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Computer keyboard with symbol of people showing Virtual Classroom

Virtual Training

Virtual training has increased since the Covid 19 lockdowns as an option for some types of training.

Virtual training is where the course is delivered online through platforms like Zoom and The Smart Dog Training Platform   You can take the course at home or work and interact and learn through a virtual platform whether on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Virtual training is not for everyone and you need to have a good internet connection but it does allow you to learn without travel and you still have the advantage of the course being taught by an instructor so you can ask questions.  The instructor can break the group up into smaller groups using break-out rooms so you can still have group discussions, feedback can be done individually without others hearing.  At The Smart Dog we have a virtual training platform and digital test system to make virtual training work really well.

The advantages of virtual training are:

  • You can be anywhere in the world when you take the course
  • No travelling to the course
  • Still benefit from training with a live instructor and other students
  • Access to course downloads
  • Fully accredited training
  • Ask questions when you want
  • Still have the benefit of a structured lesson rather than self-study

For more information on any format of training to suit your needs, please contact us by phoning 081 270 4672, or  email:

search setting solutions printables

Toilet roll tubes three ways – how to make searches for all skill levels

Toilet roll tubes can be used is lots of unexpected ways. One of the most useful hacks I discovered many years ago was to use them to store plugs and chargers. You pop the chargers inside the tubes and then sit the filled tubes in a drawer or box. This stops them getting tangled up, making it easy to lift one out without having to wrestle with the others. And if you write on the tube what the charger is for then you can put an end to rummaging blindly as you try charger after charger into your device. Simple, cheap, practical. 

Coming up
  • Invest wisely
  • Search 1 – Beginners
    • Search goal
    • Tips
    • Goals
    • What I learned from these searches
    • What I hope Ettie learned
  • Search 2 – Intermediate
    • Edible finds
    • Search goals
    • Tips
    • What I learned from these searches
    • What I hope Ella learned
  • Search 3 – Experienced 
    • Search goal
    • Tips
    • What I learned from these searches
    • Build confidence
    • What I hoped Cherry learned

Invest wisely

And those are three words that I live by when it comes to scentwork equipment. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs about making up scentwork tins or using boxes in searches, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of using whatever is around is rather than spending money on fancy equipment. I believe that it’s better to invest in excellent training rather than throwing money away on ‘special’ boxes. Quality training and the correct harness are essential purchases. Everything else is gravy!

I thought you might find it useful if I detailed three ways to use the cardboard innards of toilet rolls in scentwork searches. Each search can be adapted to your dog, your target scent, your style of working (e.g. passive or active indications) and your team’s skill level. Never forget, that scentwork is a team activity. That means that you need to pay attention to the skill levels of both the handler and the dog. I’m going to showcase searches at three levels: beginner, intermediate and experienced. You can vary every factor so that it fits with your search goals, but here are the basic set-ups for each search. 

search setting solutions printables
Click here to order your Search Setting Solutions Printables Pack

Search 1 – Beginners

I really like this cute search. And so did Ettie! This search uses only the toilet roll tubes and a scented article. I set it up indoors because it’s quite a windy day today. But if you’ve a sheltered outside area you could do it there too. All I did was scatter the toilet rolls on the floor. Then I picked one and inserted a scented article. (Ettie searches for catnip scent.) I pushed it right in so that there was no visual clue to it’s contents. Then I placed it back amongst the empty unscented rolls. 

Search goal

The goal of this search was for Ettie to distinguish the target tube from the others using her nose. By using identical objects for her to search I could confirm that she could successfully find the target scent. The only thing distinguishing the target tube from the others is the scent. When Ettie found the target she was free to rip up the tube to get to the scented toy, play with the toy still in the tube or bring it to me to release the toy from the tube. The choice was hers.


Toss the tubes into the area. Then if any are too close to the others I can move them to increase the distance. I want each tube to have it’s own little area so that Ettie has space to move around them. I also don’t want the target tube to be touching, and so contaminating, it’s neighbours. Finding the scent without the article can easily cause confusion and disappointment for beginner dogs.

Once you’ve inserted the scented article into the tube, do not touch any of the other tubes. Again, this could contaminate them with the target odour. 


Place the target tube according to your search goal. Do you want to build confidence? Place it close to the entrance to the search area facing onto the dog. By placing the tube so that the open ends point towards the dog as she enters, there is more air flow in her direction and so she is more likely to hit the scent quickly. Placing the tube so that the cardboard acts as a barrier between dog and scent can make it trickier. We are talking small amounts of difficulty changes, but in scentwork, small changes can have big results. And don’t worry if the dog moves the tubes as she’s searching, you can only do so much!

Once the dog finds the target, always play outside of the search area. If you want to reuse this area for more searches, you want to keep contamination to a minimum. By playing outside the area you can be free to enjoy the game without worrying about the toy or the tube touching ‘clean’ tubes or flooring that remain in the area. 

Do NOT reuse tubes. Once an article has been placed in a tube, throw the tube away in your outside bin (you don’t want your dog indicating on your indoor bins!) These tubes are free so you can afford to chuck them straight into the recycling after each search.    

What I learned from these searches

That Ettie is no longer a beginner when it comes to free searching. Her indication is strong and confident. Next step, increase duration and directed searching.

The first search reminded me why it’s useful to record searches. Ettie exuberantly shook the mouse. You can see this if you pop over to my Instagram account. So much that the toilet tube that contained it flew off into the search area. I had no idea which one was the contaminated tube. But I was able to review the footage and remove the correct tube before the next search. Had I not been recording, I’d have had to remove multiple tubes in order to ensure I’d not left the contaminated one in the search area.  

