Why you should start walks with a sniffing game

Lots of new owners struggle with recall and this morning I realised I do a lot of things automatically now that might be helpful insights and ideas for others.

So, here’s a short film about how sniff games can really help with both recall and your dog paying attention to you outdoors – none of this is an instant fix, but if you keep it up you’ll probably have few issues for the rest of your relationship with the dog.

Even if you don’t have recall issues it might have some enrichment ideas 🤓

1. Sniffing activates the dog’s seeking system, which can help calm them down. They also become more focused and subsequently calm down. If your dog is
very excited it can be difficult for them to focus. One thing to try then is higher value treats – and don’t give up, they’ll get it.

2. Speaking of high value treats, it’s also an opportunity to show your dog what you have “on offer” that day. Knowing human has Extra Good Stuff in her pockets adds to the dog’s incentive to come back to you quickly. Even without sniffing games, I usually ask for a few easy recalls at the beginning to be able to “showcase” what great treats I have with me.

3. Especially for puppies and young dogs, it helps to cement in their mind that you are the best game in town, even in an exciting forest. This is a particular challenge for hunting dog owners
because the forest is a true Disneyland of wonders!

Reframing recall

Instead of thinking recall as a compliance
or obedience challenge, I accept that it’s a simple value equation for a dog and act
accordingly by making sure my “offer” is
better than the forest.

I always have 2-3 different kinds of treats on a walk, like a dog kiosk of goodies! The more competition I have for their attention, the better my offer – tailor the selection according to your dog.

Even my recall cue these is TREATS – an offer they rarely want to refuse. The best part is that by using this word I can reinforce it in any context. E.g. just go to the kitchen and announce “treats!”

Sniff games during the walk

Doing sniff games at random times throughout the walk also has benefits. Most importantly, it reinforces the dog’s belief that it’s really worth it to stay close because GOOD STUFF could happen any time around The Human, aka The Fun Factory.

You can use them for natural stretching and conditioning by using tree stumps to scatter them higher. Old tree trunks are also good for scattering treats on top. Works well for body conditioning & balance training!

Scattering treats among logs & branches on the ground develops body awareness because dogs need to think about where to place their feet while sniffing – better body awareness can protect from injuries.

Searching for single BIG treats requires a different search style than scattering treats, so switching between games adds variety. You can use sniff games to train patience and impulse control! In the video Grace waits while I throw one BIG high value treat behind my back. Double reward: treat AND the sniffing itself is highly rewarding for a spaniel!

One last tip: choosing different environments adds to the nosework your dog is doing. Dry flat grass is easy compared to wet leaves because of how odour molecules work, and tall grass or plants like this make it harder for the dog to search for treats visually, adding to the challenge.

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