Welcome to Day 41 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
Sniffing as a reward
Saturdays during #100daysofenrichment are all about emphasising the dog in all our dogs; all about sniffing and doing dog things.
Last week, Day 34, we looked at how to embrace sniffing in training, rather than just view it as an annoying habit and distraction.
And we recently looked at how our dogs choose reinforcers (Day 36)…because sniffing is so often referred to as a distraction, it’s going to feature high up on a lot of dog’s lists of favourite things.
Today, we will put those things together!
We start with sniffing on cue, which means to sniff and search when given a particular signal, such as a word, and then we can begin to apply that skill to reinforcing behaviours. This works especially well for recall training so today, we will be (hopefully) reinforcing recalling with opportunities to sniff!
Start with teaching sniffing on cue
We don’t need to teach our dogs to sniff; they got that down. But, we can teach them the meaning of a specific signal: ‘get your nose down the on the ground and search for food!’.
Cues (or antecedents) are the things that tell an animal to do a behaviour because it results in reinforcement (or tells them to avoid a behaviour that results in punishment). All behaviours are naturally cued by things that happen around the animal and teaching is about helping the animal learn the meaning of cues we introduce.
Cues can be sounds, words, hand signals, gestures or other environmental signals; anything that the dog can perceive.
Different types of cues work better in different environments, for different dogs, and for different behaviours. But, for the most part, dogs learn about body movements, gestures, positions and facial expressions better than they do words (and other environmental and contextual cues, even more efficiently).
We often believe our dogs are performing behaviours on verbal cues or words, but often, the dog is reading our signals and movements (that we might not be aware we are doing) or the context in which behaviour happens and performing behaviour any way.
To add a cue to a behaviour, you will need to make sure that the presentation of the cue is clean.
The cue must be presented just before the behaviour and just before any other signals that trigger behaviour, such as you moving your hand into a hand signal, or you moving your hand or body toward the food rewards.
These are just some of the basic mechanics of teaching animals.
Because dogs don’t actually understand words, you can use any verbal cues you like. We just need to be consistent in teaching the meaning of the word to the dog.
For this exercise for Decker, I use “Go Find It!” to mean search the ground for food, and “Go Play!” to mean ‘you’re off the clock, go be a dog’.
Why put sniffing on cue?
Sniffing is a wonderful behaviour, enjoyed immensely by our dogs, so really, they shouldn’t need too much encouragement but there are situations in which we can use sniffing to redirect our dog and help them cope.
Applications of a “go sniff!” cue:
- a fun searching game because dogs love scavenger hunts!
- a diversion if you are busy or have stopped to chat to someone while out
- a reward for focus and nice loose leash walking
- a cue to let the dog know that he can go be a dog now rather than having to focus on you
- reduce arousal and giddiness by giving the dog something else to do
- redirect the dog from unwanted behaviour (instead of that, do this!)
- a diversion if you see something that bothers or distracts your dog approaching
- a pleasant outcome to associate when helping your dog become more comfortable with a situation
- a great way to let your dog relax after training or after an exciting or stressful incident
How might you apply “Go Sniff!” with your dog?
Putting sniffing on cue in these contexts is really looking at how sniffing benefits you, the human. And while that’s important, our #100daysofenrichment program emphasises sniffing for DOGS every day, as well as on Sniffing Saturdays.
Sniffing is the key to promoting exploratory behaviour for dogs. Exploratory behaviour is motivated by engaging the SEEKING system (Panksepp’s Affective Neuroscience, more here.) or the dopamine systems within the brain – this feels good and is rewarding, at brain level.
Sniffing and exploring feels good, increases focus and good stress – a real winner for dogs!
2019 research, Duranton & Horowitz, demonstrates how getting to use their noses increases dogs’ positive judgement bias (what we might call, optimism). This promotes positive stress (the good kind that helps reduce the effects of ‘bad’ stress), improving welfare.
It is concluded that all these positive outcomes are related to the increases in choice and exploration and in successful problem solving that sniffing, exploring dogs get to do.
Sniffing helps shy or worried dogs and giving these dogs a signal that tells them when sniffing is available is particularly helpful. Sniffing games can easily be associated with feeling happy and relaxed, as well as giving the dog opportunities to explore and investigate.