What I hope Ettie learned

That when she hits the scent not to doubt herself. And to be fearless when it comes to accessing the scented article from whatever it’s been hidden in. 

Search 2 – Intermediate

This time I’m using the toilet rolls as an additional layer for the finds. The more layers, the smaller the scent picture. Scent moves in air. If that scented air has to travel through several layers the target odour takes longer to reach the surface and escape the hide. It can also be a little weaker as it loses scent particles as it moves through each layer. 

The amount of loss and the delay in emerging depends on the material of the layers. Thick plastic will hold scent inside. But it can move easily through fabric. The fabric will also absorb lots of scent making the picture bigger. While the plastic will absorb hardly any and so will continue to make the scent picture small. However, once the dog hits the scent in the plastic and accesses the article, the scent will be strong and reinforcing. This really helps dogs understand that tiny amounts of scent can lead to bigger pictures and the scented article itself. In the small amounts of catnip we are using, experienced dogs are not generally influenced by the volume or density of scent. But for dogs learning to work with varying amounts, this can be a real confidence boost.  

Edible finds

This search was for Ella. I thought I’d use cheese as my target scent so that you could see that these searches can accommodate whatever scent you like. Plus while Ella will happily search for catnip articles, she prefers to hunt for edible finds!

To make a layered hide, I squished some cheese into a couple of the toilet roll tubes. Then I placed the tubes inside other boxes I’d been saving. (If you wanted to make this a little trickier you could close the ends of one of the tubes over.) Then I placed it inside a single box making a two layered find. This should be quite a simple find as there is lots of air circulating both in the box and in the tube. 

target scent in tube which is placed into a box
Simple two layered find. I closed the box over but didn’t seal it

With the other one, I squashed the tube flat. Then I placed it inside a box that already had multiple layers with in, making a two – five layered find depending on where Ella hit the scent. If she turned the box over and hit the scent from the underside of the box, it would be a two layer: box bottom + one side of the tube. But if she hit it from the top of the box it would be five layers: box lid + thin plastic + cardboard + thin plastic + toilet tube. If I folded the tube over I could increase the layers even more. 

All the boxes were placed at floor level. I wanted to give Ella every opportunity to access the finds with minimal help from me. Note: locate v access: I will always work with the dog to support her as she searches for the finds. But once she’s located them, whenever possible, I encourage the dog to dig in and get the finds, i.e. access them, herself. This can add to the pleasure of the reward, builds confidence and prevents the dog from stepping back expecting me to provide waitress service. However, I am always ready to step in to assist if she can’t quite reach the finds. 

Search goals

This search aimed to help Ella sniff deeply through layers in order to locate the finds. I wanted to give her multiple opportunities hence setting up a multi-find search. I also wanted to encourage her to dig into the hides to access the cheese. This action reinforces the pleasure of finding the cheese by giving confirmation that small amounts of scent still result in strong rewards. 


Soften the cheese in your hands before placing it inside the tube This will warm it and make it stickier so that it doesn’t simply fall out of the tube if the hide is moved. 

Use a small amount of cheese, 1cm cubes are ideal for Ella. If your dog is less experienced, use bigger cubes, or more experienced, use less. 

Try not to use your thumb as you place the cheese into the tube. It will likely be greasy and cheesy after picking up and softening the cheese. It’s an easy mistake to press your thumb onto the outside of the tube as you press the cheese to the inside. If you do you contaminate the outside of the tube.  

Make sure you wash your hands after squishing the cheese in place. In a perfect world this would be after you’ve placed it into the tube and before you put the cheesy tube into the box. But whatever your circumstances, try to keep contamination to a minimum. 

As before, do NOT reuse tubes. Or contaminated boxes. For each search, use fresh equipment. Cardboard is cheap and plentiful, so no need to risk confusion by reusing them. 

What I learned from these searches

That since having her upper front teeth taken out, she finds it tricky to eat the cheese from the tubes. She tried but without those teeth to scrape it out she struggled. Therefore I happily stepped in to rip the tubes and give her access. 

On the first search she quickly located the hide but was confused not to find the cheese directly inside the box, but inside the tube too. It was clear that when I helped her to get into the box to get the find, that her issue was not in fact accessing the box, but locating the find within the box. With some assistance she figured it out. 

To help clarify that the tubes could be hides too, for the next search I went back a step with the tubes. I hid the find just as I had for Ettie. By sticking the cheese inside the tube and placing it on the floor amongst the other tubes and boxes, Ella was able to reinforce her discovery from the previous search. After she found the cheesy tube she continued the search and quickly located the third find through all the layers. I’ll post the third find on Instagram.  

What I hope Ella learned

That the target scent might be inside something that she would dismiss if she relied on visual confirmation. That I will always support her to access the find but that she is capable to digging into boxes, etc. more than she first thought. And that even without her front teeth, she can still eat the cheese! 

Search 3 – Experienced 

This time I’m using the tubes themselves as the scented articles. I cut the tubes into strips and hoops. Scenting up whole tubes would be way too easy for an experienced dog. But if this is your dog’s first time searching for scented cardboard, then start with whole tube and make the pieces smaller as her skill and confidence grows. Then I popped them into the scentwork tin to soak up the catnip scent. 

I also cut up some of the other tubes. Those pieces I would leave unscented. 

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a windy day here. Cherry is experienced and loves to work outdoors, so setting up some outside searches would be perfect for her. I placed multiple finds in each search. I also placed multiple unscented pieces in each search. Some of each were placed in plain sight, and some were hidden out of sight. I hid them at various heights, high and low. As with Ettie and Ella’s searches, there were no high or slippery surfaces in the search areas so I conducted all three searches without the girls wearing their harnesses.   

