I realise that linking the words ‘scentwork and grief’ together may seem very strange to some, but I wanted to share with you how being involved in scent work with my dog has proven to be a welcome distraction through a very difficult period and I feel sure will continue to be so in the months and years ahead.

Recently and unexpectedly I lost my mother, the days straight afterwards were extremely difficult to bare. My very much loved Flatcoated Retriever Reenie was permanently by my side which was a great comfort. She could certainly sense the sorrow in the household as family members visited and the tears flowed.

On the third morning after the sad news, I woke to see Reenie lying by the side of the bed awake but quiet, for a lively happy natured dog she looked up with a sad expression, it had been a tough time for everyone. I realised I had to be more myself for her and find the strength to pull myself together even if just for a short period and give something back to her by spending time doing what she loves to do and what we share together.

Being able to do this at home was really advantageous as I certainly wasn’t ready to face the world with still feeling very fragile, and my energy levels at an all-time low. I couldn’t face seeing people, let alone talking without breaking down. With just simply needing to pull on some jeans and a throw on a T-shirt I was as presentable as I needed to be in getting started in doing some some scent work with her.

With quiet contemplation I placed the scented articles out in three areas and after a cuppa I grabbed her rope ball and some treats.  From the previous three sober and uneventful days I saw a different dog emerge, her enthusiasm rising as she knowingly knew what we were about to do. She sparked into action which was a joy to see. This is what we do, this is our quality time.

I lost myself in observing her body languages as she was working. This I have done on hundreds of occasions before but this time it was different as it bought me out of such a sad place and was a total distraction from a mind full of grief

The morning sun was starting to warm the environment, the grass was still damp providing a helpful humidity accompanied with a slight breeze. She found the hides within her known home environment with some gentle ease. Her search style was thoughtful, elegant, and motivated by the joy of her own dance in and out of the trails of invisible odour particles as well as the anticipation of the rewards that would surely follow

We finished off with some retrieve and tug games and sat together in the sunshine, for those thirty minutes I hadn’t been in a state of despair, I had taken the first tiny steps to mending my broken heart. I smiled to myself watching Reenie happily lick away at her stuffed Kong.

The following weekend I had a pre booked progression workshop and a scent work for beginners workshop to deliver. These had been booked up for weeks in advance and people will have been really looking forward to starting and progressing. My Mum would have wanted me to put my big girl pants on and showcase this amazing activity to others. Everyone had a great time, lots of happy dogs and smiley faces. Scent work had once again been part of my getting through to week two.

When you throw yourself into the activity of scent detection training, there is so much to learn, it’s a never-ending delight of interesting information, every search is different, can be analysed and learnt from or simply observed and enjoyed whilst your dog commits to their most natural activity.

Whatever your troubles, worries or pressures the time spent on planning, setting out and observing your dog searching brings about some untroubled mindfulness providing positivity for your dog’s mental well-being and your own. I feel truly grateful for my involvement in scent work, the great people I know who share in this passion and the lovely dogs I get to observe and support through their scent work journey. Everyone has been a huge support in this time and we find our own solace and ways to rebuild again

Article by Mandy Rigby – Scent Work Trainer

Scent Work Academy, Scent Work Training for Dogs Solihull West Midlands