Welcome to Day 48 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.
Saturdays during #100daysofenrichment are all about emphasising the dog in all our dogs; all about sniffing and doing dog things.
On Day 20 we started to put sniffing on cue so, as a behaviour, we can use it in training situations. Today we will be refining applications of sniffing in specific training situations to both manage and modify behaviour, with sniffing…everyone wins!
What are SNIFFING STATIONS?
Each sniffing station is a particular spot where your dog will learn to sniff for food. While these can be set up or planned in advance, we might also quickly establish an impromptu sniffing station by tossing food rewards on the ground or floor to redirect our dog’s focus away from some trigger.
We have talked about using the Go Find It! game to redirect a dog’s behaviour to something more appropriate and calming.
What do you need?
- a sniffing station can be a small bowl or any other visual target that tells the dog there is food there, such as small cones
- food rewards
- your dog’s lead and collar, or whatever gear they wear
- a snufflemat or similar is also a great addition and can make a wonderful sniffing station for some of today’s exercises
- strong tape, such as duct tape or similar helps to secure the sniffing stations in place
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!’.
Don’t worry if you haven’t been working to get sniffing on cue or maybe you have just joined us in the #100days. No matter, today’s exercises can be started afresh, without necessarily using the verbal cue, “Go Sniff!”.
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.
We often believe our dogs are performing behaviours on verbal cues, words, but often, the dog is reading our signals and movements (that we might not be aware we are doing) 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 the 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’.
For today’s challenges, you might only use visual cues that lead our dog on stepping-stone path of sniffing…
Applications of SNIFFING STATIONS
For the most part, I work with regular pet owners who don’t necessarily want to spend time developing really clean dog training skills. They want to be able to work with their dog on little niggling issues so that they can each enjoy one another’s company that much more.
Although for lots of these applications, there are a number of training plans and behaviours we could teach, sometimes that’s not the priority for a pet owner, especially when we want to work on lots of other bits and pieces.
Most frequently, I will use sniffing stations with clients where we have lots of other work and this approach offers a quick and easy way to manage their pet’s behaviour, so we have sufficient resources to invest where there aren’t as simple short cuts available.
The main areas that sniffing stations can help:
- managing leash and pulling behaviour, especially in areas associated with lots of pulling and dragging
- getting out the door
- getting in a door, greetings
- getting to and from a scary or arousing situation
- to redirect the dog’s behaviour during some arousing or triggering situation
Changing the dog’s motivation for behaviour, and reducing his expectation (that crazy behaviour is required) will help to prevent behaviour associated with arousal and over-excitement.
Instead of the dog heading forward, all guns blazing, he is learning to stop and search. Plus, sniffing is a great calming aid so we might be helpful modify his underlying emotional response too.
Getting from A to B without too much craziness
- to get a dog from a kennel to an exercise area
- to get a dog to an exit (or entrance)
- to get your dog out the door
The dog’s expectations at the door change; from bursting through to sniffing sniffing sniffing. This example applies treats tossed to the floor, in almost every step at the beginning, to change the dog’s expectations.
Add in new cues, for these new expectations; your hand on the door means treats are about to be available for sniffing, instead of get ready to burst out!
I tend not to worry too much, at this stage, about the behaviour inside the door and I don’t like to ask over-excited dogs to sit or be stationary; this can increase frustration and stress.
Instead, think about what we want the dog to do on the other side of the door; that’s the behaviour that really matters!
Have a sniffing station right outside the door, just on the other side of the door. With practice, the dog’s expectations change to slowing and stopping in anticipation of the opportunity to sniff the treats on the ground.
Pre-loaded Sniffing Stations:
Start with securing each station every couple of steps to the target. Load each with a couple of food rewards.
Allow the dog to forage from each sniffing station without their lead on or any activity at the or around the target, such as the door.
Practice several times in each session and have a few brief sessions as often as possible.
Once the dog is readily checking each station, you can add their lead. Practice in the same way and make sure there is no extra excitement or distraction, away from the stations, before moving to the next stage.
Add treats to the last of the stations, open and close the door. Repeat and if the dog shows interest in the door, open more gradually and feed further from the target.
When approaching the door is a non-event, it’s time to add an external sniffing station. Work with your dog on lead and with the door open. Add the external sniffing station real obvious as soon as the dog approaches the doorway.
With some practice, we can close the door. As your dog feeds from the last or second to last station before the door, open it, so that they can get to the external sniffing station without delay.
It can help to load each station as you go, especially if the dog is a little distracted.
To get too and from an arousing situation – something scary or exciting
- to get your dog from the house to the car, or from the car to the park or from one spot to a very exciting place
- to teach your dog that they can safely approach and retreat from some scary situation, in their own time
Approaching something scary or arousing may be associated with pulling toward or away.
Help the dog by teaching them how sniffing stations work. Begin with just one or two stations, toward something scary, and when the dog can do that, add one more station at a time.
This may take many sessions but it’s important that the dog get to move toward and then away from the situation. Make the target a sniffing station too and then allow the dog come away again.
If this is an exciting rather than scary situation, you might move quicker through the stages, but it’s especially important that if the dog is fearful, that progress is much slower and gradual.
I like to use Sniffing Stations to help to establish predictable patterns that can help to increase a dog’s confidence in a situation. For example, with a dog who is scared of a particular context, such as when a stranger is present,
In this clip, the dog learns to enter, eat from a sniffing station (a bowl) and leave again. Soon he is able to enter the room, without distress related behaviour directed at the stranger (me) and leave. Setting this pattern up will help him to develop greater comfort in association with strangers in the house – strangers make the predictable plan happen, make high value yummies available, and always result in him being able to escape interaction.
To get past, toward or through distracting or triggering situations
This helps to manage the dog’s leash walking behaviour especially as we approach and pass distracting or exciting triggers.
To get the dog to another person, dog or location in a calmer fashion use a Breadcrumb Trail.
To help establish calmer greeting behaviour inside doors
Set up a sniffing station in areas where greetings take place. Establish this with familiar people who have just stepped out for a moment first.
Enter and immediately cue the dog to sniff and toss treats into a snufflemat, a little sniffing station bowl or on to the floor.
Practice entering, cueing the dog to sniff and then running with them to get the treats; have treats ready to go close to the door.
Lots of practice to help establish this one with familiar people before it can be applied to new people or a familiar person who has gone for a while.
Doorbell = Snuffle Party
Teach your dog that the doorbell signals a snuffle party! Instead of your dog running to the door, they run to you and their Sniffing Station to snuffle for treats; then you can bring your guests in calmly and quietly.
Establish a Sniffing Station with a snufflemat, a snuffle puzzle, or simply scattering treats on the floor, on a blanket or towel, or in their bed.
Practice in short sessions of just a minute or so at a time.
Begin working close to the door so your dog can quickly check that there’s nobody actually there. But as their comfort increases, you can move your Sniffing Station to the spot you want your dog to go to when the door bell sounds, such as another room, a confinement area, a crate or their bed.
Be exciting as you bound to their Sniffing Station – it’s a snuffle party after all!
Use a recording of your door bell or a similar sounding bell. The one I use can be found here.
You gotta practice door management games before you really need them but they are simple to work into your daily routine and require only 30-60 seconds practice per day.
More on managing greeting behaviour here.
Using sniffing stations in contexts like these will not only help to improve the dog’s engagement and focus, but also may help to associate good things with potentially distracting and worrying triggers.
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!
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!