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How We Became Scent Work Addicts & How You Can Get Started

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

A quick Intro on how to introduce your pup to Scent Work

We recommend finding a class near you, but these are some basics to get you started if you are stuck at home!

COVID-19 ignited in our area, shows stopped, and winter was quickly approaching. We had just started getting involved in the world of dogs and K9 Sports. We had heard of scent work and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Besides, we needed an enriching activity to keep our Golden Retrievers entertained inside on cold winter nights.

AKC Novice scent trials focus on one odor... birch oil. So that was our primary focus. So lets teach our dogs how to "GO SEARCH!"


Equipment Needed

  • Harness

  • Flat Collar

  • Long leash (We prefer at least 6ft)

  • 6 cardboard boxes with lids

  • Treats your dog LOVES and will only get when doing scent work. We like to use freeze dried lamb liver because our girls go NUTS for it.

  • An AKC scent work kit that includes birch oil


*Before starting*, think of the word/phrase you want to use to indicate they should go search. The cool thing is, you can pick anything you like. A couple of popular ones are "Search", "Where is it?" and "Find It." For the remainder of this blog, I am going to use "Go Search."

Step 1 - Set Up The Hide

For the first few rounds, just use open faced boxes. In one of your 6 boxes, mark it with an X and put a few of the treats in it. The box you have the treat (or later on, oil) in should be marked as a "hot" box. The remnants of the odor will remain in this box so it should NOT be reused unless it is for the hide. BE CAREFUL. You will want to wear gloves when you are hiding oils because they are so potent and if you touch something the odor will likely remain and this can cause a bunch of confusion for your dog. Don't use the lid of the box for the first few sessions.

Step 2 - Start Searching

  1. While safely holding your dogs collar, remove the leash from the collar and attach it to the harness. After the first round, you can start saying your queue to tell your dog to start searching. They don't know it yet, but with enough consistency and practice, they will learn it! Have some treats in your pocket.

  2. Get your dog pumped up and walk toward the first box (the "hot box"). As soon as they touch their nose to that box, say "ALERT," praise them and treat them on the box. Let them have the treats in the box too.

  3. Safely switch the dog to the collar, walk away, and have a friend put a few more treats in the "hot box" and repeat steps 1-2 again.

  4. Now, switch your "hot box" with the second box in the path. Put a few treats in it.

  5. Start at the beginning with your dog, switching them back to the harness and getting them pumped up before beginning the search again. Once they get to the first box they might try to look at your and get a treat. Keep walking to the second box. Once they put their nose in that box, say "ALERT!" Let them eat the treats in the box while praising heavily and then give them more treats in the box.

  6. Do this a couple more times.

  7. Put lids on the boxes and try this scenario a couple of times. Each dog is different. If they are progressing quickly, you can move on to the next step. But don't wear them out and make it boring. Make your sessions short and end on good notes!

  8. As a next step, once you are getting a reliable alert for the treat, I would begin adding "Go Search" phrase before beginning the search. Then add birch to the box as well as treats and repeat these steps. You can eventually phase out the treats in the box. But make sure you are always rewarding after you ALERT and feeding the dog on the scent.

That's it! This concludes your first session! I recommend practicing this fun game a couple more times before adding birch. For my dogs, I wouldn't exceed 3x a week for 30 minutes at a time for practicing scentwork. If your pup seems bored, cut down the time you do it. And make it more exciting with high energy. Nosework can tire your dogs out and make it feel like a chore and who likes those?! You want them to WANT to search. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

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