Search goal

My goal for Cherry, my experienced dog, was to test to ensure she was indicating on the target scent and not just assuming because she found something incongruous to the area that it was automatically the article. I wanted to check that she was indicating on the scent rather than the tube pieces   


Cut the tubes up before opening the tin. You don’t want to let too much catnip scent into the air while you prepare the tubes. So keep the lid on until you’re ready to add the tube pieces. 

Prepare these articles the day before you want to do the searches. This will give the tubes lots of time to soak the scent.

scent tin containing toilet roll tubes
I placed the pieces of toilet roll tubes into the scent tin the night before our searches

Cut up more tubes that you intend to use. That way you’ll have some in the tin for next time too. 

Mark the unscented tubes so that you can double check which ones your dog is indicating on. 

If this is the first time you’ve done searches with this goal it’s useful for the search to be known. That means you know which ones are scented and which are not. This helps ensure that you don’t reinforce the dog for retrieving or showing on the unscented items. 

What I learned from these searches

That we need to practise this more! Cherry spotted one of the unscented cardboard rings early on in the search. She half heartedly mouthed at it but when I simply responded by asking her to ‘Find it’ she moved on. She quickly picked up the scent of one of the finds and was able to happily search on to locate the scented cardboard. It is clear to see the difference between her interest in the unscented and scented cardboard when comparing both behaviours so close together. Another advantage to recording searches. I’ll post a quick video of this on Instagram.

Later in the search she hit the target scent and when tracing it to source she saw the unscented cardboard again. She moved to pull it off the branch (both scented and unscented tube rings were hidden in a couple of shrubs that stood side by side.) As I knew it wasn’t scented I was able to give a quick ‘ah,ah’, repeated the ‘find it’ cue and she continued on to find the target, ignoring the unscented ring. 

Build confidence

At another point in the search she almost casually lifted an unscented piece of the tube off the fence. No indication, no usual behaviour when she finds the target. It was almost as if she thought she should take it just in case. With more practise on the skill she will be able to ignore unscented dummies like these with much more confidence. 

So there it is. Three very different uses for something that you’d most likely just toss into the recycling. The lowly toilet roll tube can now take a new status in your scentwork world. Simple, cheap and practical. And look at what me and the girls learned from these searches. So valuable and so much fun! These resources are super versatile. You are only limited by your imagination. So start collecting your toilet tubes today. 

What I hoped Cherry learned

Not to people please. To have the confidence to move on from something that looks like a find even if it doesn’t smell like one. 

Now it’s your turn

If you do any of these searches with your dog, I’d love to see them.Send pics/videos directly to me at 

ela jack russel

Why we must not write off our senior dogs. And how to keep them healthy and happy for longer.

Author : Pam Mckinnon TDS UK

Ella, my Jack Russell Terrier, turned 7 on the 2nd January. As she was a rescue I don’t know what her actual birthdate is, so I chose the 2nd Jan. A celebration at the start of the year. 

Senior threshold

For many, 7 years old is the threshold for seniority. Look at dog foods, age charts, health advice. Seven is very often when adult dogs are labelled senior dogs. But if you delve a little deeper you will soon discover that deciding on when a dog is a senior dog might not be that simple. Those who have calculated how old a dog is in comparison to people long ago realised that simply taking age as the marker was insufficient. 

Small v big

Small dogs tend to live longer than giant dogs. Jack Russell Terriers and Chihuahuas can live as long as 20 years, Shih Tzus and Pomeranians up to 16 years. Whereas Great Danes and St. Bernards do well if they make it to 10 years old. Therefore, to compare a 7 year old Jack Russell to a 7 year old St. Bernard isn’t a useful comparison. 

But when you look at breed specifics, you’ll see a big difference. The average lifespan of most dogs is around 10 years, with mongrels living to around 14 years. But you need to look at more than just size. Looking at those breeds in the middle of the size chart, you’ll also see some big swings in life expectancy: Labradors -12 years; Springer Spaniels – 14; and Border Collies – 16. So you can see how much more is involved than you might first think when ascertaining when your adult dog has become a senior dog.

Senior signs

So even though Ella has reached the 7 year mark, it’s safe to say that she is not a senior dog. But big sister Cherry is a senior. As a Labrador Retriever, she hit senior status when she was about 8 years old. She turns 10 next month and she has started to slow down a little. She gets a bit stiff after lots of exercise, her joints click when she stretches and her muzzle is just starting to show signs of greying. But as anyone who has met her will attest, she doesn’t appear old. 

senior dog
Here’s is a photo of my senior dog Cherry taken a couple of months ago – fit, healthy and ready for action as she approaches her 10th year

And this is where I think we could improve our expectations and attitude towards senior dogs. Senior doesn’t have to mean senile, sluggish or sickly. And is definitely shouldn’t mean shelved. In my time as a Customs Drug Detector Dog Handler, it was almost an automatic assumption that once our detector dogs hit 7 years, they’d be retired. Partly, and this is my own observation, this was due to injury or illness. We just didn’t know enough to take good care of their joints. Jumping up and out of containers, aircraft, lorries and cargo every day will take a toll on shoulders, elbows and more. We didn’t know to add joint supplements to their diet or to support their weight as they landed (see my downloadable guide on choosing and using a harness.)

Lifelong care

Viewing dogs as retired or ‘past it’ when they are still healthy and lively is to risk wasting precious years. Years when they could be out exploring the world and enjoying new experiences. To cosset Ella now would be to deny her a full life. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that joint care, weight management and positive mental challenges are not just for senior dogs. They are are for all dogs to help maintain good health for as long as possible. While adopting these measures as seniority looms is better than nothing, looking after our dogs throughout their lives should be the goal. Simple measures such as not letting your dog become overweight, keeping her warm before and after exertion or exercise, and teaching her new skills from puppyhood to maturity will help maintain quality of life long after she passes into the senior section of her life.    

