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The power of sniffing as a reward and how to use it during training!

Dogs will be dogs, we've all heard it before, right? Intrinsically, dogs are hardwired to investigate the environment with their noses. If we're on a walk, sniffing is almost always allowed by handlers, but what about during dog training sessions?

It can be frustrating when you want to initiate a training session with your dog and all they want to do is sniff the environment that you're in. So, what do you do? Abort? Get frustrated? Offer reinforcement in the form of treats and toy play/tugging that your dog clearly isn't interested in working for?

I love partnering with our dogs, so why not reward them with the sniffing?

Here's how to use it:

  1. Begin with your dog in their default behavior that means training is going to begin ("touch" into a sit often works well if you don't have one yet)

  2. Wait for eye contact

  3. The moment your dog makes eye contact, say something different than your conditioned marker word you use for food ("good" may work well here)

  4. Then release with your release word (often "okay" or "free" in an upbeat tone)

  5. Gesture towards the grass to reward with a sniff session

  6. Stay in that area and let your dog sniff for about 15-30 seconds -- do not let your dog lead you around, this isn't a walk, it's just a reward for sitting and focusing on you

  7. Now, ask for your default behavior again to cue your dog to get back to work ("touch" -- sit)

  8. Build in another repetition -- last time all you required was eye contact, this time you want eye contact and a step toward what you are wanting to work on with your dog (maybe a step or two with a loose leash or targeting a hand or a toy positioned a short distance from the dog)

  9. Then, repeat steps 3, 4 and 5

Now you're on your way to building focus and control paired with reinforcement your dog really digs. This is what I call partnership training -- partnering with your dog and learning how to use their distractions as reinforcement.

And always remember to have fun!

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