Last weekend we had a Scent & Sniffing workshop for our trainers. We hold workshops about every month to provide continuing education for our trainers, and where there is space, for other trainers and dog lovers too.
Certainly my favourite part of this is the application of scent and sniffing to improving the welfare of pet dogs. But, we covered lots on related sports and training, the biology of scent and learning about airflow and the ‘behaviour’ of odour.
It was a great day, with lots of engaged trainers and willing dogs – after all this is their thing!
By far the favourite part of the day, for humans and canines alike, was the Sniffari we set up, at the front of the training centre.
What’s a Sniffari?
I would love to say that I originated the term, but I think the credit goes to dog trainer Kristi Benson. And I would also love to claim that I came up with this idea, but I saw some similar version of this on a training company’s Facebook page and I can’t find it now – if anyone knows, please share so I can give credit.
AniEd’s version of this is possibly a little different and I am hoping to develop it more and more.
Sniffari is an olfactory adventure for your dog. It can be as elaborate or as basic, as large or small, and as complex or simple as you like. You are limited only by your imagination, and how far you want to take this.
We went all-out-elaborate for our workshop. Attendees from around the country brought lots of bits and pieces to build the Sniffari. AniEd is already filled with “rubbish” that we use for puzzling and enrichment, so we contributed lots too.
Here’s a quick tour of the set-up:
Our Sniffari is not just an olfactory journey, but a multi-sensory one. The dogs are drawn in and around many substrates, obstacles, sights AND smells. Many layers of cognition are engaged, meaning that so much brain power is involved.
That it was outside, to give us lots of space, also provided extra challenges in the way the breeze moved through the obstacles.
There were five dogs at the workshop and each had a different experience but all were enthralled. Afterwards they were tired, but chilled out rather than exhausted from exertion.
If you would prefer just to watch little snippets from each dog’s adventure see the next clip, but if you would like to watch an edited clip of each dog’s journey, that follows too (in alphabetical order!).
Cooper on Sniffari
Cooper is an adolescent Cocker, a pretty high-arousal fella who is always moving and whirling. I particularly enjoyed watching him do this and felt that he may benefit the most from this sort of slower-paced activity. I don’t think I have seen him as calm, engaged, and moving as slowly and controlled as he did through the items of interest.
He systematically sniffs every item and methodically moves around the course, ensuring he doesn’t miss anything. What a wonderful experience for this guy; really taking time to think and sniff, take his time, relax and take in information without worry or arousal. Good job Cooper!
Decker on Sniffari
Decker is a mature entire male and although he is a serious sniffer, this was probably a little less enriching for him. Most of the items are from AniEd and he’s here almost every day, and many are from the beach he goes to most days too, so lots of these things are just not as interesting to him – he’s sniffed it all before!
Decker also believes that all people who come to AniEd are here to see him, so he feels obliged to greet everyone and make sure he shows his gratitude to his fanbase.
He spent lots of time on feathers and does a great double-take passing the duck feathers, going back to give them some intense attention. He’s a pretty methodical sniffer too, but this is how he is when sniffing in general and during specific trained sniffing related activities.
Eric on Sniffari
Eric is a mature neutered male and is a cautious fella. He finds new things, new environments and change a little concerning so would rather keep his distance. However, Eric was able to engage with this activity and was certainly keen to investigate and explore.
You can see Eric’s worry and apprehension but his senses took over and led him in and around obstacles he wouldn’t normally approach, helping him cope and allowing him to gather information about the world around him. Such an awesome experience for him.
He worked for a shorter period than the other dogs – they all got to decide when they had enough and wanted to move on but, he certainly immersed himself in Sniffari-ing. We left it up for the rest of the day, so each time the dogs went out for a break, they could choose to engage in the course at any stage.
Well done Eric – Sniffari’s are excellent for soft, sensitive dogs too!
Ivy on Sniffari
Ivy is a mature ex-racing Greyhound, spayed female, and is a slightly cautious and very dainty lady. She also sniffed methodically and seemed to be particularly interested in animal related items.
She shows a little apprehension when passing between items so a more sparsely populated Sniffari might be preferred by her.
She spends lots of time sniffing every inch of the snufflemat that one of our trainers had made for her pet rats. Ivy is pretty interested in small-furries and chasing, so this intense interest makes sense.
What a great way to provide her some outlets for her interests, without causing the high high high arousal associated with chasing and hunting.
Sniffaris work as an outlet for chasers – go Ivy!
It’s interesting to note that Ivy marked, with urine, twice; once after sniffing the rat snufflemat and a second time, after sniffing a mound of seaweed. Both times she showed marking behaviour with leg lifting.