I was as guilty as the next person in assuming that senior dogs preferred a quiet life. My dogs usually accompany me whenever I teach scent workshops. About 8 years ago, during a workshop lunch hour I suddenly realised that Megan was my only dog to whom who I’d not taught scentwork. I was appalled at this realisation. And so I immediately set up some searches for her so that she could get involved in this glorious activity. And oh my, how she loved it. Her whole being lifted as she worked out the game and enjoyed both the process and the rewards. You can see for yourself how much she enjoyed it if you sign up for my Senior Scentwork course in which she takes the starring role! 

senior scentwork banner
Megan smiling out at you, encouraging you to teach your senior dog scentwork

New skills

My 13 year old (she might even have been 14!) girl learned a new skill, one that helped so much in her final months. I lost her at 15 years old (good old mongrel) but I knew that right til the end she had a wonderful life. Providing mental exercise becomes ever more important as our dogs are able to do less physical exercise. I see this a lot with dogs of all ages who have suffered injury or illness, or who are no longer able to compete (e.g. agility) at high levels. Their body might not do all they want, but their minds can. To be full of energy but not have access to a positive outlet for it is surely a cruelty? 

Talking Dogs Scentwork® has always been, and always will be, a fully inclusive activity. No dog is excluded. Every dog is welcomed and supported to reach their own individual goals. The ability to design searches that are appropriate to each dog is one of the cornerstones to this inclusivity. Small changes can make big differences. Ensuring that dogs don’t need to jump up or dig. Eliminating slippery or uneven surfaces. Providing appropriate finds and rewards all contribute to making scentwork fun for all dogs, pup to senior, fit to limited. 

Sign ups for seniors

While Puppy Scentwork is one of my most popular courses, enrolments for Senior Scentwork fall far below. This makes me sad as I wonder just how many senior dogs are being inadvertently written off as ‘too old to learn something new’ or ‘too old to want to do scentwork’ or ‘too old to be able to search’. Of course, lots of dogs learn the scentwork skill when they are young and so can carry those skills over to their senior years. But I do worry for those who haven’t learned young. 

This is the start of a New year and maybe it could be the start of a new activity? Maybe you will have that sudden realisation, just as I did all those years ago, that your senior dog is waiting to get involved, to have her turn in the search area and to start sniffing! Or maybe you are already on the case and have taught your dog scentwork now, in readiness for senior status. Let’s embrace our senior dogs. Don’t let them slip away, wasting those later years. Give them opportunities to thrive and explore and to live good lives right til the end. 

aggressive dog

Mouthing, Nipping and Biting Inhibition

Puppies spend a great deal of time playing, chewing and investigating objects. All of these normal activities involve puppies using their mouths and their needle-sharp teeth. When puppies play with people, they often bite, chew and mouth on people’s hands, limbs and clothing. This kind of behavior may seem cute when your puppy is seven weeks old, but it’s not nearly so endearing when he’s three or four months old—and getting bigger by the day!

What to Do About Puppy Mouthing

It’s important to help your puppy learn to curb his mouthy behavior. There are various ways, some better than others, to teach this lesson. The ultimate goal is to train your puppy to stop mouthing and biting people altogether. However, the first and most important objective is to teach him that people have very sensitive skin, so he must be very gentle when using his mouth.

Bite Inhibition: Teach Your Puppy to Be Gentle
Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of his mouthing. A puppy or dog who hasn’t learned bite inhibition with people doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin, and so he bites too hard, even in play. Some behaviorists and trainers believe that a dog who has learned to use his mouth gently when interacting with people will be less likely to bite hard and break skin if he ever bites someone in a situation apart from play—like when he’s afraid or in pain.

Puppies usually learn bite inhibition during play with other puppies. If you watch a group of puppies playing, you’ll see plenty of chasing, pouncing and wrestling. Puppies also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a pup will bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and usually stops playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and also stops playing for a moment. However, pretty soon, both playmates are back in the game. Through this kind of interaction, puppies learn to control the intensity of their bites so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue without interruption. If puppies can learn how to be gentle from each other, they can also learn the same lesson from people.

When you play with your puppy, let him mouth on your hands. Continue play until he bites especially hard. When he does, immediately give a high-pitched yelp, as if you’re hurt, and let your hand go limp. This should startle your puppy and cause him to stop mouthing you, at least momentarily. (If yelping seems to have no effect, you can say “Too bad!” or “You blew it!” in a stern voice instead.) Praise your puppy for stopping or for licking you. Resume whatever you were doing before. If your puppy bites you hard again, yelp again. Repeat these steps no more than three times within a 15-minute period. If you find that yelping alone doesn’t work, you can switch to a time-out procedure. Time-outs are often very effective for curbing mouthing in puppies. When your puppy delivers a hard bite, yelp loudly. Then, when he startles and turns to look at you or looks around, remove your hand. Either ignore him for 10 to 20 seconds or, if he starts mouthing on you again, get up and move away for 10 to 20 seconds. After the short time-out, return to your puppy and encourage him to play with you again. It’s important to teach him that gentle play continues, but painful play stops. Play with your puppy until he bites hard again. When he does, repeat the sequence above. When your puppy isn’t delivering really hard bites anymore, you can tighten up your rules a little. Require your puppy to be even gentler. Yelp and stop play in response to moderately hard bites. Persist with this process of yelping and then ignoring your puppy or giving him a time-out for his hardest bites. As those disappear, do the same for his next-hardest bites, and so on, until your puppy can play with your hands very gently, controlling the force of his mouthing so that you feel little or no pressure at all.

