It's Scent Work, Not Stuff Work!

Updated: Sep 2

As one progresses through Scent Work, it is commonplace to see patterns in where hides are placed, both in training and at trial. Falling into patterns like these is human nature! However, this is NOT the spirit in which the game of Scent Work should be played.

What You Practice Matters

“My dog is finding odor! What difference does it make?!”

Can you guarantee that your dog understands the game is truly about odor alone and not odor + tables, odor + chairs or odor + (enter item)?


I appreciate your honesty.

We must understand that our dogs are GUESSING what the game is all about based on two things: the picture we present to them and what they are rewarded for. Therefore, it is entirely possible for our dogs to come away from a training session thinking the game is about checking items for odor. However, this conclusion is incorrect! Our dogs should be searching the entirety of the space, not merely the “stuff” within it!

If your dog has only ever found hides inside or on items, they quite literally have no reason to think odor can be somewhere else. Besides their expectations, they also lack the experiential learning to recognize how those odor puzzles may look or how to solve them.

Here is a plainer way of putting this: if your dog has never seen an “area hide”, they may very well be unable to determine how to solve that problem.

I have witnessed this firsthand in extremely experienced dogs. Set an item hide and they can sort out the problem no problem. Place an area hide and they are fixated on checking the items in the space, and oftentimes extremely specific types of items (tables, chairs, etc.), getting flustered and frustrated when they keep coming up empty.

So, where you choose to place your hides and how you practice in training makes a HUGE difference in your dog’s ability to be successful.

Better Ways to Practice

It is one thing for me to harp on and on about what I DO NOT want you to do. It is something else entirely to give you some ideas of what I WANT you to do.