Play, training and enrichment: a balancing act

Back in January I shared with you my New Year’s Resolution to play more with my dogs – six times a day to be exact, because that was the figure recommended by Bristol University’s study of 4000 dog owners. You can read that first blog here.

Now here we are eight months in and I can honestly say that we haven’t hit that target every day. Dogwood has been busy (let’s never mention maintenance week again!) and I was working at Dogs Trust full time too, which left very little time for more than a couple of play sessions per day. You may have seen my recent news about the difficult decision I made to leave Dogs Trust. If not, you can view it here.

Time spent with a dog is time well spent.
dogwood enrichment

I’m putting my extra time to the best use I can think of - that is, spending it with my dogs! Since returning from the UK College of Scent Dogs Instructors Course, Fifi and I have been getting into scentwork in an even bigger way than ever. We’re easily hitting six sessions per day.

We keep sessions super fun and positive with plenty of rewards and a game at the end. However, while our scentwork sessions are certainly enriching they are not play.

True play should have no attachment to outcome, it should be done for the sheer joy of it, without any goal. Fifi’s scentwork training does have goals and therefore it is not play in the purest sense. That’s why we end all of our sessions with a game.

Even though sniffing and searching is a rewarding activity for dogs in itself, finishing with a game makes sure we always end on a positive - and research suggests that playing at the end of a training session helps cement the learning from that session too!

no attachment to outcome.jpg

Earlier in the year I joined Cleveland Police and their Explosive Detection Dogs to watch them in action and I was so impressed by the similarities between their training and the training we give our pet dogs.

They both love the search itself but they are also rewarded when they find something. They are both trained using positive, reward-based methods. The Spaniels were possibly the happiest dogs I’ve ever seen! They were frenetic balls of joyous energy, loving the search, being rewarded with their favourite toys - and the bond with their handlers was heartwarming.

Dogwood scentwork

If Police dogs - whose jobs are to save lives (can't get much more important than that!) - are trained using games then there's absolutely no reason to use aversive methods or punishment when training our pet dogs.

When Dogwood and Cleveland Dogs launch scentwork classes this autumn you can see our 100% positive, reward-based training style in action. Not only is this the only ethical approach - but dogs learn faster this way too!


So Fifi and I are hitting six scentwork sessions a day and she has progressed incredibly quickly, especially as I didn’t take her along on the Instructors course with me. Bella, the gorgeous Cocker who we look after came instead and she was great company, as well as a skilled search dog in the making!


Ted searching for clove oil


Bella’s scent was gun oil


Bella navigating a complicated pipe and pot search

Bella loves other dogs and so she was a great candidate for this course whereas Fifi needs a little space and Lao needs a lot of space!

At our Open Fields Day on September 1st (poster below) you can come along and Have-a-Go at scentwork. If your dog isn’t keen on the company of other dogs or people and would rather stay at home, that’s very sensible. We would hate to see any dogs feeling uncomfortable at our event. Hey – that’s why Dogwood is here after all, to give all dogs the space they need.

By all means, come along without them and watch the Have-a Go-sessions because if, like Fifi and I, you and your dog need space and would prefer to work on a 1-1 basis, I will also be holding private sessions from September.

Love, Katie x

Dogwood Open Fields Day