What to Do Next: Teach Your Puppy That Teeth Don’t Belong on Human Skin

  • Substitute a toy or chew bone when your puppy tries to gnaw on fingers or toes.
  • Puppies often mouth on people’s hands when stroked, patted and scratched (unless they’re sleepy or distracted). If your puppy gets all riled up when you pet him, distract him by feeding him small treats from your other hand. This will help your puppy get used to being touched without mouthing.
  • Encourage noncontact forms of play, such as fetch and tug-of-war, rather than wrestling and rough play with your hands. Once your puppy can play tug safely, keep tug toys in your pocket or have them easily accessible. If he starts to mouth you, you can immediately redirect him to the tug toy. Ideally, he’ll start to anticipate and look for a toy when he feels like mouthing.
  • If your puppy bites at your feet and ankles, carry his favorite tug toy in your pocket. Whenever he ambushes you, instantly stop moving your feet. Take out the tug toy and wave it enticingly. When your puppy grabs the toy, start moving again. If you don’t happen to have the toy available, just freeze and wait for your puppy to stop mouthing you. The second he stops, praise and get a toy to reward him. Repeat these steps until your puppy gets used to watching you move around without going after your feet or ankles.
  • Provide plenty of interesting and new toys so that your puppy will play with them instead of gnawing on you or your clothing.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for your puppy to play with other puppies and with friendly, vaccinated adult dogs. Playing and socializing with dog buddies is important for your puppy’s development—and if he expends a lot of his energy playing with other puppies, he’ll feel less motivated to play roughly with you. Consider enrolling your puppy in a good puppy class, where he can have supervised playtime with other puppies and learn some important new skills! 
  • Use a time-out procedure, just like the one described above—but change the rules a little. Instead of giving your puppy time-outs for hard biting, start to give him time-outs every time you feel his teeth touch your skin.
    • The instant you feel your puppy’s teeth touch you, give a high-pitched yelp. Then immediately walk away from him. Ignore him for 30 to 60 seconds. If your puppy follows you or continues to bite and nip at you, leave the room for 30 to 60 seconds. (Be sure that the room is “puppy-proofed” before you leave your puppy alone in it. Don’t leave him in an area with things he might destroy or things that might hurt him.) After the brief time-out, return to the room and calmly resume whatever you were doing with your puppy.
    • Alternatively, you can keep a leash attached to your puppy during time-out training and let it drag on the floor when you’re there to supervise him. Then, instead of leaving the room when your puppy mouths you, you can take hold of his leash and lead him to a quiet area, tether him, and turn your back to him for the brief time-out. Then untie him and resume whatever you were doing.
  • If a time-out isn’t viable or effective, consider using a taste deterrent. Spray areas of your body and clothing that your puppy likes to mouth before you start interacting with him. If he mouths you or your clothing, stop moving and wait for him to react to the bad taste of the deterrent. Praise him lavishly when he lets go of you. Apply the bad taste to your body and clothes for at least two weeks. After two weeks of being punished by the bitter taste every time he mouths you, your puppy will likely learn to inhibit his mouthy behavior.
  • Be patient and understanding. Playful mouthing is normal behavior for a puppy or young dog.

Because mouthing issues can be challenging to work with, don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a Certified Dog Trainer 

General Precautions

  • Avoid waving your fingers or toes in your puppy’s face or slapping the sides of his face to entice him to play. Doing these things can actually encourage your puppy to bite your hands and feet.
  • Do not discourage your puppy from playing with you in general. Play builds a strong bond between a dog and his human family. You want to teach your puppy to play gently, rather than not at all.
  • Avoid jerking your hands or feet away from your puppy when he mouths. This will encourage him to jump forward and grab at you. It’s much more effective to let your hands or feet go limp so that they aren’t much fun to play with.
  • Slapping or hitting puppies for playful mouthing can cause them to bite harder. They usually react by playing more aggressively. Physical punishment can also make your puppy afraid of you—and it can even cause real aggression. Avoid scruff shaking, whacking your puppy on the nose, sticking your fingers down his throat and all other punishments that might hurt or scare him.

When Does Mouthing Become Aggression?

Most puppy mouthing is normal behavior. However, some puppies bite out of fear or frustration, and this type of biting can signal problems with future aggression.

Puppy “Temper Tantrums”
Puppies sometimes have temper tantrums. Usually tantrums happen when you’re making a puppy do something he doesn’t like. Something as benign as simply holding your puppy still or handling his body might upset him. Tantrums can also happen when play escalates. (Even human “puppies” can have tantrums during play when they get overexcited or upset)! A puppy temper tantrum is more serious than playful mouthing, but it isn’t always easy to tell the difference between the two. In most cases, a playful puppy will have a relaxed body and face. His muzzle might look wrinkled, but you won’t see a lot of tension in his facial muscles. If your puppy has a temper tantrum, his body might look very stiff or frozen. He might pull his lips back to expose his teeth or growl. Almost always, his bites will be much more painful than normal mouthing during play.

If you’re holding or handling your puppy and he starts to throw a temper tantrum, avoid yelping like you’re hurt. Doing that might actually cause your puppy to continue or intensify his aggressive behavior. Instead, be very calm and unemotional. Don’t hurt your puppy, but continue to hold him firmly without constriction, if possible, until he stops struggling. After he’s quieted down for just a second or two, let him go. Then make plans to contact a qualified professional for help. Repeated bouts of biting in frustration are not something that the puppy will simply grow out of, so your puppy’s behavior should be assessed and resolved as soon as possible.

When and Where to Get Help
A trained professional can help you determine whether or not your puppy’s mouthing is normal, and she or he can guide you through an effective treatment plan. If you suspect that your puppy’s biting fits the description of aggressive or fearful behavior, please seek consultation with a qualified professional.