Familiarising themselves with their environment and gathering information about new things helps to reduce fear. When we cue sniffing, we certainly are associating that with food (because that’s a smelly thing we can control and produce) but the dog will also take in olfactory information from all sorts of sources.
This is why Sniffathon-rules are so important, and why getting sniffing on cue isn’t just helpful for humans, but also for your dog!
Teaching “Go Sniff!“
- start in low distraction environments and practice the beginning stages in as many places as possible
- for this to be established, start in places where your dog is comfortable and happy
Get the sequence right:
- have food rewards in each hand and hold your hands behind your back or neutrally, at your sides
- say “Go Sniff!”
- toss one handful of food to one side
- when the dog commits to going after those treats, toss the other handful to the other side (where the dog can’t see them land)
Repeat in lots of different places, until your dog is actively searching for the treats he didn’t see landing.
Today work on establishing a sniffing cue and over the 100 days, we will be applying this in lots of ways for training & enrichment fun!
Sniffing for food
Ideally, we would like our dogs to be sniffing out their regular meals, as much as possible. But, some dogs will need a little help to get them going and we can have our dog sniffing for treats too!
Kibble is a pretty versatile food type for enrichment type feeding, and works well for this exercise.
You can add kibble in with other yummier treats and toss those. Or you can make a Training Mix so that kibble smells and tastes yummier, but without having to add extra calories or other foods, should the dog be sensitive or restricted.
You can improve the smell/taste of kibble by grilling it a little, so that it becomes crunchier and oilier. You might also soak it in stock or other flavouring.
Wet and fresh foods can be a little more challenging:
- Fresh meats and meat mixes (e.g. raw and home prepared diets) – cut up into small pieces, boiled or baked, frozen in small ice cube trays or pyramid baking mats for small individual treats.
Alternatively, you could use dried or semi-moist meats and cut them into small pieces for tossing. (Note that you feed a smaller volume of dried or dehydrated foods as they are more concentrated.)
- Wet feeds (e.g. canned foods) – frozen in small ice cube trays or pyramid baking mats for small, individual treats.
Don’t forget fruit and vegetables too, if you’re dog likes them. Frozen peas are one of Decker’s favourite for sniffing!
Option 2 Sniffing as a diffuser
Remember that behaviour is reinforced by behaviour, and sniffing is one of those behaviours dogs love to do, strongly reinforcing behaviour.
Sniffing helps engage the dog’s brain so reducing vigilance, it causes them to feel better about the world, it gets the seeking system going which is essentially a neurological reward system…there is nothing about sniffing dogs dislike!
Sniffing can be used to provide your dog with relief before, during and after a tense, arousing, scary or exciting interaction or situation.
Not only might you divert your dog’s attention away from a trigger, but you are also giving them the opportunity to use a better coping skill for dealing with a triggering situation.
See a trigger? Cue “Go Sniff!” and toss some food on the ground…we call that a Carpet Bomb!
In Crazy2Calm class we teach Carpet Bombs in response to the dogs hearing their names said in a firm, panicked tone to start to countercondition their responses to their human’s sometimes less than cool reactions to triggering situations. (Link)
If your dog is in or about to be in a tense social interaction, with them staring at another dog or person, cue “Go Sniff!”.
Not only will this help to divert intense focus, but lowering of the head is a diffusion signal in dog.
After excitement, a fearful response or any form of arousal, providing your dog with some sniffing opportunities will help them to reset, calm their arousal systems and take some time to get back in control.
Option 3 Recall for Sniffing
If you make lots and lots of “Go Sniff!”s happen, your dog will be recalling without you even asking! Work on engagement, so that your dog chooses you, means you have a dog that wants to be with you ‘cos you make the magic happen.
This clip with Max, and family, shows how engagement can be turned into recall:
Next week, we will be talking about lots of recall fun, but today, practice calling your dog and as soon as they move toward you, cue “Go Sniff!” and toss some treats on the floor, in the grass, in a Snufflemat.
Teach focus cues, LOOK!, with sniffing as a reward. Not only is this a great reinforcer for this behaviour, but it helps to redirect your dog away from a distraction.
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!