Dogcharmer: The nose knows

And ‘Go find’ is the route to a happy dog.

Tom Shelby, the Dogcharmer, and Paula Jean. —Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Readers,

I was at a dinner the other night, and one of the guests evidently heard that I’m a dog trainer, and did K-9 SAR (search and rescue) for many years. She has a French bulldog, which by the way has recently replaced the Labrador retriever as the most popular dog in the U.S., and she wanted to know how to teach a dog to “Go find.” So I told her that as we were sitting at the dinner table, we were dropping 40 thousand dead skin cells a minute, and the average midsize mutt probably has over 200 million olfactory cells in his nose, while we two-leggeds have about 5 million. I also told her that the part of a dog’s brain that discerns what the smells are is about 40 times larger than a human’s, relatively speaking. It was Mark Twain who said, “If dogs could talk, no one would own them.” When you come home and your dog smells your pants, he knows where you were, who you touched, and what you ate.

So how to get started? Very simply, have someone hold your dog back, or if he’s obedient, have him sit and stay while you let him smell your hand with a small piece of hot dog or dog treat in it. Then back up while happily telling him he’s going to “Go find” the treat, and let him see you place it out of his sight, behind a shoe or chair leg or whatever. Then release him with the words, “Go find!” After a couple of those, let him see you look like you’re bending down and placing three or four treats in different spots, but only place one, in one of the spots. That’s the point at which he’s really going to start using his nose to find the treat. The key is to have success build on success, as you make the “find” more and more difficult.

It’s my poodle, Paula Jean’s, favorite game. I tell her to “lie down” and “stay” in the kitchen while I go upstairs and hide a treat in one of the three bedrooms or two bathrooms. Then I yell, “OK” (a release from stay), and, “Go find the treat”. She charges up the stairs, and usually finds it in a few minutes. She also taught me that I can’t just walk into one room and place the treat, because she’ll track me to the one spot and find it immediately. I have to walk in all the rooms several times, making sure I’m not in the room with the placed treat last.

In terms of searching, I also informed the guest that she has a brachycephalic dog, a type of breed with a pushed-in nose, like bulldogs, and they’re not quite as good at searching as the non-brachycephalic breeds.

Readers, FYI, my Doberman Michelle found two people alive, and several bodies. My Doberman Michael tracked a woman 11 miles. More to come.

Dogcharmer Tom