Looking for something new and different to do with your dog? Try the relatively new sport of K9 Nose Work—your dog will thank you for it. A logical progression for many dogs after taking basic or intermediate obedience classes is to move on to Agility, Fly Ball or Freestyle, but not every dog is cut out for those sports. Nose Work, or scent searching, is a wonderful enriching activity for all. K9 Nose Work includes container searches, car searches, interiors and exteriors. The process used to train companion dogs to find a target scent is exactly the same as it is for professional working dogs. In the sport of companion Nose Work the first odor that dogs are taught to find is birch, followed by anise and finally clove. In the beginning dogs sniff out a fragrant treat, which is later paired with the target odor, classical conditioning style. Then they are ready to find the odor on its own and are rewarded with a tasty treat! In formal competition many rules apply and the fastest dog to alert the handler about the odor is the winner.
When you think of scent work and the types of dogs that sniff out drugs, bombs and cancer, images of impressive German Shepherds or efficient Beagles come to mind. One of the things I love most about Nose Work is that all types of dogs can participate, and they all seem to love playing the game of sniffing out the target odor. It is enriching for them to really learn to use their sense of smell and get rewarded for it, and it is also very enriching for owners to witness and participate in that reawakening. Older or impaired dogs can participate since there isn’t much athletic ability required, and so can shy dogs and outgoing dogs, too.
The first official K9 Nose Work Trial was conducted by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) in 2009, and since then the sport has grown in popularity with dog-lovers everywhere. The NACSW is the only official sanctioning and organizing body for the sport.
Dogs who don’t much care for other dogs and don’t normally get taken to classes or activities because of that are welcome in Nose Work, too. During Nose Work classes and competitions the dogs are never allowed to go nose-to-nose with each other in order to keep them focused on the “work” of sniffing out the target. Dogs are crated when it’s not their turn to work, and only one dog works the scent field at a time. Some of the best Nose Work dogs are untrained, lively puppies because they do not have a history of dog training or looking to their owners for direction—they just get right to it! Tails wag when the sniffing starts and your dog shows YOU how it’s done for a change!