K9 Nose Work
According to the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW), “Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and a natural desire to hunt. Also known as Fun Nose Work, Nose Work, and Scent Work, this new companion dog sport is designed to develop your dog’s natural scenting abilities by using their desire to hunt combined with their love of toys, food, and exercise.” Nose work is a stimulating activity that can help your dog burn off excess physical and mental energy by refining her scenting and problem solving skills. It’s a great way to have fun, build confidence, and burn lots of mental and physical energy during the long, cold, winter months. Nose Work is a fun activity that you can do indoors and doesn’t require expensive equipment or intensive training. This is a sport that even couch potatoes, canine and human, can enjoy.
K9 Nose Work training is styled after K9 detection work, but don’t let that scare you away. Basically, the dog does most of the work because the handler taps into the dog’s natural hunting instinct. And the best part of all is that the dogs love it.
Since K9 Nose Work is a relatively new sport, it is now just beginning to spread across the nation. The brainstorm of Ron Gaunt, Amy Herot, and Jill-Marie O’Brien, all professional detection dog trainers, K9 Nose Work got its start in California circa 2007. It has since been gaining in popularity. In July, 2010, the first Midwestern K9 Nose Work Seminar and Odor Recognition test were held in north eastern Wisconsin. Two wire fox terriers were among the first Midwestern dogs to pass the Birch Odor Recognition test. Fox terriers especially love this sport, have amazing noses, and are used in breeding programs across Russia to develop the ultimate drug and explosive detection dog.
Most dogs, regardless of breed or age, can participate in this low impact activity. All you need to get started in Nose Work are some medium size boxes and some highly motivating treats (liver, chicken, or cheese work well), or a favorite toy.
First, show your dog a box with a treat or toy inside to get her interested. Then, cue your dog that the game is about to begin by saying “Seek” or “Find it.” Reward with a treat and praise for finding the treat (hide). To build drive and excitement, you can even throw a few treats in the box as the dog finds the first treat. Treats raining from the sky, how fun is that? From a dog’s point of view, any day is a great day when all she has to do is sniff out food!
Now, you’re ready to begin working with several boxes. Spread the boxes out in a room and show your dog the box with a treat. Then, restrain the dog while someone hides the treat in a box. The handler gives the cue to “Seek” or “Find it.” The dog is released and the fun begins! It is paramount that the handler observe the dog and recognize when she alerts to the treat or odor. Each dog has a unique way of alerting to the scent. As in all training, the reward must be immediate and at the source of the odor.
After several successful searches, the hides become more challenging. You can put a box on top of the box with the treat, close the cover, turn the box on its side, etc. Then, you can begin hiding treats or toys outside of boxes. After the dog becomes familiar with the game, begin pairing odor with the treat, and eventually fade the treat out altogether. The dog then searches for odor alone, but always is rewarded with a treat at the source of the odor when the odor is found. You can always go back to pairing treats and odor if you wish to build more drive.
K9 Nose Work uses three essential oil odors in competition; birch, anise, and clove, but dogs can be trained to search for any scent. Cotton swabs are dipped in the essential oil and placed in tins with holes punctured in the lids and the tins are hidden for the dogs to find.
K9 Nose Work Trials
A dog must first pass an odor recognition test to be eligible to compete in a K9 Nose Work trial. This test is comprised of a box search and must be completed for each odor. A trial consists of four different searches which are: the box drill, the interior building search, the exterior building search, and the vehicle search. The dog must find the scent and the handler must call the alert within the specified time.
The trial is conducted in such a way that even reactive or insecure dogs are set up for success. Sounds like a friendly activity for terriers, doesn’t it? All dogs search each phase of the test without any other dogs present. When not trialing, all other dogs are crated out of sight. The next dog in the ring must wait for the last dog to leave before entering. There is an aura of calm and camaraderie throughout. Handlers are genuinely rooting for other handlers and the judges are truly interested in building the dog’s confidence and helping them be successful.
K9 Nose Work for All
Whether you are looking to get involved in trialing with your furry friend, or just to have fun, K9 Nose Work is a positive, relationship building activity for you and your dog. So why not gather foxie, a few boxes, some yummy treats or a favorite toy, and head for the basement or family room to begin an amazing new adventure by tapping into your dog’s natural instincts. Your dog will love you for it!