You’ve seen it done in movies or perhaps even in the news. A dog sniffs a bit of clothing and tracks down a particular person. In airports you get another example, with dogs finding contraband items with their powerful sense of smell. This, of course, begs the question. How in the world do you teach a dog to do this? In this article we are going to discuss how to teach a dog to find a person. The concept is a little simpler than you might think.
How to train a dog to search and find
To train your dog how to find things by smell you have to start small. Dogs are fond of searching to begin with so a large part of your work is already cut out for you. What we have to do is to teach doggie to find particular items. So how do we do that? Why, with a game of course!
The beginning of ‘Doggy hide and seek’
If you want to train your dog to find things then you will want to make the exercise as fun as possible. Like teaching a child, in some respects. The foundation that we are going to use is one that might already have trained doggy to do.
Finding things is just a variation of ‘Fetch’.
How to train your dog to go from ‘fetch’ to find it’
To get your dog in the right mindset you should start things off with 5 to 10 minutes of playing ‘fetch’. This will ensure that your dog is in playing mood and increase their interest in the object that you have provided for the game. The next steps to take are as follows:
- Tell your doggy to sit.
- Showing the doggy the object, walk off the same distance as you would have thrown the object and set it down in plain view of your pup.
- Walk back to your dog, attach their leash, and point towards the object.
- Tell your doggy ‘Find it!’ If your dog begins pulling towards the object, unlatch the leash and let them go to get it. If your doggy seems not to understand then walk them to the object and repeat the process.
…but isn’t this the same as fetch?
Right now, yes, it’s quite similar. This is just the foundation, however. You will want to practice this until your doggie always runs to get the object when you say ‘Find it’. Once you have achieved this, up the ante a bit by walking away half of the fetching distance and placing the item out of sight of the dog. Remember, you want this to be close but just slightly out of view. Go back to your doggy at this point and tell them ‘find it’.
This is how you teach your dog to search!
How to train your dog to find more well-hidden things
Once you have trained your dog to find things partially hidden nearby, start extending the range. Keep the difficulty level the same as you increase the range. Once your dog has mastered that particular range then start hiding the item in more difficult places. Place it under a bush or behind a tree and let your dog work a little harder to find it. Rewards are great at this point, be they treats or a few games of normal fetch.
Increasing the difficulty level from here
You will want to start taking note of how the wind is blowing so that you can try to make sure that your dog is down-wind as the hiding becomes more complex. This is mostly
” Show the object to your doggy and let them sniff it.”
for yourself to get acquainted with how your dog is using their sense of smell to assist in finding. Often if they are having a moment of difficulty in finding the object you’ll see their head snap up as they catch a useful scent. This is something that your dog is going to get very good at with practice!
Time for an assist
At this point you will want to bring in a friend. Let a friend show the object to your doggy and let them sniff it, then have your friend hide the item nearby. Nothing complicated when you are beginning, just out of the dog’s immediate sight range like when you first started. Tell your dog to ‘find it’ once the object is in place and slowly increase the difficulty and distance as you did when it was just the two of you. Once you have taught them this then you are ready for the final level. Start small by showing your doggy an object and then hiding it in the backyard when the dog is not with you. Take them there next and say ‘find it’ and see what happens!
Wow, that is all there is to it?
That is the basic foundation that you need. Now will this suffice to teach your dog how to watch and find someone? Try letting your dog sniff a friend’s shirt while they are sitting outside in the back yard and see if the ‘find it’ command sends your dog straight to the person. If it DOES then reinforce this behavior with a treat but it may take a bit of practice before your doggy gets to the level where they can track one of your friends at a park.
Some closing words
In this article we have discussed how you can train your dog to find things (and possibly even people!). Just remember to keep a foundation of ‘fetch’ and then to extend it from there. Once your dog has learned to search for things on their own and that you will reward them when they find it then you are well on your way to having a ‘tracking dog’. This is fun, immensely rewarding, and who knows? It might even come in useful someday (just hopefully in a pleasant way!). Just be patient, keep the training consistent, and see for yourself!