All posts by AniEd Ireland

Dogs on Sniffari

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:


AniEd Sniffari

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.

Take your dog on a SNIFF, rather than a walk, make dog walks more dog, and add some snuffling puzzles to every day life.

Share with us your Sniffari ideas!



Off-leash puppy play…yay or nay

Off-leash play in puppy classes is considered the norm by some and abhorrent to others. This is likely because it can go well or horribly, horribly wrong.


First thing to understand is what socialisation is really all about. Socialisation doesn’t equal playing with everything or greeting everyone. Socialisation should produce social neutrality; your dog should be able to see another dog and think “there’s another dog…so what?!”, “there’s a new person…whatever!”.
Being so comfortable with other dogs or humans (or other goings on), that they are not cause to go bonkers, is the goal. They can be friendly and appropriate, but they don’t NEED to watch, interact with, pull toward, run up to, sniff or bark at dogs as they pass. 

Dogs who have lots of uncontrolled, high-octane play with other dogs, especially as puppies or adolescents, may have difficulty with this. They learn to associate other dogs with HIGH levels of arousal (stress), frustration and even distress; the effects of which can be addictive which is why they can appear to enjoy such contact.


Yes, learning appropriate social skills is important for young dogs, especially as we have only a short period during which we can do this really effectively, but we don’t want to magnetise our puppies to other dogs…the key here is learning APPROPRIATE social skills.

Emphasis needs to be on teaching puppies and dogs that focusing on their owners is super-rewarding, even in the presence of other dogs. Other dogs are part of the background, and that’s cool…but their owner is AMAZING!

As usual, this isn’t a YES/NO answer. Off leash play can be done well and provide benefits to puppies and young dogs, but unfortunately, it very easily leads to damage to social development and behaviour.

For it to benefit, puppies must be chosen and matched carefully and play supervised directly. All puppies should have some basic skills so they are not learning that the presence of other dogs means immediate crazy arousal levels, with lots of interruptions, opportunities to escape and plenty of breaks for relaxation. And throughout, owner education and participation should be emphasised.

We don’t always do off-leash play in class, it is not the sole focus of our puppy classes. Developing comfort, promoting owner engagement, and helping puppy-people build skills is far more important.

This is from our Puppy1 class a couple of weeks ago. Puppies, learning to chill on their mats with other puppies and activity all around. Their owners are learning how to use a high rate of reinforcement so that their puppies learn about owner focus. Everybody engaged with one another in a cool and calm manner, despite being in an exciting environment.

But, puppy class is just one hour per week. Organising little play dates with puppies and appropriate friends, in a more controlled environment with direct supervision is important too.

We can help with our PlayDates service, which is designed to provide young dogs with appropriate social outlets so that owners can work on focus, engagement and training exercises from class.


When we do off-leash play, this clips shows how we do it. But, it’s not the be-all and end-all – it forms part of an educational process, not just in the curriculum to entertain or tire puppies.

Crazy2Calm class – STARTING SOON!

Crazy dogs are often misjudged, much maligned and blamed for their crazy ways but that very crazy behaviour is more than likely associated with high arousal (emotional excitement), difficulty to cope with frustration and poor stress-control skills.


How might you identify a crazy dog?

The crazy dog comes in many forms, but in general these dogs have trouble with bringing themselves down after getting wound up; they might :

  • show reactive behaviour on lead or in confinement – barking, lunging, growling toward triggers such as other dogs, cyclists, other people
  • show attention seeking behaviour and/or bark excessively
  • have difficulty settling
  • have difficulty focusing
  • jump up
  • pull on lead
  • be excitable
  • be destructive
  • show frustration related behaviour such as pulling on lead, grabbing, vocalising when they want something
  • dislike confinement or being left alone

The crazy behaviour itself isn’t really the full issue, it’s more that the dog has trouble bringing themselves down from this high and often this manifests in over the top behaviour.

These are my favourite dogs to work with (and live with…ahem…Decker…) because they offer lots of behaviour (lots of crazy behaviour) and  are just begging to be shown which ones are more appropriate.


Crazy to Calm Training Class

This training course is perfect for those crazy dogs, and their humans but also for dogs:

  • who are expected to cope with pretty exciting environments such as dogs who attend shows and competitions, dogs who assist their humans or dogs who attend work with their humans
  • who have spent time in a kennel environment such as a shelter
  • who are working through a training or behaviour modification program to help with reactive or stress-related behaviour

Crazy to Calm class will help you to:

  • prevent crazy behaviour by giving the humans a better understanding of their dog’s behaviour
  • manage crazy behaviour by helping your dog develop better focus skills and improved on-leash behaviour
  • tackle the underlying causes of crazy behaviour by working on self-calming skills

We will do this through lots of games, using a high rate of reward with food rewards, interaction with their human,  toys & play.
We will not be suppressing crazy behaviour, as is so often the approach, but instead building more appropriate behaviour, while helping your dog learn to cope with excitement better – giving you both tools to harness that crazy into focus, fun and engagement.


  • 10 class course starting soon, Thursday evenings 7-8.30pm
  • 4 dog/handler teams
  • each class is 90 minutes
  • costs €250

You will have access to course online area where videos and homework exercises, along with comprehensive course manual, will be available so that you and your dog can practice at home and where you really need these developing skills.

