Food isn’t the only thing dogs are interested in smelling. Unique scents such as essential oils (lavender, anise, and valerian work well) can motivate dogs and will excite their tracking instincts. To start, get a favourite toy (a ball works well) and put a few drops of essential oil onto it. Then, play a quick game of indoor fetch, followed by a reward. Do so several times in a day. The next day, with the dog absent, hide the same toy, then place tiny pieces of paper anointed with the oil onto the floor, leading 20 feet away from the ball, like a trail of bread crumbs. Then let the dog into the room where the trail begins and say, “Find your ball!” Most dogs will scent out the pieces of paper then eventually connect that the smell with the ball. Keep at it and praise when she follows the trail. If need be, get her started by showing her the first scented paper. When she does find the ball, reward her! Gradually reduce the number of scented papers until she can find the scented ball all by herself. Once mastered in the home, move it out into the yard. Then change the scent and the toy and begin again. You can use chicken fat, cream cheese, peanut butter—anything your dog likes.
Find the Scent Itself Instead of using a scent as a means to help her find a ball, you can teach her to search out the scent itself. This is a simple version of what drug and bomb-sniffing dogs do. If you have taught your dog to find a ball by following a scent trail, you have already taught her to key in on scent. To begin, take the same scented ball and place it in a shoebox. Then encourage her to come up to it and sniff it by saying, “Find your ball!” Eventually she will scratch and paw at the box, whereupon you should take the ball out (if she hasn’t already) and reward her with it. Next, repeat this, only with three boxes, the ball in the original box (to prevent cross contamination). Say “Find your ball!” and work it until she succeeds. Reward her with a quick fetch session. Now, instead of putting the scented ball in one of the three boxes, simply put a slip of paper in the same box, with a few drops of the same essential oil on it. Hide the scented ball outside, wash your hands, then place a new, unscented ball in your back pocket. Say, “Find your ball!” again, encouraging her just as before. When she homes in on the box with the scented paper, praise her mightily then take out the ball in your pocket and toss it for her as a reward. Repeat this over time, increasing distance and the number of boxes. In no time, she will be an expert tracker! These simple scent games only scratch the surface of a dog’s tracking capabilities. If your dog really takes to it and you feel so inclined, do a web search to locate a local tracking club and attend a introductory class. Who knows: your pooch could turn into a master tracker! –