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Posted: 8th February 2024

Scent work improves dog behaviour, research reveals
The tasks tested the dogs' inhibitory control, which improves dogs' problem-solving skills.
Dogs with scent training showed improved mental ability.

A new study has suggested that scent training could improve pet dogs’ abilities to complete cognitive tasks.

The research, conducted by scientists at Aberystwyth University, found that dogs trained to detect smells had an improved mental ability and better capacity to perform tasks.

Previous research had found that dogs with advanced training, such as assistance dogs, had a better mental ability than untrained pet dogs. However, it did not explore how training pet dogs may advance their ability to complete cognitive tasks.

This study aimed to explore how simpler, pet dog training could also affect dogs’ behaviours.

The research team assessed how well 40 dogs, trained to various levels, performed in two tasks that tested their impulse control.

Their first task was a ‘detour task’, which confronted the dogs with a transparent barrier between them and a bowl of food. The dog then needed to navigate a detour around the barrier to reach the food.

The second task was the ‘A-not-B’ task. This involved three plant pot covers being placed in front of the dog, with food being visibly placed under one of them. Without prompts, the dog then needed to remember which cover had food underneath it.

Dogs which had received scent training were found to perform better at the tasks than those which hadn’t. This suggested that this additional training had helped their impulse control to complete specific tasks.

The tasks were designed to test the dogs’ inhibitory control, which has been proven to improve dogs’ problem-solving skills.

This can also link to dogs’ behaviour, as poor impulse control can be linked to unwanted behaviours like inappropriate toileting or destructive behaviour.

Dr Sarah Dalesman, co-supervisor of the project, said: “This research shows that dogs that train primarily in scent work have stronger inhibitory control, suggesting that this training can have a positive effect on their behaviour.

“Scent training is offered by a lot of dog trainers, and easy to practice at home. It might offer a great way for owners to improve their pet’s behaviour, and we’re aiming to test this theory in future studies.”

The full study can be found in the journal Animals.

Image © Shutterstock

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