Setting out a search

Anyone who has seen me setting out a search at a workshop knows how seriously I take it. Boxes are moved a couple of centimetres to the left or right. Baskets are moved so that they are further apart. Chairs are carefully positioned to ensure they do the job. And that’s the crux of it – every single item in the search area has a job to do. And my job as trainer is to make sure it is in the perfect spot. 

It wasn’t until I really watched handlers placing finds at the Scent 4 – Environmentals workshop that I began to appreciate the specific skill that is setting out a search. So many elements are at play, it’s easy to get it wrong. 

Safety first

First and foremost is safety. I’ve seen some terrible decision making when it comes to the safety element of the search. As a delegate at scent workshop I once had to step in to dissuade another delegate from hiding the scented article behind a boiling hot urn. From his reaction, I could see that he had never even considered how safe or not searches could be. As a trainer we have a statutory duty of care to our clients. But as people we still need to care about others, both human and canine. I knew as a delegate that it wasn’t my place to give advice. But I also knew that either, or both, dog and handler could be severely injured had I not taken action. 

So safety is paramount. Not just to prevent injury, but also to avoid anything that might make the dog think twice about scentwork. And this is where setting out a search can make or break the dog. Too hard and she might give up. Too easy and there’s no fun, no game. How do you determine what challenge level you should choose? Your starting point is the skill levels of the dog and of the handler. 

Skill levels

It’s very often the case that the skill levels of dog and handler don’t match. They are the same at when they begin scentwork. But when taught well, the dog’s skills quickly move ahead of the handler’s. From that point on, the handler has to manage both her skill level and the dog’s. She needs to ensure the dog has enough challenge and that the handler doesn’t have too much. This assumes that dog and handler are starting at the same time. Often when the handler has worked with other dogs, her skills will remain at a higher level until much later in the process when once again the dog make overtake her. It’s not a competition between dog and handler. Skill levels are just a reflection of what each has learned and what each needs to know next. 

Skill levels sorted, now it’s time to set goals. In my blog post at the start of June, I talked a lot about goal setting. About how I hate them and I love them. In scentwork, setting goals is what gives your search structure and purpose. The goal could be to tire your dog out on a rainy day. Or it could be to raise a particular skill level. Or it could be to go back a step to help the dog practise a skill that she’s not 100% with yet. Don’t get caught up in thinking all goals are about increasing the challenge, about pushing forward. It’s just as important to ensure that each step of the journey is solid and steady before pushing onwards and upwards.

It’s in the detail

Once you have an idea of your goal, it’s time for the detail. Do you need to create a bigger search area or a smaller one? More distractions, or fewer? Increase the scent picture or decrease it? Remember, it’s best practice to only change one element of the search at a time. You want to set your dog up for success. For example, if you are setting out a search to encourage your dog to locate finds that are above her head, do not decrease the scent picture at the same time. Do one or the other, not both. Once you’ve taught the dog to search higher, then you can decrease the scent picture. 

Setting goals and then planning in detail what you need to do to reach them allows you to think more about the search from your dog’s perspective. Assuming that changing an element that is pretty inconsequential to you will have the same non-effect on the dog is to set your dog up to fail. Think about all the elements that make up the search and how each of those affects the dog and how she works. Environment, distractions, temperature, materials, time. All of these elements, and more, come together when you set up a search. The more aware you are of each element, the better your results will be. 

Work together

A great way to really practise this is to work with another scentwork fan. By setting up searches for each other you learn to ask the right questions. You have to find out what the handler wants to achieve, maybe how she wants to achieve it, what she doesn’t want, what her dog finds easy or difficult, what needs to change and what needs to remain the same. This conversation allows everyone involved to make a plan. Practising this with another person allows you to learn what to ask yourself when you are working alone. When you’re with another search team, you can stand back to see the results of your pre-search planning. You can see how it works in practice. This is not always as easy when working alone. But if you set up your phone or camera to record your searches you can review how the plan went.   

Case study

When I ran a Masterclass on setting the perfect search, one of the goals set was with Bev and her spaniel Purdey. Bev’s goal was to teach Purdey that she could ask for help. She’s a strong worker, and confident in finding the target scent. But the issue was that if she couldn’t access it, she wouldn’t ask Bev for help, she’d just move on to locate the next find. It was important not to negatively impact Purdey’s confidence, while simultaneously making the find tricky enough to access that she needed help. 

So we set up a search using a medium sized find. She was already locating very small articles so by going up a size we ensured that she would be really confident that she had located the find. We set the hide at ground level so that there was no issues around jumping up and so that she could definitely access the find with Bev’s help. This was important because if Bev stepped in to help when Purdey asked, but then Purdey couldn’t reach the find herself, the assistance would have been fruitless and Purdey might not have asked for help again. 

So we placed the find inside a plastic flower pot which was hidden under a cardboard box. You might be reading this thinking that’s a really easy find. Lots of air flow, good sized scent picture, minimal access issues. But that’s the point. For polite Purdey, moving the box in order to access whatever was beneath it was out of her comfort zone.  

Maintain balance

We also put out a couple of other finds that she could access easily. This was to maintain the balance of her asking for help when needed but still being happy and confident to get to some finds herself. The goal was not to have a dog dependent on waitress service. It was to have a dog who asked for help when she didn’t feel able to access finds herself. Ultimately, reaching this goal was the next step along the road to building Purdey’s experience and confidence to become bolder when it comes to moving objects around and rummaging to gain access. 

Breaking large goals into smaller goals is often the best way to get great results. Setting out a search that allows the dog to learn the lessons ‘herself’ is what builds confidence and determination and success. 

