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My 6 month old black lab spends almost all of his time with his nose pressed against the ground, sniffing. This happens when we are out in the park and also when he is in the rooms of the house where he doesn't normally have constant access to.

He is fairly responsive when it comes to recall, if we walk away from him while he is sniffing and call he mostly comes running back to us. But we can't get him interested in playing with us because as soon as we throw a ball or anything he just ignores it and goes back to sniffing the ground.

Also when we are walking on lead he doesn't really pull forwards, it tends to be that he stops everywhere to sniff so we end up pulling him.

I am lost for ideas of how we get him to stop the sniffing and turn his focus to us and playing games.

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  • How would you use positive reinforcement to keep a kid from looking at all the fascinating things going on around them? It's the same issue, really.
    – keshlam
    Apr 20 '16 at 16:43
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You have to have a reward that out weighs what he's getting from sniffing the ground. You wouldn't stop watching a favorite TV show or playing a video game if someone told you that if you stop you can come scrub the bathroom with them. It's got to be worth it.

As for the stopping while on a walk, I suggest an extra lead that's much thinner. Go to home depot and get some cheap paracord. Make a loop in one end and feed the body of the rope through the eye to make a loop. Put this around his neck and high up near his ears. When he stops, just keep moving and bump him with the lead. You may have to tug a little, but it'll put more pressure on a smaller area and be more uncomfortable than a wider collar that's further down on the neck. That should help alleviate that problem.

Something you should consider is working with what the dog naturally likes to do. If he is really big on using his nose, I wouldn't discourage it, but channel it. Start doing scent work. It'll engage his mind, let him do what he likes to do anyway, but it'll also give it a set of rules and guidelines. I think that would probably be the best thing for him.

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  • Do you have any links to resources for teaching scent work? Apr 20 '16 at 14:17
  • I don't. I'll look for some, but I never found any good resources when I looked in the past. I ended up ordering a DVD on it.
    – Dalton
    Apr 20 '16 at 14:20
  • The OP asked for positive reinforcement, not collar corrections. Apr 21 '16 at 18:16
  • You're right, but I don't believe there is a positive reinforcement for this behavior. I really like positive reinforcement and use it as much as possible. However, it relies on providing the dog with something he sees as being high value. It would have to be a higher value than what he wants to do. Even it if's effective for a while, it's power diminishes in proportion to how full his is. So I gave the OP the gentlest method outside of positive reinforcement that I know. She can always try waving some hotdogs in front of his nose. It will only work part of the time, though.
    – Dalton
    Apr 26 '16 at 12:43
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First, ask yourself why you want to stop your dog from sniffing. Sniffing is something that's really important to dogs. From a practical perspective, sniffing a lot will tire your dog out, so when you get home your dog is less likely to have other training issues. Does it really cost you so much to let your dog "live a little"?

If yes, then there is a reward you have that you already know is important to your dog: the ability to sniff. This is an amazing gift! You can train your dog through positive reinforcement when you don't have treats on you, because there is almost always something nearby that your dog wants to sniff.

You just need to make allowing your dog to sniff contingent on doing what you want first. To start, adjust your dog's collar so it is right behind his ears, and give him enough leash to be comfortable standing or sitting, but he can't get his nose to the ground. Then wait. Your dog is going to try to sniff, then look at you like "huh"? If you already have a marker (clicker, "yes", etc.), use that, then say "ok, go sniff." If not, this might be a good way to get started.

Let him sniff a bit, then stick a treat right in his face and raise his head so you can restart by adjusting his collar.

Make sure to keep what you're asking for very short in the beginning. The reason this works is because it doesn't cost much for your dog to do what you want, and it isn't the end of what he wants to do--it's a way for him to be able to get you to give him what he wants.

My dog loves to sniff as well, and when I walk him I stop at the places he has indicated are the most tempting to sniff and ask him to work--usually a few steps of heeling with a sit or a turn thrown in--at each one before he can sniff. It's great because what started out as a distraction is what's now motivating him to work.

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I am not an expert, but I have 2 dogs myself.

First off, my experience is that the right kind of toy/ball can make a LOT of difference. One of my dogs never wanted to play, until one day I got one of those hard rubber balls with the hole trough the middle (I think the hole is meant to hold treats, never used it for that).

He loves the thing and always stops whatever he's doing to play with it. If your local petshop allows it take your dog there and make him pick the ball/toy, they may all be similar to you but your dog might think otherwise.

Using only positive reinforcement you won't be able to make him stop sniffing, I think.

What you could do is make playing more interesting for him, by giving him treats whenever he does.

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