First invented in the 1970s, the humble Kong is a staple dog toy for many owners across the world. Whether itâs given to your dog as a chew toy, stuffed with a meal and frozen, or used as a treat dispenser, the Kong toy is incredibly versatile. However, thereâs even more to a Kong than meets the eye.
When I was attending dog training classes with APDT-certified dog trainer and UK Sniffer Dogs Instructor Lara Sorisi, she explained that a Kong is also perfect for introducing your dog to scentwork.
âItâs been scientifically proven that red Kong toys have their own unique scent compared to other toys. This means that theyâre a great starter base for scentwork, as dogs are able to easily differentiate them from other objects with just their nose. One of the main reasons I like using Kongs for scentwork is that their scent dissipates from the area they were placed within 10 seconds of removal.
âThe reason this is important is that it really streamlines the scentwork training process. Most scentwork training is done with cloves or catnip, as these have really strong scents. However, once theyâve been placed somewhere, the area needs to be thoroughly cleaned. A lot of dogs that are really clever will go back to where the previous scent was, so if thereâs any residue then this will confuse them. However, as a red Kongâs scent dissipates so quickly, you donât need to worry about cleaning the area afterward.â
Scentwork is a fantastic activity for any dog. Not only does it enable them to use their strongest sense to interact with the world, but itâs also incredibly taxing on their brain too. Plus, if you have a senior dog or one recovering from an injury or illness, itâs a really inclusive activity that doesnât require any physical exertion.
Lara says that âScentwork is a fantastic form of mental enrichment and stimulation. While dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, finding a good outlet for them to fulfil their predatory sequences is a really rewarding form of enrichment and training. Itâs also a great way to connect with dogs that have anxiety or reactivity, as the act of sniffing is calming for dogs. To be honest, Iâve never met a dog that doesnât love scentwork.â
As the owner of a high drive border collie, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out new and interesting activities to keep her engaged and stop her from getting bored. Fenwick can find being around other dogs very stressful at times, so itâs been necessary to try a wide variety of different activities to tire her out on the days when sheâs particularly reactive. Scentwork is perfect for Fenwick on many fronts â it gives her something specific to focus on, it really works her brain and the act of sniffing itself helps to calm her down as well.
So, how can you teach your dog this Kong scentwork hack? Iâve broken down everything you need to know below.
1. Do some prep work
Before you begin your scentwork training, make sure that youâve prepared some yummy treats to reward your dog with. Youâll also want to choose what phrase you want to use â I personally use âSeekâ, but you might like to try âFind Kongâ or whatever works best for you.
2. Introduce the Kong to your dog
When you first introduce this scentwork game to your dog, you want to keep it as simple as possible. This should be a case of âerrorless learningâ, where your dog can only succeed and they donât have the opportunity to get anything wrong.
Crouch down to the same level as your dog with your hands behind your back, with some treats in one hand and the Kong in the other. Present the hand with the Kong to your dog and say your command phrase (weâll use âSeekâ for the purpose of this article). When your dog touches its nose to the Kong, mark the behavior with a âYesâ, âGoodâ or whatever your marker cue is. At the same time, use your hand with the treats to hold a treat on the Kong for your dog to eat. By feeding the dog a treat so close to the Kong, itâs helping to reinforce that Kong means good, tasty things to your dog.
Repeat this step for as many times as it takes until you feel that your dog is confidently performing the behavior and really understands what youâre asking for.
3. Start moving the Kong away from you
Now youâll start placing the Kong on the floor next to you rather than keeping it in your hand. This will help teach your dog that itâs the Kong thatâs important, not your hand itself. Ask your dog to âWaitâ, so that they donât immediately follow the Kong. Once theyâre settled and looking at you, say âSeekâ to release them to go to the Kong. Keep everything else the same for the best results, with both hands starting behind your back and feeding your dog their treat on top of the Kong.
If your dog is happy and confident with the Kong placed close to you, you can start moving it further away incrementally. Again, make sure not to rush this process, as each individual dog will learn new activities at their own pace. If your dog is struggling to understand what you want from it, simply reset and go back a step to make it easier. Make sure that you donât react negatively if your dog gets something wrong, as you want this to be a fun and positive experience for both of you.
4. Start hiding the Kong
Once you feel that your dog fully understands this activity, you can try hiding the Kong for them to find it. When your dog has reached this point, you want to make sure that theyâre not seeing you hide the Kong. The best way to do this is to simply put them in another room and ask them to âWaitâ (or close the door if you know that theyâll likely come through without your command).
When hiding the Kong, make sure to start off as easy as possible again. Perhaps try hiding it around the corner of your couch, or under a loose flap of blanket. As your dog gets used to scentwork, youâll be able to challenge them more, but youâll want to avoid frustrating them by making it too hard at this early stage.
Again, if your dog struggles to figure out what you want, simply take your training back a step (although make sure youâve given them enough time to try and figure it out themselves first).
5. Get creative with your hiding spots
Fenwick is now at the stage where I have to think really hard about my hiding spot to properly challenge her. Iâve discovered that placing the Kong above her head height makes it more difficult, so placing it on table tops or nestled among couch cushions makes her work a little harder. If you have some leftover cardboard boxes, you could try hiding your Kong amongst them too. There are a wealth of possibilities when it comes to scentwork!
If you find that your dog really enjoys scentwork, Iâd recommend finding a certified scentwork instructor to help you take them to the next level. Alternatively, if thereâs no one available in your area, UK Sniffer Dogs (opens in new tab) has some fantastic online courses as well.
Looking for more training advice? Hereâs how to stop a dog jumping up.