Caught on camera

The photo you see in this blog is the moment when Purdey did as we hoped she would – she located the find and when she couldn’t get to it, rather than moving on she stopped and look right at Bev. She asked for help. Bev then stepped in and moved the box up a bit. Purdey then moved in, pushing under the raised box and snuffling into the plant pot to retrieve the article. We were all delighted! And as a bonus I managed to catch it on camera. 

I’ve brought the information from the Setting the Perfect Search Masterclass together now in a set of printables. These downloadable and printable information sheets are packed full of all the steps you need to start setting out well planned and designed searches for your dog. I’ve worked hard to make them easy to follow, but have also included a guide to using the charts to make doubly sure. You can get the Search Setting Solutions pack by heading over to my shop

The skill of setting up appropriate searches for your dog is just as important as learning the skill of handling or reading your dog. So take the time to learn it, to practise it and to value it. 


Author of article is Pam McKinnon of Talking Dogs Scentwork UK

dog enrichment

Indoor Scent Games


Key Points
  • Dogs experience much of the world around them through their sense of smell.
  • Scent games allow dogs to channel their love of sniffing while also enriching their minds.
  • Nose-based games are a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated indoors.
  • exercise
  • scent work
  • games
  • training
  • diy

Dogs experience much of the world around them through their sense of smell. On walks, and at home, our dogs constantly take in information with their noses that humans never even notice. Scent games allow dogs to channel their love of sniffing while enriching their minds.

The aim of these games is to teach our dogs how to tell us what they smell. Also, for us to learn to read our dogs and trust they are correct. Some scent games can even be played in small indoor spaces like a living room. When you find yourself stuck inside with your dog, games are a great way to keep them mentally stimulated.

Getting Started With Scent Games

Scent games are fun for dogs of any age, including puppies and older dogs. In everyday life, we often hurry our dogs along when they stop to sniff. But in these games, we want them to understand that sniffing is encouraged. An easy way to introduce your dog to scent games is to set up a search for something immediately motivating for most dogs — food.

Muffin Tin Puzzles

This is a fun introductory scent game that requires only a few items which you might already own. All you need is an empty muffin tin, 12 tennis balls, and some treats that your dog enjoys.

  • Put treats into a few of the muffin tin holes and cover them with tennis balls.
  • Next, put tennis balls into all of the other empty muffin tin holes.
  • Give the “puzzle” to your dog and let them explore by moving the balls to find the treats hidden underneath.

Each time you play, change the location of the treats so your dog needs to use their nose to find the treats.

Shell Game/Magic Trick

Is your dog ready to do some magic? The trick with this game is your dog’s amazing sniffing abilities.

  • Grab three cups. For small dogs, you can use paper cups, but with larger dogs, you might want something a little more substantial like plastic cups or flowerpots.
  • Start with one cup and put a treat under it while your dog is watching. When your dog noses at the cup or paws at it, praise and lift the cup to let your dog get the treat.
  • After a few repetitions, bring in a second cup, but don’t put anything under it. Show your dog that you are putting a treat under one cup with the empty cup next to it. When your dog sniffs or paws at the cup with the treat under it, praise and lift the cup to allow your dog to get the treat.

If your dog paws at the empty cup, lift it and show them there isn’t anything there. Then, lift the cup with the treat and show your pup, but don’t allow them to get the treat. Put the cup back down and repeat, praising your dog as they select the right cup.

The better your dog gets, the more cups you can add in. Start moving the cups around like a magician to clearly demonstrate that your dog is using their nose to find the treats, not just memorizing the location.

Box Search

For this game, you’ll need to gather several empty boxes. Clean boxes leftover from deliveries work well.

  • While your dog is in another room, put the empty boxes out on the floor.
  • In one (or several) boxes, put treats.
  • Bring your dog into the room with the boxes and encourage them to search. When your dog finds a treat in a box, praise and let your pup eat the treat.
  • When your dog has found all the hidden treats, come in with another treat and lure your dog out of the search area by keeping their nose on the treat in your hand. Praise your dog and give the treat that you used to lure them away with. This helps to build your dog’s understanding that it is a game you are playing together. It will also keep them from continuing to search and getting frustrated by not being able to find more treats.

Talking Dog Scent Work -TDS

If you and your dog are enjoying scent games, you can start to introduce them to finding scents other than food. If you have an interest in eventually competing in the sport of Talking Dog Scent Work, it makes sense to start your dog on birch essential oil, because that is the scent dogs must search for at the Novice level. At more advanced levels of competition, your dog will be searching for birch, anise, clove, and/or cypress. If you don’t want to compete in Scent Work, you can train your dog to find and alert to any scent of your choice.

  • To introduce your dog to a scent, take whatever oil you choose, put a few drops of it onto a cotton swab and put it into a glass jar. Small canning jars work well because they are very inexpensive and easy to purchase.
  • Have the jar in one hand and treats in the other. When your dog sniffs/noses at the jar with the scent, praise and bring your treat over next to the jar and treat. In this way, you are helping to make the connection for your dog that you are rewarding at the source of the scent. Now, you can introduce a verbal cue like “search.”
  • Once your dog is consistently nose-bumping the jar of scent in your hand, you can move the jar to the floor. Ask your dog to “search,” and when they bump the jar with their nose, praise and reward with treats next to the jar. This helps reinforce the reward being connected to the scent.
  • When your dog is consistently alerting to the jar of scent, you can begin to create simple hides in boxes like the above box game.

Added Challenges

For an extra challenge, ask a friend or family member to hide the scent for you while you and your dog are out of the room. This means that you won’t know where the scent is, and you will have to trust your dog completely to tell you where they find scent. You can also train in different areas of your home like your bedroom, living room, kitchen, and garage. Different rooms will provide different levels of distractions and competing scents for your dog as they search for the odor.


