Intro to K9 Nosework

Dog Alerting while doing Nosework

Have you heard of K9 Nosework?  It’s a relatively new dog sport and a terrific way for you to spend some quality time with your best friend.

We’ve known forever that dogs have excellent noses and can detect odors far better than humans – this skill comes naturally to all dogs.  K9 Nosework gives you a chance to help your pal hone these skills and it will not only build confidence in your dog, it will help you gain a new level of respect for your canine companion.

I have an Aussie Shepherd, Molly.   Molly is a shy, nervous, reactive dog and needed a  lot of work to help her overcome her anxiety and fear.

If you’ve ever had an Aussie, you know they NEED something to do.  Molly loves training so much she will ignore a bowl full of food in favor of training for one bite of her food at a time.  We heard about K9 Nosework and decided to give it a try.

Nosework classes were perfect for Molly because only one dog works at a time and the other dogs are crated.  This practice cut down on a lot of Molly’s anxiety because she didn’t have to worry about the other dogs as she was working.

If you are interested in checking out K9 Nosework, you can go on the official website NACSW.net (National Association of Canine Scent Work) and find a certified instructor in your area.

In our first lessons we focused on having Molly “find” bites of food inside cardboard boxes.  When she found the food, she would not only get to gobble up the bite in the box, but I would also praise her and give her an additional treat.  We practiced this skill for several weeks with me hiding food inside the house, outside the house, at the park, on the car, and in cardboard boxes.  We practiced a command (I use “Look!”) so she would know when to begin searching.  This is really fun and I would bring extra treats on walks so we could do a quick search almost everywhere we went.

A huge beneficial side effect of the training is that Molly became focused on the task at hand and became much more confident and comfortable in different environments.

Once Molly was finding bits of food in difficult situations pretty reliably, we started the transition to odor.  K9 Nosework dogs search for essential oils.  There are three used in trials:  Sweet Birch, Anise, and Clove.  We began training Molly to find Sweet Birch by pairing a treat with a tiny metal tin with a cotton swab in it that had been infused with the sweet birch odor.  We hid the two together in all the same places we had previously hidden only treats and Molly began to associate the odor of sweet birch with getting a treat.

Dog Searching Containers doing k9 NoseworkNow, (about 8 months into our training) Molly searches for sweet birch odor without it being paired with a treat.  When she finds it she is trained to keep her nose on it or as close to it as possible while I swoop in and give her a treat for finding it.  She amazes me every day with her ability to find this odor in all kinds of distracting situations.

We have staged “hides” in stores (dog friendly, of course), parks, and many other locales.  Molly hears the word “Look!” and begins sniffing around until she locates the sweet birch.  She is so excited when she finds it!  I love watching her do this.  It is absolutely amazing to me that she can find the tiny source of the odor amid all the others smells she must be confronted with.

The next step for Molly and me is to pass an ORT – Odor Recognition Test.  In this test Molly will search a dozen or more cardboard boxes to find the one that contains sweet birch.  When she passes, she will be eligible to compete for her Level 1 Nosework title.

In competition, dogs have a set amount of time – 1 – 3 minutes – to find odor.  They search indoors (rooms), containers (cardboard boxes, luggage, etc.), outdoor locations, and vehicles.  Each venue may have one or more “hides.”  The hides are never visible.  The handler does not know the location or even the number of hides in competition.  There are competition levels with the higher levels having more difficult hides.  There can be distractions – food and/or toys – but the dog must find and alert the handler only when they find the correct odor.  Hides can be high above the dog’s head.

Any dog can participate in Nosework!  My certified trainer competes with her Chihuahua “Mia.”  No pedigree required and no particular size of dog is needed.

Nosework is the only dog sport I can think of that the trainer has to watch and listen to the dog rather than the other way around.  Perhaps that is why dogs love it so much.

I hope you’ll give Nosework a try.  Your dog will thank you for it!

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