Scent training gives enrichment to shelter, privately owned dogs


Warwick’s Dynamic Dog Training Services is offering a one-of-a-kind enrichment program to help shelter dogs channel their energy through their nose.

“Calming Scents” Nose Works allows dogs to tap into their basic hunting instincts by training them to learn and find various scents within the Dynamic Dog Training facility in Conimicut.

Owner Susan Parker learned about this type of program when she completed a similar program in Massachusetts with her own dog. She decided to add the element of using calming essential oils as some of the scents dogs can search for and started the program in May 2013; it is the only one of its kind in Rhode Island.

Parker explained that the program was originally designed for shelter dogs because they often don’t have another way to get energy out of their system.

“The reason it works so well with shelter dogs is it teaches them channeling and energy release,” said Parker. “Otherwise, they don’t get to get out and enjoy.”

When completing the training, Parker says they usually select shelter dogs experiencing “stranger danger,” or those with low-confidence and social anxiety.

“The shelter can be overwhelming for some dogs,” explained Parker. “This is naturalizing the dog. They are doing what a dog does best.”

Parker, who is also the founder of The Little Rhody Bully Breed Club, works a lot with pit bulls in the program simply because there are a lot of pit bulls in shelters. However, the program works with all breeds.

Parker has a relationship with volunteers at the Warwick Animal Shelter, West Warwick Animal Shelter and Providence Animal Control to provide this program at no cost to dogs in those facilities. Some volunteers who have been assisting with this program include Nettie Rose Cooley and Patty Martin, who bring dogs from the Warwick shelter to class on Saturdays.

Parker also decided to open it up to private owners and their dogs through Dynamic Dog Training.

Although there are multiple dogs in a class, they are brought in one at a time for their exercise on the floor. The other dogs remain in their owner’s car because they cannot interact with each other or other owners; they need to stay focused on the training. After finding a scent two or three times, that dog’s turn is complete and the rotation continues. Each dog has multiple turns in a class.

The exercise goes like this: Their owner brings in the dog on leash and a trainer holds a small aluminum dish with a scent in it. The dog sniffs that item, learns the scent and receives a treat. The owner then brings the dog into Parker’s office to decompress. The trainer hides the tray with the item somewhere on the training floor, informs the owner where, and the owner then brings the dog onto the floor, on or off leash, and says, “Find it.” That triggers the dog to begin “hunting” for the item. When he finds it, the dog receives another treat and encouraging cheers from the crowd.

Parker explained that the dogs begin training by finding treats hidden throughout her workspace, which includes a number of empty dog dishes on the floor, furniture, cupboards and other household items in which to hide the scent. After they have mastered finding the treats, the volunteers will put essential oils such as rose or lavender on a cotton ball and begin to train the dog to find those; finally, they move on to human scents. The owners take turns rubbing napkins on their arms and neck to collect their unique scent, which the dog then searches for.

The program is only in its second week with its current group of dogs, so Parker pointed out that they have yet to learn the whole game.

“They’re not as experienced as the other dogs who can find a human scent,” she explained.

But they were still pretty quick. The group includes a mix of shelter dogs and dogs whose owners were looking for a way to calm them down. Most were able to find the scent of the treat or essential oil in less than a minute, and a few within seconds. Others even tried human scents for the first time and had great success.

Even a dog participating in the class for the first time was able to pick up on the game quickly; Parker’s husband Harry brought a new dog to this past weekend’s class, Sebastian from Providence Animal Control. Although his first attempt took quite a while, by his second turn, Sebastian had caught on and was finding the treat within seconds.

“Even a dog that’s never done it before can do it,” pointed out Parker. She added that it was possible this was one of Sebastian’s first experiences outside of the shelter, and he likely wanted to explore his surroundings before hunting for a scent.

For the winter, the program will remain inside, however, Parker plans to transition the dogs outside as the weather gets warmer so they can learn to target the scent in an outdoor environment.

While Parker also teaches regular obedience classes, she prefers the “Calming Scents” program.

“It’s a really good social skill. You aren’t forcing them into anything,” said Parker. “It is something fun to do with them as well.”

Private owners who are taking part in the program say it has done wonders for calming down their dogs.

“She can jump a six-foot fence. I need a way to keep her calm,” said Heather Johnson, whose dog Royce is visibly energetic. Johnson was worried about her dog jumping a fence to get to her neighbor’s dogs. This program has changed that.

“She can play in the yard herself, searching for things,” she explained. “It gives her a job to do and calms her down.”

Other owners commented that it has given them something to do with their dogs during the cold winter months. All of the owners also said their dogs are so tired after class; they go home and fall asleep.

According to Parker, this program would work extremely well for dogs with low confidence, or issues socializing with people and other dogs. Parker and her husband are also looking to begin working with other shelters by training their volunteers and staff to design their own programs.

For more information about “Calming Scents” Nose Works, contact Parker at 823-8851 or by emailing


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