Scent games in the Apuan Alps

A few nights ago Ruben phoned me from Italy to tell me how he had been relaxing in our garden, enjoying the silence of the mountains after a busy day helping the builders, when he heard our neighbour say two words he didn’t expect to hear in his little village in Tuscany where nobody speaks English.

‘Find it!’

He looked over the wall to see Nadia in her garden with her dog Leo. Nadia was hiding pieces of sausage around the garden for Leo to sniff out! She told Ruben she had seen his mum, Marcella, practicing with Clara and Ruby after I’d done a training session with her last time I was in Italy. Marcella had told Nadia how much calmer Clara was since they’d started making sniff sessions part of their daily routine.

Clara is highly reactive to dogs and people, several times landing herself and Marcella in a spot of trouble. Before learning these scent skills Clara used to stay on the balcony loudly making sure that anyone who went past knew she was there. Now she finds nosework much more rewarding and even when not actively engaging in scent games with Marcella she enjoys exploring the smells in the garden left behind by the overnight visitors - deer, badgers, wild boars and even wolves have started making nightly appearances to the village. After a sniffy session she will happily relax in the shade - something that she never used to do as she was always vigilant.

Nadia, living next door and therefore being, let’s say, aware of Clara’s sentinel duties decided that if it helped Clara, she would give it a go too.

I wonder how many more ‘Find its’ we’ll hear next time we visit!

Today I’m travelling to Leicester for the 6 Day Accredited Scent Instructor Course with The UK College of Scent Dogs. It’s the most highly regarded scentwork course in the UK and the Instructor Rob Hewings is the best in the industry - so I really can’t wait! We’ll even be searching a 747 aeroplane!

Clara making a find. Plant pots are ideal for raised searches in the garden

Clara making a find. Plant pots are ideal for raised searches in the garden

Your guide to: Raised Searches

Once your dog easily finds treats on the ground, raised searches can add interest to scent games - as well as having health benefits.

Dogwood raised searches

Raised searches at Dogwood

Try raised searches on our ramps, logs, steps, stones, tyres, tree stumps, or my current favourite - the pallet ramp propped against the log in Dogwood East.

I love this one because it slows dogs down and encourages them to use the thinking part of their brain instead of charging around at 100 mph. They have to think about where they’re putting their paws, as well as sniffing out the food.

Start by placing the food on the bottom rungs of the pallet (Dogwood East) or the lower steps or tree stumps (Dogwood West) and once they are confident, slowly increase the height.

Benefits of raised searches

  • Conditions and strengthens different muscle groups including abdominals and those in the hindlimbs

  • Putting paws up onto things and walking on novel textures increases dogs’ confidence

  • A great form of mental stimulation and engagement


Ask your dog to wait in a sit or down (if you haven’t trained your dog to do this yet, ask an assistant to gently restrain them by the harness)

1. Show your dog that you have the treat, clearly letting them see that you’ve placed it on an upside down plant pot or other raised item such as a tree stump. When you return to them show them that your hands are empty. Use the ‘Find it!’ cue to release your dog to go and find the food.

2. Start again but this time introduce a second overturned plant pot or tree stump and this time place the food on this one.

3. As above but with a new third object. Place the food on this one.

4. Now with the fourth search we are moving to visual and olfactory. As in the previous steps, show your dog the treat but do a ‘dummy drop’ where you drop the treat on the third object and then pretend to put it on the second one. Dogs will usually go to the last place they saw you so expect them to head straight for the second object! They will then use their nose to find the treat on the third one.

5. Slowly increase the size of the search area and the number of items you hide food on. Mix it up with a combination of Ground Searches and Raised.


! There should only ever be one treat to find in the search area during any one search.

! At this stage dogs should find the treat within 10 seconds. If they don’t, the search area is too complicated and you need to either make is smaller or remove items from it.

Right: Ruben’s mamma Marcella enjoying more peaceful walks with Clara

Right: Ruben’s mamma Marcella enjoying more peaceful walks with Clara

Clara knows the game now so when a scooter or dog goes past she looks at me instead of barking because she wants to play again. I’m less worried about her aggression and I’m more confident to take her for a walk alone as I know I can take some sausage out and play ‘Find it’ in the woods.

This game has helped her a lot and I can’t wait for Katie to return so she can see the difference in Clara.
— Marcella, Italy

To register your interest for scent workshops, please hit the button below.

Katie Dogwood