- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

TANGENT, Ore. (AP) - Finley the golden retriever couldn’t believe his luck.

First, the nice SafeHaven Humane Society lady let him watch as she put a piece of hot dog right where he could grab it and gobble it up.

After that, she made him hide behind a curtain so he couldn’t be certain where the hot dogs were. But no matter how many empty boxes she scattered, trying to fake him out, he found each treat with just a little trotting and a few quick sniffs: under a chair, tucked alongside a second box, even in a box on top of a chair.

So goes an entire hour of playing Find the Snack.

Finley’s human, Jon Taylor of Albany, said he had a pretty good time at the class, too, which is actually called Scent Work I. He likes to find new ways to play with Finley, whose energy can be, well, difficult to curb sometimes.

“He just enjoys doing this, and the more exposure I give him to dogs and other people, hopefully he’ll settle down,” Taylor said.

All dogs are welcome to enroll in the Scent Work classes at SafeHaven Humane Society, said Kaysha Rogers, who runs the class and oversees enrichment and training at the nonprofit, no-kill shelter.

Scent work can have a serious side. On a more intense level, the classes can be used to train dogs for police work or search and rescue.

But they can also be just plain fun for both dog and owner - and, once learned, easy to do at home, Rogers said.

“Any dog can play this. All you need is some creativity and boxes. That’s all you need - and a hungry dog,” Roger said.

Here’s how it works: Most scent work games use treats, although a toy with a particular scent works fine if that’s a good motivator for your pup.

Grab a selection of smallish boxes - think shoebox size - and choose just one for the scent box. Mark it so you’ll remember, and use the same box every time. Keep it separate from the other boxes so the scents don’t cross-contaminate.

Start by scattering several open, empty boxes around, showing the dog the treat and letting him watch you place it in the specific box.

Call, “Search!” and walk the dog around the boxes, rewarding him with pets and praise - even another treat - as soon as he finds it. Make sure to reward at the source.

Add complexity by making sure the dog can’t see you put the treat in the box, and move the box around so he’s never quite sure where among the boxes you’ve left it. (Don’t worry if the specific treat box looks different than the others - humans might pick that out immediately, but dogs aren’t relying on sight for this game.) Gradually add noises, props and other distractions.

Keep the game to just 10 minutes at a time or so, Rogers said. “That way, it stays fun. And put the box away afterward - especially if you have cats.”

A really good scent work dog can find a drop of anise, clove or birch oil on a Q-tip hidden somewhere in the room. But it’s just fine to start with a cube of the dog’s regular kibble, especially if you want to use treats but are trying to keep down the calories.

Assuming a dog has a working nose, any breed can play - and it doesn’t matter how old or slow-moving a dog might be, Rogers went on.

“Disabled dogs can do this. Blind dogs can do this,” she said. “Any dog or handler team, as long as they’re committed.”

Police Chief Frank Stevenson of Lebanon said he and his wife, Erika, are both committed to taking their hound dog mix, Gus, for various doggy lessons.

Erika read about the Scent Work class in the SafeHaven newsletter and was interested right away.

“It’s great. It’s so interesting, and it’s so good for Gus. I can tell he’s really enjoying it,” she said.

Added Frank: “I’ve never owned a hound dog before. This gives me some ideas what to do with him. He gets that scent and that’s all he wants to do, is just sniff.”

Time together playing games is good for both people and pets, Rogers said. It helps strengthen bonds and improve canine socialization, which is why Safehaven often brings out its own shelter dogs for classes.

Plus, this game is particularly easy on the humans, she said. You don’t need agility equipment or your own private pool or a game preserve.

“It will give your dogs something fun to do during the rainy cold days in the winter,” she said.


Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, https://www.dhonline.com

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