It is to be expected that dogs will urinate after sniffing, especially lengthy sniffing sessions. Shafik, 1994, demonstrates a link between sniffing and urinating so the dogs were given lots of toilet breaks throughout the day between olfactory adventures.
It might also be interesting to note that the two girls marked in the Sniffari and the boys didn’t, even though two of them followed the girls’ rounds.
Lottie on Sniffari
Lottie is a mature Boerboel spayed female. She is a pretty social girl but did show a little concern at some of our attendees, who sat across the road to watch, and, also at some patrons from another business up the road a bit. Regardless, she methodically sniffs her way around, not missing a thing with her nose!
Upon reviewing her footage I note that she spends a lot of time sniffing and studying other dogs’ bedding and items. To dogs, this is social interaction, even though there’s no contact.
This may be an important outlet for dogs who prefer not to hang out with other dogs, for dogs who are worried by other dogs, and for dogs who are not going to be able to be exposed to other dogs due to their age, health and so on.
Gathering that information may also be important in developing comfort with other dogs, assessing the potential level of threat or determining that the dog hasn’t been in the area for a while (as in, it’s an old or weak smell).
Sniffaris might be a great way of giving dogs who don’t hang out with other dogs access to social interaction. Way to go Lottie!
Along with Ivy the other bitch, Lottie also marked, at the side of the tent. This may have been overmarking as it’s possible that another dog had marked there previously (but not for a while as this was the first time this tent had been used in a long time).
Puppy1 on Sniffari
We are continuing to develop our Sniffaris so we added some to Puppy1 class this week. Puppy class includes different cognitive, physical and environmental challenges each week, and this week’s was puzzle feeding. We combined this with some Sniffari ideas.
There are lots of differences in the puppies’ experience and that of the workshop dogs. First you will notice the level of activity is higher and their ability to sniff and explore methodologically is lower.
Although the fact that they’re puppies has a little to do with this, it’s also affected by the group dynamics and the presence of food in some of the puzzles.
This increases activity relating to competition between the dogs and it increases the intensity of their searching.
Also, it’s Galaxy’s (Pug) first class so he’s likely pretty overwhelmed by the entire sensory explosion that evening. It’s also likely that these puppies haven’t had a ton of experience with other dogs, outside of class, and that the world is relatively new to all of them. Puppies, of course, approach most interactions with exuberance and enthusiasm, and that’s certainly evident here.
Sniffari’s, providing multi-sensory experience and multi-level challenges are good for puppies, helping to grow puppy brains!
Take Your Dog On Sniffari!
We will be continuing to develop this idea as we feel it, like many of the sniffing applications we use regularly, has the potential to provide many benefits to lots of dogs.
Dogs live in the human world and as such must inhibit a lot of their most dogginess. Providing sniffing outlets is essential for making sure pet dogs are healthy in both body and mind.
Sniffaris may be ideal for:
- young dogs
- kenneled dogs
- dogs living in less enriched environments
- dogs on rest or exercise restriction
- dogs who will benefit from some confidence building
- dogs who are excitable and easily aroused
- dogs who find the outside world a little overwhelming
- dogs who might be very interested in hunting
- dogs who might not want to be around other dogs a whole lot, or don’t get the opportunity to meet other dogs a lot
- dogs new to the home – everything is a Sniffari to them as they settle into their new world
- older dogs who may not be able to get about as well as they once did
But really, all dogs will benefit and enjoy the opportunity to get lost in their olfactory world.
In our Sniffari we had a tent, chairs and tables to add different dimensions. We used a wooden frame, pool noodles, streamers, mats of different substrates, tubs of water, platforms and hula-hoops to add in physical and tactile challenge. We used seaweed, plants, old shoes, fur, feathers, toys, boxes, old food and cosmetic containers, vegetation, twigs and branches, sweeping brush, different containers, and lots of bits and pieces to add real olfactory interest.
Make sure the item/s aren’t dangerous and safe to be sniffed, that they don’t contain or have never contained substances toxic to dogs, and make sure they’re appropriate for your dog. For example, it’s not a good idea to bring back vegetation that strange dogs may have peed on to unvaccinated puppies.
Display the items in as wide a space as possible so that odour can circulate and leave space for your dog to move between items.
Start today by promising to take your dog on Sniffari as often as possible. When you go somewhere, without your dog, bring back at least one item and allow your dog to sniff, sniff, sniff. This might simply be allowing them to go to town on your shoes, tracing your steps in olfaction.
Share with us your Sniffari ideas!