Perhaps that seems like an odd cue.
But “Wanna smell?” has done wonders in helping Lucas and now Cooper overcome random fears.
I think it works so well because it plays off their love of stink. Dogs are incredible smellers. In much the same way that we rely on sight to understand what’s in front of us, dogs rely on scent. So I decided to harness that strength to help them learn about their world, particularly things that they are unsure of.
And, with very few exceptions (they do NOT want to sniff the vacuum), it’s worked remarkably well.
Here’s how to teach it:
Start with something really interesting.
Here’s where teaching this differs from teaching a trick. Instead of starting with incremental steps and marking progressive behaviors to eventually get to the cue, I say just dive right in. This is an extremely rewarding game for your dog anyway, so I don’t see a need for working piece by piece.
As your dog sniffs the exciting item, say, “Wanna smell?” You can click and treat if you want, but if you can find objects that are interesting enough, that will be reward enough. You’ll be amazed – they’ll catch onto it quickly. (It’s sort of like kids who love a particular subject learn it quicker than the subjects they don’t care for.)
Repeat this with a variety of super smelly objects. In addition to flowers, I’d recommend your socks when you take them off at night, your washcloth or loofah before it goes in the wash, a pile of weeds freshly pulled from your garden, a bag of groceries, an open box of Band-Aids, and so on. (Let me know if you think of any other good ones!!)
Really, anytime you have something novel, hold it out to your dog and repeat the cue, “Wanna smell?” Let them sniff until they’ve had their fill.
They absolutely love this game!
Down the road, when your dog encounters something new that frightens him – in Cooper’s case, this has been everything from a new broom to a box dropped off by UPS to a rake left in front of someone’s house – entice him to explore the object with the “Wanna smell?” cue. Your pup may approach tentatively, but that’s better than backing off in fear!
The important thing, though, is not to reserve this cue for only scary objects. Mix it into your day. Your dog will enjoy smelling all sorts of new smells, and if your dog is like Lucas or Cooper, it’ll build confidence over time.
Have you tried this tactic before? Any success stories to share? Or, perhaps, other unique cues that work well for your dog?