Learning to play scent-based games and puzzles with your dog is a great way to keep busy when you’re stuck indoors. It also can be useful foundation training that can support you with other sports. If your dog is having fun using their nose, you might want to explore sports like Barn Hunt or Scent Work. Dogs love to sniff, so finding ways to channel and encourage their natural desire to explore with their nose is a great way to stimulate your pup’s mind — and build a stronger relationship with them.

The Smart Dog and Dog Training Durban is here to help dog owners adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 



Help! I must get my dog to the vet.

It can be difficult to assess the severity of the situation when your pet has an accident or is unwell. You may be concerned about the symptoms your pet is showing.

The following 15 key factors can help you make this critical decision as to whether your pet needs urgent veterinary attention.

Each decision will vary from case to case and from pet to pet, but we would strongly advise the following situations are treated as a veterinary emergency:


  • If your pet appears not to be breathing, is struggling for breath or is breathing in an unusual or laboured way.
  • In case of a severe injury that is bleeding profusely, and you are unable to stop the bleeding even with direct pressure on the wound.
  • They are unconscious or appear dazed or unaware of what is going on around them.
  • Suffering a severe allergic reaction
  • If they have burns and they have visibly damaged or blistered skin.
  • If they have fallen from a height, been hit by something travelling at speed – such as a car – or been hit with force
  • You suspect they have ingested antifreeze, rat poison or any other poisonous substance
  • They appear to have severe abdominal pain, a bloated stomach and attempt to vomit – bringing up white foam. This could be a sign of bloat (Gastric Dilation Volvulus GDV) which is extremely dangerous and potentially fatal
  • They have an extremely high or low temperature.
  • Your pet has an eye injury.
  • A vet should check, clean and dress all bite wounds.
  • The Vet should also properly clean and dress Deep wounds.
  • If your dog has recovered from a near drowning experience, a Vet should check them to prevent secondary drowning.
  • In case they have had a seizure, even if they appear to have made a full recovery, it is always sensible that a Vet check them out.


Tips for preventing emergency pet accidents.

  • Lock away medicines and household products or keep safely in a high cupboard. Wipe up any spills that pets could ingest or lick from paws.
  • Be aware of food and drink that are toxic to dogs such as chocolate and raisins out of reach
  • Always keep your dog on a lead around high traffic areas and make sure he is visible in the dark.
  • Carry a pet first aid kit so that you can treat minor ailments and prevent them from getting worse.

Do read our article on being prepared for an emergency visit to the vet. It contains lots of tips to help you respond effectively and calmly in a medical emergency involving your pet.

The Smart Dog provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. We strongly recommend that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.



What is Canine Hoopers?

Hoopers is a fun dog sport that’s ideal for dogs and owners of all ages and fitness levels.

Dogs navigate a course of hoops, barrels and tunnels with the same pace and excitement as agility.

But the courses are flowing and don’t involve tight turns – making it accessible for everyone!

Hoopers is focused on the ability of dog and owner to work together as a smooth-flowing team so it’s a great bonding activity too.

How do dogs take part in Canine Hoopers?

The best place to begin is by finding a qualified instructor.

I recommend Canine Hoopers World instructors as they have undergone thorough training with a Hoopers expert.

Usually they’re group classes but some instructors like myself run 1-1 sessions too.

What is the benefit of Canine Hoopers?

Where to begin? Ok, let’s start with the benefits for the dogs themselves.

In Hoopers dogs are working away from us so it helps create confidence and independence.

It’s also good for dogs that tend to bulldoze around because although they’re moving at speed, they have to be very conscious of what’s around them.

So it’s good for proprioception – it helps dogs to be aware of where they’re putting their feet and bodies.

There are also lots of benefits for us owners.

In Hoopers dogs are focusing on targets so we can easily turn that focus back on us, giving us greater control from a distance.

Oh yes, and it’s a lot of fun!

What kind of dogs is it ideal for?

I honestly believe that most dogs could benefit from Hoopers.

It creates confidence so it’s beneficial for nervous dogs.

It’s perfect for high-energy dogs too as it channels their focus – and of course it’s a great energy burner too.

Older dogs can join the fun as it puts less strain on their joints than agility and for that same reason dogs as young as eight months can take part.

That’s because unlike agility, Hoopers has no jumps. Instead, dogs navigate a ground-level course of hoops, barrels and tunnels.

The equipment ensures dogs of all ages, sizes and breeds can participate without having to take sharp turns or bend down for tunnels or hoops.

Hoopers is brilliant because it doesn’t exclude any dog or person!

fun dog

The Smarter Dog

We have been training our dogs in the wrong methods or ways for the last few decades.

We need to engage them on a more mental basis to change their behavior for the better.

I have now developed a new force free method of training your dog in a fun loving way.

Let you dogs nose work for you and have fun while training your best friend.

When you stimulate your dogs mind by using scent games or puzzles, major changes happen.

We have just run our Scent Seekers course over 6 weeks and have seen an amazing change in the dogs. Not one dog made a peep during our training sessions and we all had amazing fun finding the mice or the cheese.

I have trained dogs for over 30 years and have changed my methods of training to a new force free method using scent  as a game changer.

The changers we have seen are:

  • Problem behaviors  fade away.
  • Your dog more obedient and better behaved.
  • Your dogs IQ improves.
  • Your dogs mental and physical health improves.
  • Your bonding with your dog shots to the moon and you start having fun again.

Contact me Grant Smith for more information about our training programs. 

Ps. Panda says if you PM her she  will send you a free games book for your fur friend.’

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