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Nosework: The Sport for Everyone

Written By: Yara Silva CPDT-KA and Chelsea Murray CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, CTDI

Introduction to Nosework You may have heard the word, but what does it mean? What is all the buzz about this relatively new sport for dogs? Nosework is a sport where dogs are trained to locate a scent and alert their handler that they have found it. Essential oils like birch, anise or clove are placed onto q-tips to be hidden in indoor spaces, outdoor spaces, on vehicles, and in various containers. This sport mimics the work of bomb and drug detection dogs in an environment that is accessible for dogs of all ages and breeds.

Team Gatsby working on seraching containers in a private lesson. Organizations and Training

Lennon earning some ribbons and new titles at an AKC trial.

There are many organizations that host competitions or trials for this sport like NACSW (National Association of Canine Scent Work), American Kennel Club Scent Work, and Performance Scent Dogs to name a few. While all of these organizations have their own trail setups, titling programs, and rules, the goal is the same. The dog searches on their own to locate the odor and then communicates that to their handler. Some handlers observe their dogs for a change of behavior like sticking on the odor or a tail wag and some handlers train a specific alert behavior like a paw, sit, or down. While everyone's alert behavior may look different, each dog and handler work together with distractions to sniff and find the scent.


In early stages of training we work with dogs to cultivate their love of sniffing. For many dogs this comes naturally and we work to help the human learn to facilitate this independent searching without interfering. The dog is introduced to the essential oil, which is paired with a reward like a high value treat so that the dog knows what they are searching for. As the odor is hidden in a search area for the dog and their understanding of the game grows, handlers can work with their dogs to build duration of searching, stronger or more obvious alerts, and even generalize the game to new locations and new odors.

Our friends Team Collins doing an interior search at a NACSW Trial.


One of the great things about nosework is that dogs get to work at their own pace. This makes it very welcoming to dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes. Even soft or nervous dogs can blossom as they are rewarded for good choices and encouraged to explore. In a trial setting, each dog gets to search one at a time, while other dogs are out of sight. This not only helps reduce environmental distraction for the dog searching, but also creates a comfortable trial setting so that all dogs, including shy or reactive dogs can enjoy the sport at a competitive level. At home practice is easy for you and your dog. All you need is a harness, leash, and some cardboard boxes to begin with. You can practice at home in small spaces, in your backyard, and around town at parks. There is no need for a dedicated space or a lot of expensive equipment to be successful in your endeavors

At home practice containers search for Team Pocket with at-home easy to source supplies.

Benefits

Nosework is a great introduction sport for many new dog handlers. With a dog-friendly, reward-based, activity like nosework there is a lot to like for us humans. But our dogs can reap a lot of benefits too! Nosework is a low impact activity that won’t harm the growing bodies of our younger dogs. Dogs can also gain confidence and become fully satisfied both mentally and physically in a healthy way. For our senior dogs, research has shown that activating the seeking system in our dogs, the part of the brain that hunts for food, can actually keep them younger and improve their mental health. So our senior dogs can enjoy this sport as they stay active and maintain cognitive health.


With a world spinning quickly around us, sometimes slowing things down and allowing our dog to lead us is the best thing we can do for our relationship.Whether you are looking to get your toes wet in competition or you want to learn a new game for a rainy day at home, there is only fun for you and your dog as you learn how to read your dog’s powerful nose in a fun nosework search.

Are you ready to get started? Check out our Nosework classes!

Team Jete searching an outdoor environment for odor in a private lesson.


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