Photo of Boo's cheeks moving in and out while sourcing, prior to stopping breathing when he reaches source.

Listen Up! When Your Dog Stops Sniffing

Did you notice that many scent detection dogs stop breathing when they reach source? One of the best ways to read your sniffer dog is by listening to changes in his breathing . While sourcing, sniffing speeds up, sounds different and you may see the flews (upper lips) moving in and out as shown in the photo. When many dogs reach source (the highest concentration of target odor), their breath stops briefly. Watch, to hear sniffer dogs’ breathing changes.

New to scent detection? Watch the introductory “How to Read Your Dog’s Sniffing” video at to learn the specific things to watch and listen for when dogs work odor, and why it’s important to read your sniffer dog.

Every search is unique, given environmental changes such as ageing and airflow. But most sniffer dogs working odor exhibit at least some of these specific behaviors:

  1. Increased breathing rate
  2. Pulling/focus in one direction
  3. Change of behavior when dog encounters odor e.g. tail held differently
  4. Head snap
  5. Bracketing
  6. Sourcing, often associated with different sound and depth of sniffing, and repeated in/out movement of the dog’s flews (or upper lips, as shown in the photo)
  7. Breathing stops when many dogs reach source (the highest concentration of target odor), then resumes after a brief pause
  8. Trained Final Response/Indication e.g. sit, down, freeze like a statue, etc.

Recognizing these behaviors will help you to read your dog. In a clear room, these behaviors are generally absent. Note that your dog’s breath is probably different when he’s working a distraction compared to working odor (provided that the dog understands his job is to ignore distractions and find target odor).

Scent detection handlers need to learn to read their unique dog. For example, larger dogs may sniff louder than smaller dogs, but both are significant. If all of the above behaviors occur, the dog probably detected and found odor. Don’t expect your dog to perform all of the above behaviors at every search. For example, if you haven’t trained a formal indication, you may see the change of behavior followed by the head snap, movement towards source and then stopping to look at the handler. If there is an overwhelming amount of odor, the dog may display a change of behavior, but be unable to pinpoint source. Inexperienced dogs spend more time and wasted energy passing source and braketing. As they gain more experience, they’ll tend to follow a more direct route to source.

Does your dog’s breath pause when he reaches source? Video your runs in a quiet environment and listen for this “tell”. Learning how to read your dog is easier when you’re not handling, so you can focus on listening to your dog’s breath rather than delivering rewards or handling the leash. Try turning the lights off to force yourself to listen instead of just relying on your primary sense of vision. Turn off all nearby fans, heaters, air conditioners and computers to decrease the obscuring machine buzz in the background. Have fun with it. Try engaging your ears is a vehicle search after dark (in a safe area of course) or a small bathroom search off leash with the lights off.

Whenever you have a chance, listen and watch other sniffer dogs search to learn how to read scent dogs and become a better handler. When you’re not emotionally attached to the outcome, it’s easier to notice changes of breathing and your excited breathing won’t interfere.

In summary, listen up when a scent detection dog’s breath changes. Pay attention to when and where he stops sniffing. Then you’ll be better equipped to call alerts, recognize distractions, clear rooms, and help get your partner where he needs to be to detect odor.

Thanks Lori Rogers and Fiji for demonstrating. Media by Hunter’s Heart Kennels Ltd., Penny Norem Photography, Videoblocks, Audioblocks, and VideoHive.


2 thoughts on “Listen Up! When Your Dog Stops Sniffing”

  1. I love your website! Very informative. I do scent work through AKC, UKC, C-Wags and NACSW. I also teach some small classes as well. Thank you for the very informative articles!!!

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