometimes when I set up a game for class I get, "but why are we doing this?" and then I tell them all of the reasons why that particular game helps with certain aspects of trialing. And as we're going along I find even more examples of how that game helps us to prepare for trial that I didn't even think of before. It's amazing how even the simplest set-ups can do so much to help our dogs and US in trial situations. Here are a few examples of "games" we've played recently that might help you add some FUN to your training.

Game #1:

Supplies needed:

  • A bunch of ORT boxes. 26 would be great!

  • A black marker

  • Odor (Birch, Anise, Clove or a combination)

  • A LOT of treats. Like, a real lot…

  • Leash (length – handler's choice)

I always try to give credit when I steal a really good idea, so this game came from Michael McManus who got it from someone else who probably got it from someone else. Isn't that how all great ideas are born? I may have changed it up a bit, but basically I place several ORT boxes scattered about and each one has a letter on it. When the dog finds the box with odor the handler doesn't say alert!, but has to say the name of a U.S. City that starts with the letter on the box. The handler has to continuously feed their dog while thinking of a city. I will place three odor boxes out, one has a more difficult letter on it. Quick – yell out the name of a city that starts with Y! How did you do? Due to time constraints I don't always add this rule, but if a dog goes back to the same box, the handler has to feed until they think of a new city. You can add all kinds of other rules and pick different things that have to start with the letters on the boxes. Why play this game?

  1. It's fun listening to some of the funny city names people come up with.

  2. The dog gets a nice easy search.

  3. The dog has the potential to get heavily rewarded for a nice easy search if the handler can't think of a city.

  4. If you add the rule that you have to think of a new city if your dog goes back to a found hide, handlers are more likely to pay attention to the leash and not let their dogs go back to a hide that was already found.

  5. You're adding handler pressure to a fairly simple search. Okay, maybe you're not thinking of city names in a trial, but your mind is spinning. Did we search here yet? Is my dog sniffing for odor or crittering? Did I just miss a change of behavior? Oh, crap, the leash is tangled. Do I fix it now or should I wait? Maybe I should take my dog off leash – no wait, maybe I should put her on leash. Did they say 30 seconds yet? This is sort of a way to replicate that.

  6. Students get pretty competetive and love getting prizes!

Game #2:

Supplies needed:

  • Clothesline – the more the better!