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Free your dog with 'Free Work'

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

What is Free Work?

A form of enrichment activity developed by Sarah Fisher as part of Animal Centred Education. A structured method of educating and supporting dogs of all ages providing a safe and rewarding foundation on which further learning can be built.

The benefits of Free Work…

· Allows your dog to be a dog!

· Mentally stimulating.

· Builds confidence.

· Low impact activity.

· Allows your dogs natural foraging and hunting behaviours.

· Encourages your dog to explore.

· Creates independent thinking.

· Ideal for allowing your dog to fully unwind without tasking or having expectations of what they should/shouldn’t do.

· Find out which enrichment your dog really likes, they choose their preferences.

· Promotes problem solving skills.

· Creates positive associations with new environments for anxious dogs pending the session is set up correctly.

· Can be used to identify physical problems.

What’s Needed for Free Work?

· A small space to lay out your Free Work area. Doesn’t need to be any bigger than your kitchen, living room or garden.

· Different surfaces. - eg. Towels, bath mats, white boards, cloth, blanket, bubble wrap, car floor mats.

· Different heights. - eg. boxes, plastic step, upturned pots.

· Different foraging areas. - eg. buckets with ripped newspaper in, snuffle matts, large plastic bowls with different clothing or cloth in, Licky matts/ ridged surfaces to lick, box with toilet roll tubes in.

· Different treat textures/types. - Soft/wet eg. primula cheese, peanut butter, wet food (licking helps release endorphins). Hard eg. kibble, hard chews (chewing can help decompress the jaw and assist with relaxation.) Different tastes ( to keep the area interesting for your dog and allowing you to see what your dog goes to first out of choice). Scatter feed treats on the ground around the area also to encourage foraging.

· Different toys. - A selection of different toys (hard and soft) around the area so there is the choice to play and investigate.

Top Tips

1. Free Work is best done ‘Naked’. Remove your dog’s lead, collar, harness and any clothing before taking them to the Free Work area so there are no restrictions or influences for them. Only do this if it safe to do so. If they need to be on-lead for safety, try to keep a loose lead or be on a long line so it doesn’t apply any tension.

2. Always have water available for your dog during Free Work. Ideally multiple bowls, one inside and one outside of your Free Work area in case they aren’t comfortable enough to use the one in the training zone. Eating, chewing and licking will increase thirst.

3. If you have multiple dogs, ideally do this activity one at a time. It will allow your dog the opportunity of total relaxation without any external influence. This may also avoid any conflict or tension between dogs.

4. Don't rush your dog. This an activity for them to do in their own time and can come and go as they please. Remember, this is an activity with no expectations attached so allow plenty of time for your dog to gain the full benefits...Being finished by 5 minutes time is an expectation of them!

How to set up your Free-Work area

It's super simple!

  1. Choose your training space.

  2. Select and gather your chosen 'equipment' items ( objects to create a mixture of different surfaces, heights and foraging activities).

  3. Place your items randomly in your training space.

  4. Place your assortment of treats and toys randomly amongst, around, in and on top of the items.

  5. Place a water bowl on the outside edge of the Free Work area and one in amongst the items.

  6. Bring your dog into your training area ( preferably 'naked' if possible) and just allow them to be a dog! They'll naturally begin to sniff and investigate.


Below is an example of my dog Blue doing a Free Work exercise to familiarise himself with a new training area and items when we first started Scent Detection together. As an anxious dog, it worked wonders for him and was brilliant to watch him mooching around freely just being a dog! This is just a 1 minute snippet of an almost 7 minute Free Work session to give you a taster of what it's all about.

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