You will need:

  • your dog!
  • your dog’s flat collar and regular lead
  • a range of food rewards of different values to your dog
  • tug toys – a longer one and a shorter hand-held one
  • specific mat or blanket (just for classwork)
  • a jacket or top with pockets to hold rewards (rather than a treat pouch)
  • optional: flirt pole
  • optional: a crate, at home

Course content includes:

  • human training
  • tools for managing your dog in class and crazy situations
  • settling & self-calming
  • mindfulness
  • focus & engagement
  • release cues
  • patience & frustration control
  • targeting and applications
  • handling comfort & restraint
  • on-leash responsiveness & behaviour
  • focus points
  • body awareness
  • confinement training & Crate Games
  • escape & emergency cues
  • play & rollercoaster games
  • appropriate application of enrichment
  • counterconditioning & trigger work

Register for class here, or email, comment here or on our Facebook page!

To know more about our training, check out our YouTube channel for lots of clips or our Facebook page for more information.

To the extreme

Reading my social media feeds this week, you would think that the only way to train a dog is NEVER with this tool or ONLY with this tool, to ONLY feed this diet because this diet KILLS dogs, to NEVER allow your dog carry out this behaviour, ONLY get dogs from this source…and so on and on.

I understand that social media, as a communication tool, facilitates this polarisation, but as professionals, surely we have responsibilities in recognising and understanding the nuances in human-dog interactions.

We espouse “science” and “evidence” bases but yet commit science- sins of absolutism and declarations of ‘fact’ and ‘proof’ based in anecdote and bias.

The bottom line is that dogs and humans have been together, in one way or another, for many tens of thousands of years (if not longer). Both humans and dogs are complex social creatures, who bring lots of variability and flexibility to the table. Dogs are super-dooper adaptable, which is a feature that has probably allowed them to develop such close and intense relationships with us.

My clients are, for the most part, regular pet owners. They have busy lives, to which their dog is an addition, and their pet must slot in. My job is to help them help their dog to do that.
In essence, what I am doing is helping them meet their pet dog’s needs, improving its welfare, so that their relationship blossoms.

Sharing extremes is likely not helpful. My responses to queries about trying or avoiding such recommendations tend to range from “maybe that’ll work” to “that might not work in this situation”.

Behaviour is such a loose and flexible phenomenon that binding it in absolutes is not helpful. Many, many factors contribute, some within our control and some without.
What works for this person, this dog, this context, on this day, may be very different for another person or dog, or another context or day.

I am not at all suggesting that rules and laws don’t apply to behaviour, but rather the application of same, in every day life, may be a greyer area altogether.

My clients need help fitting their dog and its needs into their lives. That requires compromise and discussion, rather than dictating and self-righteousness.
Social media is powerful, but can be a dangerous place for novices, who may be impressionable or naive.

Yes, lots of training-cultural norms need to be challenged and re-challenged, and I enjoy that and the accompanying learning curve, but not at the expense of discussion, preference and appreciation for variation in approach.

By opening up, rather than shutting down arguments for or against, we can debate and discuss, and learn and adapt. Absolutes and definites shut that down, scare away newbies and make dog training a dictatorship, rather than an applied science that can be molded and shaped to help pet owners and their pets.

Engagement…what is it good for?

Like all things that are the talk of training-town, engagement is difficult to define. We know it when we see it, and we certainly know when we don’t have it.

‘To engage’ is defined as participating, to attract someone’s attention, and the one I particularly like, to establish meaningful contact or connection.


Engagement, for me and the dogs I work with, including my own, is about the dog choosing to engage, wanting to engage, finding me the most rewarding, over all the other things.
And that’s the key; the dog wants to be involved and to participate.

You can easily see the value of engagement…it gets you great recall, it gets you nice loose leash walking, it gets you working around distractions.

Attention and focus and engagement…oh my!

Is engagement the same as attention and focus?
Well, yes and no. Great engagement will get you attention and focus, that’s for sure.

Attention probably means eye contact or something close to that. While focus may not necessarily require that the dog focus on you, perhaps on something specific in the environment.
We might teach these skills as part of working on engagement.


How ever you define it, engagement is chosen by the dog, rather than cued; engagement is not contingent on you having food rewards or toys.
The key to engagement is that you are not trying to get it, you are worthy of engagement and your dog fights to engage!

You can see that engagement is the foundation to teaching all the other behaviours; it’s what we build our relationship, with our dog, on and with.

Engagement is a two-way street

Making engagement happen starts with the human. If we want our dog to choose us, regardless of what else is going on and regardless of whether you have treats or toys, we have to work to prove that engaging with us is the best!

When the dog is engaged, choosing you regardless, he pushes into the learning and interacting process; he is more than meeting you halfway.

Here’s a clip of Decker and I, in a play-group situation with dogs of mixed age, sex, and neuter status. Decker is an entire male AmStaff (a type of “pit bull”). I have no treats, food or toys – he fights to engage regardless of the distraction level.


Spot the fighting to engage?!

Disclaimer: this was not intended to stress out any dog, but more so to demonstrate the ability to develop such owner-focus and engagement without the use of aversives. 

It’s never too late to start and it’s always worth it. But, it doesn’t happen over night – engagement is a journey, rather than a destination.

Join us for our trainer’s workshop on engagement, “Engagement – what is it good for?” during which we will work on a range of engagement exercises to build focus and attention, to proof distractions, and install on and off switches – all through fun and games.


Where: AniEd Training & Education Centre in Glasnevin, Dublin 11 (just off J5 M50)
When: Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th April, 2018
What time: starting at 12pm, finishing about 5pm
Format: workshop; all dog/handler team places are gone and there are just a couple of spectator places left
How much: €50 for one day, €90 for both days
Who’s it for? This workshop is designed for those who are working or training as trainers, or for experienced handlers training in dog sports
Booking: you must book for this workshop to ensure your place. Please email if you would like to join us.