By Guest Blogger Eric Goebelbecker
What makes more sense than a sport that takes advantage of our dogs’ superior noses? K9 Nose Work is a relatively new canine activity that does exactly that. It’s an activity that The National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW - the organization that oversees the sport) refers to as an “art and practice” that you can have fun with whether you decide to officially participate in the sport or not. I was initially attracted because I had heard of the benefits some people had seen with dogs with behavior problems, and I am hooked!
K9 Nose Work was inspired by the training methods used for detection dogs. But it is not a pathway to detection work, as that kind of training is very demanding in terms of both the environment and the demands on the dog/handler team. One of K9 Nose Work’s most attractive attributes is that any handler/dog team can participate and it can be practiced just about anywhere, including at home in even the smallest apartment.
The training starts out very simply – hiding treats in cardboard boxes and rewarding the dog for using her nose to figure out which box! Nose work is done in an “obedience free zone” there is no punishment at all – only rewards for finding the, well, reward. (And then the dog gets a few more for good measure.) The “hides” with the boxes get a little more difficult, and then we move on to furniture, and eventually outside and on (never inside) vehicles.
By the time a dog is ready to participate in the sport, the hidden food has become one of three “odors” — we use birch, anise, and clove essences (birch is trained first). The sport is not competitive; dogs enter trials and are awarded titles when they qualify.
But the most important aspect of K9 Nose Work is something you will hear over and over. Have fun!
In terms of training, priority #1 is building “drive.” The desire to hunt. Every dog has it, it’s just a matter of associating it with “the game” and then building it up. Jethro provides us with a great example.
Jethro is also an example of how nose work can help with behavior issues. Jethro doesn’t like other dogs very much, but his time in nose work has helped him with that. He was so thrilled to be playing the game that he stopped noticing the other dogs in class. Dogs are kept crated and usually in another room in between “runs” but Jethro would react if he saw even a glimpse of another dog.
He also has a great way to get both mental and physical exercise at home now!
Banjo is another example of a dog that is completely focused on the game. He literally walks through furniture
K9 Nose Work really is the most fun you can have with your fur on. For help finding classes and for more information on the sport, check out the NACSW’s Web Site