My lovely sweet girl Nina who is our youngest and most submissive of the three has just begun our version of scent training! It's been almost 3 years and we haven't been able to crack the "Nina-Code" until today when we tried scent tracking.

She has always been the most submissive--coming from a puppy mill background and having very little confidence--she loves and trusts both my boyfriend and I but can become frightened easily and still becomes nervous on occasion (randomly) when approached. Though she loves attention we have been unable to harness her energy (provide her a stimulus that would work) nor have we been able to build her confidence past a plateau we had met a while back.

She is an extremely obedient and happy dog and stays close on walks while off leash. On leash she is over excited and it is difficult to calm her as normal discipline (even a strong voice) usually leaves her nervous for long after. Walks are still stressful for her.

She is the most food loving of our three and can't seem to get enough. She is always hungry (I'm convinced she's a bottomless pit) and is exceptionally good at performing tricks on the first command due to this.

A friends dog is going into police dog work and was talking about scent training and suggested we give it a try for Nina as a game.

Low and behold we found the KEY! Obviously true scent tracking/training is a little more disciplined and controlled but we decided to start off lax and easy going. Nina tends to get scared off of things when put in the spotlight. Even calling her if she senses something is out of turn (even if it isn't) can cause her to want to turn away and hide. So it was important we didn't put too much pressure or attention on what "exactly" we were doing. It was just a fun game of fetch (which she already loves), combining fetch + food--Ninas two favorite things were a no-brainer I have no idea why we didn't think of yet!

We set the course. Scents linger so we couldn't do the course too many times, as well dogs can become hyper sensitive and lose interest (not the case with this as it involves food) but she could easily lose focus on the actual task and just begin running around like a maniac without using her nose (which is what we wanted).

We gave her the sit--stay command and a treat and told her to stay on a mat in the other room hidden from view of the "course". She was already good at both those commands so we decided that locking her in a room while we hid the treats would be a step back. Listening and waiting for the keyword which we chose as "seek" and then searching once given permission to search was what we were going to teach for her first try. It was surprisingly easy (we are so darn lucky we have the 8th smartest breed out of all the dog breed that are out there!).

Nina is very food driven and is excellent at fetch and retrieve as well she is also obedient to do her tricks (usually on the first command without a repeat) because she is so food driven, so using kibble was the perfect way to keep her attention. We keep the dogs kibble in an airtight container under the kitchen counter and feed them on a schedule so they have become accustomed to know and become very excited at feeding time due to the ritual of opening the cabinet drawer containing the kibble container and then removing the container. This got and kept Nina's attention so I was able to give her the command to stay in the other room as I hid the kibble.

I tried to keep it as scent oriented as I could by dragging the kibble along the ground from the central point I would ask her to "seek" from. I hid some pieces in easily accessible obvious places such as along the walls/baseboards and at the feet of the sofa, I also hid some in moderately difficult places at eye head level such as along ledges, on top of the toy box (anywhere I could really), and I hid a few in more difficult places where she would have to sniff upwards (I thought this would involve some thinking as well as the drive to continue searching so I wasn't too confident about it) and hid this pieces on higher shelves, the sofa cushions, etc.

I started the first round by asking her to come to me, I then gave her one last piece of kibble I kept in my hand (for reminder of what she was searching for) and then ran my hand along the direction where I started to the first piece of kibble while asking her to "seek". She was accustomed to the game of "find it" where I would ask her to search for her ball and she would search and eventually find it and I would then throw it for her, so this was similar enough for her to understand that if I continued to say the word "seek" it meant she hadn't finished yet. I was surprised at how fast she caught on . I pride our awesomely smart breed for this!

She was a natural and FINALLY for once after all is said and done we had played about 10 rounds for a little less than an hour and she is drained. She is at my feet on her side asleep (she never sleeps on her side so I'm just going to assume she's exhausted and satisfied). I am also so pleased to see that she wasn't just blindly searching with her eyes, she was using her nose and sniffing loudly. Her excitement which we usually don't know what to do with was put to use searching and she was focused and determined. Despite it not being all that physically demanding she was panting after each game. Although I am sure we may never be able to fully break the fear that being born into a puppy mill has engraned in her, I was so happy to see that her excitement with this new game at times overpowered her fear of us approaching her. 9/10 times she gets a moment (or longer) of fear when she is approached directly even when spoken to in a soft loving voice. You can see in her eyes and demeanor that she becomes fearful. I approached her many times tonight to pat her and praise her and was pleasantly surprised to see that she had times where she happy and excitedly accepted my approach and pat of attention without thinking about the fear. She seems to have gained a bit of confidence during this game which I hope can continue to foster as we progress.

I'm happy to say I've finally been able to find something that is stimulating and enriching as well as exhausting for Nina (she constantly has a ton of excitement and energy that walks just could never seem to take out of her). Many people will urge dogs need stimulation in the form of walks (which I don't deny) but walks are taxing--mentally in a negative way--on Nina and I wanted something that would only be fun with absolutely no correction. I wanted something we could do for about an hour that would maintain her attention and not only drain her mentally but physically and fulfill her need for a purpose. Papillons are very smart and just like any other exceptionally intelligent breed they need a way to release their energy. They need a purpose a job or sorts. For my other dogs, a long walk or run is enough enrichment and stimulation to fulfill that. Walks just weren't doing it for Nina. Stemming from her love for fetch this was the perfect way to drain her energy and pent up mental energy. I can't believe it took 3 years to figure it out.

I don't want to put the wrong idea out there, Nina is not a complete wreck. She can go for walks and does enjoy them, but there is a level of stress that can happen on walks and they just weren't hitting the spot we were looking for. We will continue our walks as all of our dogs love their evening walk, but finding this new form of stimulation for Nina is exactly what she needed. I look forward to the progress we will make and see how far and where this will go . I will keep everyone updated!

If anyone has any input on their own dogs scent training or anything similar in regards to how they've combatted their dogs fear/lack of self esteem I would love to hear about it!