Scent games are an ideal way to challenge pretty much any dog: the nose is the dog’s strongest organ. As Anne Lill Kvam has it, “Imagine a beach 1500 feet long, 150 feet wide and 40 inches deep. On this beach, a dog can find two grains of sand that smell differently.” (1)
A fun thing to train is searching for a certain kind of tea. You can then play scent discrimination games (find the right kind of tea among several kinds of tea), and cue your dog to search for a hidden tea bag anywhere: at home, on a walk, in your car, in the dog park, … Just go there before walking your dog, hide the tea bag, and then come back with your dog!
How to train:
1. Pick a flavor of tea you want your dog to find. I suggest using a flavor like camomile, since this is one of the few flavors that tends to come without artificial flavoring and on its own rather than combined with different flavors. Also, herbal teas and fruit teas tend to not contain camomile, so you can use them for proving scent discrimination. In any case, if you ask your dog to find camomile (or another flavor) among several flavors of tea, make sure that the other flavors don’t contain camomile (or whatever flavor your dog is searching for). Otherwise, it might be confusing for your dog.
2. With your dog in the room throw a tea bag on the floor. The moment she curiously sniffs it, click and treat.
3. Repeat until your dog knows the game.
4. Put a tea bag on the floor without the dog watching. Walk her into the room and click and treat her for sniffing the tea bag.
5. Without the dog watching, put several tea bags in a row or semi-circle. The one closest to the dog should be the camomile tea. This sets your dog up for success. Walk your dog into the room and click and treat as soon as he sniffs the camomile.
6. Repeat until your dog knows the game.
7. Without the dog watching, put several tea bags in a row or semi-circle. This time, alternate which flavor is closest to your dog. Walk your dog into the room. Ignore if she sniffs or shows you a tea bag that isn’t the camomile. Click and treat as soon as she sniffs the camomile.
8. Repeat until your dog knows the game.
9. Add the cue of your choice. Phoebe’s cue is “Kamille” (“Wo ist die Kamille?”, i.e. “Where’s the camomile?”).
10. Repeat with cue, in different rooms of your house/various locations, with different amounts of tea bags and different flavors of “wrong” tea bags in different constellations.
11. Wooohooo – you’ve got your own camomile detection dog! Teach her to search for cannabis next, and never run out of weed again!
Scent discrimination games:
Play with step 10 in all kinds of locations and situations – on the floor, fixed with duct tape to the wall etc., take a video and show it off to your friends.
Use different tea boxes rather than just bags.
Tear open your tea bags and mix a little bit of tea with sand. Put the tea-flavored sand on a plate, and see if your dog can still choose the right kind of tea-flavored sand. As your dog gets better at this game, lower the amount of tea in the sand!
Use different flavors of (cold) tea in cups!
Tea detection games:
Now that your dog knows what scent to look for and has a cue for it, take a walk before walking your dog, and hide a bag of camomile tea on your route! Take your dog for a walk and cue her to find the tea!
Hide a bag of tea under a pile of leaves, or put a little earth or stones over it. See if your dog will still find it!
Put the tea bag up in a trea so your dog has to put up her front paws in order to reach it, and see if your dog is still able to find it! (If she isn’t, start with the tea bag just a few centimeters above ground, and gradually increase the hight after each successful search.)
(1) Kvam, Anne Lill (2012). The Canine Kingdom of Scent. Fun Activities Using Your Dog’s Natural Instincts. p. 5. [Kindle Version] Retrieved from amazon.de.